Author Joseph Lee Boyle, who has written multiple volumes that identify colonial-era runaway servants in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, now turns his attention to the colony of New Jersey. Whatever the motivation, runaway servants were not an uncommon phenomenon in the 18th century. One source estimates that between 20-25% of indentured servants fled their masters. From the genealogist’s standpoint, this presents a methodological problem, since it was in the runaway’s best interest to conceal his/her identity after making a successful getaway. In other words, even if the runaway kept the same name, it is quite likely that the link to his original residence in America and to his country of origin was lost–lost, that is, unless his/her identity was uncovered in the thousands of, often very detailed, runaway ads placed in colonial newspapers by the disgruntled “owners.” And this is precisely where the research and publications of Joseph Lee Boyle come in.
Since New Jersey had no newspapers at this time, Mr. Boyle assembled this list of New Jersey runaways for the period 1720-1766 from advertisements in no fewer than thirty papers published from New England south through Maryland. Among the papers are the Boston Gazette, Connecticut Courant, New York Evening Post, Pennsylvania Gazette, Maryland Gazette, and the Philadelphia German-language periodical Der Wochentliche Pennsyvlanische Staatsbote. Although we will never know precisely how many New Jersey indentured servants and other runaways fled their masters, Mr. Boyle has transcribed several thousand ads for missing persons with New Jersey connections. Here’s just one of them:
Run-away from Sanuel Dennis Jun, of Shrewsberry in Monmouth County, the 18th of December 1772, [sic] a Servant Man named James M’Curdy, aged about 22 Years. He came from Ireland in the Vessel that was Cast away the 9th of this Month at Mannisssquan, He is of a low Stature Indiferent thick set, Speaks English and Irish, he can Read and Write, He has with him some Books, two or three Shirts, a large felt Hat, an old Yellowish Wig, black short hair, of a pal Complection [sic] a thread-bare blew Coat the Button holes bound a Cinnamon coloured Vest, an old pair of Leather Breeches, Sheeps colcured [sic] black Stockings with several holes in them and an old pair of round Toe Shoes. Whoever can take up with said servant or secure him so that his Master may have him again shall have a Pistole Reward besides reasonable Charles.–The American Weekly Mercury, from Tues., December 26, 1771 to Tues., January 1, 1722.</BLOCK QUOTE>
For this compilation the author has listed only white male and female runaways; however, for those ads where white and black runaways are listed together, blacks are so identified in the index at the back of the volume.