“Drinks hard, and swears much” White Maryland Runaways, 1770-1774


Author: Boyle, Joseph Lee
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: xii 366 pp.
ISBN: 9780806355030


By one estimate, between 350,000 and 500,000 colonists came to America as compulsory laborers. Some came as indentured servants, others as convicts. The transportation of servants into Maryland, in particular, reached its height in the middle of the 18th century, while convicts arrived there in ever-increasing numbers prior to the onset of the American Revolution. For the investors who underwrote the transportation of forced labor—brokers, ships’ captains, landowners—the risks to their investment included death in passage, injury, chronic maladies, and running away. Out of necessity colonial newspapers carried ads offering rewards for the apprehension of runaways and/or notices about their capture. These ads, compiled mainly from a half-dozen Maryland and Pennsylvania newspapers, form the basis of Joseph Lee Boyle’s new book, “Drinks Hard, and Swears Much” White Maryland Runaways, 1770-1774.

In addition to an individual’s age and whereabouts, White Maryland Runaways, 1770-1774 tells us a great deal about the character and physical appearance of runaways than we are accustomed to learning from most source records. Consider the following example:

RUN away, the 11th of this instant August, from near Lower Cross Roads, in Baltimore county, an Irish servant man named Thomas Preston, about 24 years of age, about 5 feet 9 inches high, wears short brown hair, is fresh coloured, and middling likely; he wore a brown linsey jacket, a sailor’s blue jacket, country linen shirt, tow trowsers, and a pair of old grey silk stockings; he writes a good hand. With him went a young Negroe man, named Toney, is pitted with the small pox; wore an old fustian coat, and plays well on the fiddle. Whoever secures the said servant, and Negroe, shall have Thirty Shillings reward for each, and if out of the province of Maryland, shall have Fifty Shillings for each, paid by me. JAMES MOORE.
The Pennsylvania Gazette, August 22, 1771.

In all, Mr. Boyle identifies more than 2,000 individuals in these indexed runaway notices. He has transcribed this otherwise inaccessible data by combing through a number of colonial newspapers, including the Maryland Gazette<.i>, Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, Pennsylvania Gazette, Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser, Pennsylvania Chronicle, and New York Gazette and Weekly Magazine. While the overwhelming majority of the runaways named were from Maryland, the author includes out-of-state fugitives when the papers refer to them.

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