Kinsearching January 9, 2011




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

     If your Caucasian ancestors arrived prior to the American Revolution in what became the United States, some of them may have been coerced laborers. Estimates place 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. Since the population of the Thirteen Colonies about the time of the War for Independence is believed to have been over two million, a large percentage of the pre-Revolutionary American people would fall into the compulsory classification. These forced workers are the subject of Joseph Lee Boyle’s new compilation with the catchy title, “DRINKS HARD, AND SWEARS MUCH”: WHITE MARYLAND RUNAWAYS, 1770-1774.

     Boyle’s interesting and informative six and a half-page introduction presents in detail all the aspects of white compulsory laborers. He explains the circumstances under which people (the majority of which were male) were bound into service, the investors and the money made by selling individuals into servitude, 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. Since the Chesapeake colonies, followed by Pennsylvania, received the largest number of white coerced servants, the author concentrates on those transported into Maryland.

     Out of necessity, colonial American newspapers carried advertisements offering rewards for the apprehension of runaways and/or notices about their capture. Boyle scanned twenty-six colonial Mid-Atlantic and New England newspapers for references concerning white escapees. When information about whites and blacks is recorded together, he gives the names of the blacks but no details. (Runaway slave advertisements have already been compiled in book form by another author.) Transcribing the ads verbatim, he identifies more than 2,000 individuals who ran away during the years 1770-1774. Although most of the fugitives mentioned were from Maryland, the author does include data about out-of-state escapees mentioned in the papers.

     Ads provide the names of the runaways and of the person or persons offering the reward, a location, 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 ran several weeks in January and February 1774: “RAN away, from the subscriber, on Long Green, Baltimore County, the eleventh of January last, an apprentice boy, named JAMES GREEN; had on when he went away, a brown broad cloth, buckskin breeches, and a beaver hat.—Whoever takes up said apprentice and brings him to his master, shall have FOUR DOLLARS reward, and all reasonable charges paid by MOSES DILLIN....” Another example is taken from a sheriff’s ad in Dorchester County, Maryland, in January 1770, which offered a twenty dollars reward: “BROKE Jail...Thomas DILLING, alias EDWARD MURRAY, (by which Name he was committed for Felony:) He is a slender Fellow, about 5 feet 9 or 10 Inches high, and has a thin Countenance: Had on when he went away, an old Fustian Coat, Shirt and Trousers, neither Shoes nor Stockings, and says he was born in St. Mary’s County....”

     Since runaway ads sometimes give physical descriptions, they are often the only source for that information before photography was invented. Also usually unavailable elsewhere are data about personality traits (like drinking and swearing) or talents (such as playing the fiddle). As a result, these advertisements can be a boon to family researchers.

     Besides furnishing valuable information about individuals, the runaway ads and notices supply an “on the scene” account of the colonial era, including its work force, occupations, costs, clothing, and customs. Genealogists and social historians alike will find much fascinating reading in “DRINKS HARD, AND SWEARS MUCH”: WHITE MARYLAND RUNAWAYS, 1770-1774.

     The 364-page book has soft covers, an introduction, a bibliography for further reading, and a list of the newspapers consulted by the author. 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 9076) 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

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