Gov. Matt Bevin romanticized the harsh labor practice of indentured servitude during an event promoting Kentucky’s apprenticeship program to business leaders on Monday.
Bevin is the descendant of William Bevin, a Connecticut man who learned the craft of bell-making while working as an indentured servant in the early 19th century.
After the completion of his contract, William Bevin founded a bell-making company with his brother in 1832.
On Monday, Bevin praised the opportunities that indentured servitude provided his ancestors.
“So my three-great grandfather and his brother were both indentured out to a guy who taught them a skill, taught them a trade,” Bevin said. “[He] promised to take care of them, to feed them, teach them for a couple of years. That was their life, and then they were allowed to return home or go wherever they wanted with that skill.”
Gov. Bevin is the current president of Bevin Bros., the 6th generation in his family to have a hand in the business according to the company’s website.
The company says that William Bevin “agreed to the terms and tenure of the indenture under the condition that he could use the craft where and when he desired after he left. “
Indentured servitude was a way for people to pay off debts, meet legal obligations or pay the cost of traveling to the United States.
Indentured servants would sign a contract to bind themselves to work for an employer for a certain amount of time.
The practice grew increasingly infrequent over the late 18th and early 19th century amid an influx of immigrants who paid their own passage across the Atlantic and legislation abolishing imprisonment for debt.
On Monday, Bevin compared indentured servitude to apprenticeships, saying that they both provide an opportunity for workers to receive hands-on experience.
“Things have become a little more modernized in this respect but the missing ingredient we’ve had in recent years is where do we have that transfer of knowledge?” Bevin said.
“This idea that everybody’s going to work just with their heads and nobody’s going to touch anything or actually have to physically train at something has got to be re-thought.”
Bevin has been encouraging employers to offer apprenticeship programs that provide employment and on-the-job training for new workers entering an industry.
Bevin made the comments at the Kentucky Registered Apprenticeship Summit, an event for state business and education leaders “to discuss ways this proven training model can transform our state’s workforce.”
Employers work with the Labor Cabinet to design apprenticeship programs and sign a contract with each apprentice that is required to be registered with the state and the U.S. Department of Labor.
Kentucky recently received a nearly $900,000 grant to expand and promote the apprenticeship program.