Kinsearching January 15, 2012




Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

     Numerous family researchers with colonial roots in what became the United States have forebears who came over to the New World as forced laborers. Estimates give the number of white colonists in the servitude category (which encompasses indentured servants, redemptioners, political exiles, and convicts) as being between 350,000 and 500,000. Some of these pre-Revolutionary compulsory workers are the focus of Joseph Lee Boyle’s latest compilation, which carries the catchy title, “WHEN DRUNK IS VERY BOLD”: WHITE MARYLAND RUNAWAYS, 1763-1769.

     Boyle’s interesting and informative six and a half-page introduction tells in detail the story of white compulsory laborers in early America. He explains the circumstances under which people (mostly males) were bound into service, the length of service for those bound, the conditions under which servants lived and were released, reasons why they ran away, and punishments received when they were caught. In addition, Boyle informs readers about the investors (brokers, ships’ captains, and landowners, for example) who underwrote the transportation costs and the possible risks they faced to their investments; chances of loss included laborers who died during passage, suffered from injury or chronic illnesses, and managed to escape. The transportation of servants, particularly into Maryland, reached its zenith in the mid-eighteenth century.

     Regularly featured in most colonial American newspapers were advertisements that offered rewards for the apprehension of runaways and/or notices about the capture of runaways. From twenty New England and Mid-Atlantic newspapers (which include a German-language paper published in Philadelphia), Boyle gleaned all references pertaining to white escapees. When information about whites and blacks appears together, he gives the names of the blacks; however, he does not go into details about them because runaway slave advertisements have already been compiled into book form by another author. Transcribing the ads verbatim, Boyle identifies more than 2,500 persons named in 750 ads printed during the years 1763-1769. Although most of the fugitives mentioned resided in Maryland, the author incorporates data about any out-of-state escapees mentioned in the papers.

     Generally, ads give the names of the runaways and of the person or persons offering the reward, the names of captured escapees and who had them in custody, a location, and the name and date of the newspaper reference. Additional amounts of facts about a person vary widely--from only a couple of sentences to a long paragraph. A typical entry is this ad which appeared in The Pennsylvania Gazette on 18 September 1766: “York County, September 1, 1766. WAS committed to my Custody, on the 25th day of August last, a certain Joseph Williams, being convicted on the oath of Joseph Witmore, that he was a runaway servant, belonging to Daniel Delany, in the province of Maryland, 6 years ago. His master is desired, if any he has, to come and pay charges, and take him away in 4 weeks time from the date hereof, otherwise he will be sold out for his fees, by Jacob Graybill, goaler.”

     The eighteenth-century newspaper notices and ads concerning white runaways in what became the United States provide valuable information about people (physical description or place or European origin, for instance) and accounts of life and lifestyles in America’s colonial era. Meant to be a companion piece to Boyle’s previous publication, “DRINKS HARD, AND SWEARS MUCH”: WHITE MARYLAND RUNAWAYS, 1770-1774 (see review in Kinsearching column dated 9 January 2011), the new “WHEN DRUNK IS VERY BOLD”: WHITE MARYLAND RUNAWAYS, 1763-1769 furnishes further fascinating reading and research clues for genealogists and social historians alike.

     The 381-page book has soft covers, an introduction, a bibliography for further reading, a list of the newspapers consulted by the author, and a full name index. To the book's price of $35.00, buyers should add the cost for postage and handling charges. For U. S. postal mail, the cost is $5.50 for one book and $2.50 for each additional copy; for FedEx ground service, the cost is $7.50 for one copy and $2.50 for each additional book. The volume (item order #9640) may be purchased by check, money order, MasterCard, or Visa from Clearfield Company, 3600 Clipper Mill Rd., Suite 260, Baltimore, Maryland 21211-1953. For phone orders, call toll free 1-800-296-6687; fax 1-410-752-8492; website at

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