GELL (Gill), MOLLY ANN (Thomas), Malecite apprenticed as a domestic servant; fl. 1807–22 in New Brunswick.
Soon after the founding of New Brunswick in 1784, the New England Company, a London-based missionary society, began to sponsor efforts to acculturate the Catholic Micmac and Malecite Indians of the province by placing their children in residential schools [see Frederick Dibblee]. After some 20 years, this plan was replaced by one for “educating and placing the Heathen Natives and their Children in English Families, in some Trade, Mystery or lawful calling.” Indians were induced to apprentice their children to local whites for training, the boys as farmers and the girls as domestic servants. Each Indian who bound his children out received an annual allowance of three yards of coarse blue cloth, a blanket, and enough flannel for one shirt; there was also a weekly cash grant so long as the child was apprenticed. For each apprentice taken in, the company paid the master £20 a year in maintenance; he was to provide board, lodging, clothing, “proper Schooling,” and instructions in the principles of the Protestant religion. The apprentice was to be faithful and obedient. The indentures were normally out when the apprentice reached 21.
Molly Ann Gell was one of the five children of Joseph Gell, whose wife died in the winter of 1807. Aged and infirm, he was unable to provide for his family and turned them over to the company for the clothing allowance and 2s. 6d. a week. Molly was sent to learn the mystery of domestic service in the household of the Reverend Oliver Arnold, master of the New England Company’s school at Sussex Vale (Sussex Corner) and minister of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Arnold had some half dozen apprentices at a time, for each of whom he, received £20 a year. There were especial hazards for the female apprentices. On 6 Jan. 1809 Molly Ann Gell deposed before the magistrates that, returning from Saint John the previous July, she had met a stranger who “Carried her into the Bushes and Against her Will forced her to Comply with his Wishes.” A son was born to her in February 1809, Joseph Solo Gill, who was taken on as an apprentice at birth by Arnold. Molly Ann Gell’s indentures expired in 1811; years later she confessed that the father of the child was Arnold’s son Joseph, who had seduced her in his father’s house. This treatment of female apprentices was not uncommon. The illegitimate children were taken on as apprentices and so tended to make the program self-perpetuating. No fewer than 13 persons of the name of Gell, for example, appear on the apprenticeship lists.
Humanitarian Walter Bromley* of Nova Scotia was sent by the New England Company to investigate complaints in 1822. He found that the Indians were looked on as inferiors, “treated as Menial Servants and compelled to do every kind of drudgery.” A 15-year-old boy did as much work as a hired hand who would have cost £25 a year. Some of the boys were given a little schooling, but the girls received none. Bromley condemned Arnold for squandering the company’s funds on his dissolute relatives, and he found all the whites of Sussex Vale entirely unsuited to authority over anyone. As soon as their apprenticeships expired, the Indians rejoined the Catholic Church but, as a group, remained “a peculiar distinct people, shut out from all Society,” fated to earn their living by begging. Following Bromley’s report and a further one from the Reverend John West* in 1825, the New England Company withdrew its funds; the apprenticeship system lingered on until the last indentures expired.
In 1822 Molly Ann Gell was married to a black named Peter Thomas and lived near Sussex Vale. The couple had five children.
Guildhall Library (London), ms 7954 (Copy minutes of meeting of the commissioners appointed by the Company for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, 17 Oct. 1808). N.B. Museum, Sussex Indian Academy papers, docs.11, 19, 42; Webster ms coll., packet 31, [Walter Bromley], “Report of the state of the Indians in New Brunswick under the patronage of the New England Company, 14th August 1822.” L. F. S. Upton, Micmacs and colonists; Indian-white relations in the Maritimes, 1713–1867 (Vancouver, 1979). Judith Fingard, “The New England Company and the New Brunswick Indians, 1786–1826: a comment on the colonial perversion of British benevolence,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 1 (1971–72), no.2: 29–42.