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

    Colonial compulsory workers in the Chesapeake region are again the focus of Joseph Lee Boyle’s third compilation, “VERY IMPUDENT WHEN DRUNK OR SOBER”: DELAWARE RUNAWAYS, 1720-1783. His work includes data about white colonists in the servitude category (which encompassed indentured servants, redemptioners, political exiles, and convicts) and African-American slaves during the colonial and Revolutionary eras.

     Boyle’s interesting and informative introduction gives in detail the background of the usage of white forced laborers and enslaved blacks in Delaware. He emphasizes that although the importation of slaves increased dramatically in the colonial period, white servitude remained significant until the outbreak of the Revolution. Boyle explains the circumstances under which whites were bound into service, the length of service, the conditions under which servants lived and were released, reasons why they ran away, and punishments received when they were caught.

     In his introduction he also points out several interesting facts that genealogists should keep in mind. For example, more than half of the whites who came in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the colonies south of New England were servants. Due to the general anti-Irish prejudice in America at the time, many immigrants from Ireland tried to escape from their masters. Fewer non-English servants, such as Germans, ran away because of the language barrier. Most fugitives departed during the months of good weather, usually April through October.

     Most colonial American newspapers regularly printed advertisements that offered rewards for the apprehension of runaways and/or notices about their capture. Since the colony did not have a newspaper during the years covered in his compilation, Boyle gleaned from twenty-one New England and Mid-Atlantic newspapers all references pertaining to black and white escapees who lived in Delaware or had contacts there. (He did not include information from the Virginia Gazette since it is available online.) Transcribing verbatim the ads for the years 1720 - 1783, Boyle identifies more than 2,500 runaways and their masters.

     Usually, the notices provide the names of runaways and of the person or persons offering the reward, the names of captured fugitives and who had them in custody, a location, and the name and date of the newspaper reference. The length of additional information—if any--about a runaway varies from only a few sentences to a long paragraph. Details may include the person’s age, occupation, country of origin or nationality, and a description of the clothes worn at the time of the escape and of his or her personality traits and physical appearance. In addition, genealogists may gain insight into the viewpoints of the owners since the ads often reflect their attitudes.

     The eighteenth-century newspaper notices and advertisements concerning runaways often provide invaluable information, like reports of personal or physical characteristics, which usually cannot be found in other resources. Details in the ads may also furnish clues for further investigation. Another important research tool for genealogists seeking forebears in the Chesapeake area, “VERY IMPUDENT WHEN DRUNK OR SOBER”: DELAWARE RUNAWAYS, 1720-1783 also provides fascinating reading about life in colonial America.

     The 403-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 $39.95, 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 #8080) 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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