“can tell an ample story”: New-England Runaways, 1769-1773


Author: Boyle, Joseph Lee
Publication Date: 2021
Pages: viii, 328 pp.
ISBN: 9780806359267

Item #: 8154 Categories: , , ,


This work marks Joseph Lee Boyle’s third volume of colonial New England runaways, as identified in contemporary newspaper ads. (The first two volumes covered the period 1704-1754 and 1755-1768, respectively.) The majority of the individuals in this compilation are runaway servants and slaves, but a number are runaway apprentices, both men and women, and military deserters, with horse thieves, counterfeiters, burglars, jail breakers, an occasional murderer, and other lowlifes represented, as well as quite a few allegedly errant spouses. This volume also contains ads for runaways who did not originate in New England but who had connections there. A number of the runaways were skilled, including butchers, bakers, coopers, carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers, and tailors, no doubt reflecting the region’s more urban economy.

Some were well described, some not at all. Indented servant John Folsom “had a remarkable homely Countenance.” Sarah Kelly, in describing the woman who ran away with her “loving husband,” referred to that woman’s “short flat Nose, like the Nose of a Skunk, with a scalded Head, has the Itch, and is lousey, very much given to lying and whoring.”

This compilation lists all individuals mentioned. If an individual is listed with more than one name, all the names appear in the index. Mr. Boyle examined 28 newspapers from New England to Maryland, including The Boston News-Letter, The Boston Post-Boy, The Boston Gazette, The Connecticut Courant, The Connecticut Gazette, The Massaxhusetts Spy, The New Hampshire Gazette, The Pennsylvania Gazette, The New York Gazette, and The Maryland Gazette.

Each ad conveys a number of details about the runaway and his/her master, including names and aliases of the runaway, physical description, personality quirks if any, location in New England (including the future states of Vermont and Maine), and where to contact the advertiser. In all, this book contains about 1,200 ads and names over 2,200 persons with connections to colonial New England.

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