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Joseph Lee Boyle Completes Multiple Series of Runaway Servant Newspaper Ads

Joseph Lee Boyle Completes Multiple Series of Runaway Servant Newspaper Ads

No one is as familiar with personal ads placed in colonial newspapers as Joseph Lee Boyle. The retired head ranger at the Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, historic park, Mr. Boyle has spent a decade reading the classified ads that ran in 18th-century American newspapers from New England to Maryland. His findings have appeared in 20 indexed volumes that identify tens of thousands of runaway indentured servants, as well as military deserters, with horse thieves, counterfeiters, burglars, jail breakers, an occasional murderer, and at least in the case of New England, quite a few estranged spouses. The newly published final volume of runaway newspaper ads “Wasteing my Substance by Riotous living”: NEW ENGLAND RUNAWAYS, 1778-1783, is now available.

Mr. Boyle’s coverage spans scores of colonial and Revolutionary era newspapers and is divided into five distinct series. The composition of the various series is as follows: New England, five volumes (1704-1783); New York, two volumes (1706-1783); Pennsylvania, six volumes (1720-1783); New Jersey, two volumes (1720-1783); Delaware, one volume (1720-1783); and Maryland, four volumes (1720-1781). Each series incorporates runaway ads for that colony/state from all available colonial newspapers, not just the ones published in the runaway’s state of servitude. Among the papers Mr. Boyle consulted were The Boston Gazette, The New York Mercury, The New England Courant, The Maryland Gazette, and The Newport Mercury. Typical of the ads found in the series is this one from The Maryland Gazette, dated August 15, 1750:

RAN away from Charles Motherby, living on Garrison Ridge in Baltimore County, about the middle of last Month, a Convict Servant Man named John Keat, 5 feet odd Inches high, of a pale Complexion, stoops in the Shoulders, talks broad North Country. He had on and with him, a brown Coat lined with Blue, a white Country Cloth Jacket, Buckskin Breeches, one Country Cloth and one stripe Check Shirt, one pair of light colour’d Yarn Stockings, old Shoes, old Castor Hat, dark Brown Wig, or old Cap; and several other Things. Whoever takes up the said Runaway, and returns him to his Mater, shall have Five Pounds Reward, paid by CHARLES MOTHERBY.. 

The completion of the Runaway series is significant in two respects. It makes available to the community of genealogists a rich source of information about colonial-era Americans that researchers would otherwise disregard. It also organizes and indexes the information into geographical segments at an affordable price owing to a prodigious amount of research, transcribing, and documentation.  Kudos to Joseph Lee Boyle.

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