For over thirty years Peter Wilson Coldham has compiled and published information on more than 50,000 English convicts who were transported to the American colonies. This information was gathered in The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage and its supplements, and ultimately consolidated and published in the CD British Emigrants in Bondage, 1614-1788. Recently, using an online index to runaways in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, Mr. Coldham has been able to add a final chapter to this body of work, which is presented here under the title Maryland and Virginia Convict Runaways, 1725-1800.
Based on newspaper advertisements placed in the Virginia Gazette and the Maryland Gazette this fascinating account of over 1,000 runaway convicts contains personal information not likely to be found in any other record, and includes colorful descriptions of the runaways themselves and details of their original offenses. Information furnished in the advertisements was meant to identify the runaway so he could be apprehended and returned, and it runs the gamut from physical descriptions to assessments of personal behavior. Nuggets like the following are not uncommon:
Thomas Able . . . Landed from the Thornton in Anne Arundel Co., VA [sic] in Jul 1771 having a red face and very rotten teeth, a great talker pitted with smallpox.
William Alexander . . . Transported in Sep 1767 by the Justitia, much pitted with smallpox, wears a sober face and talks little.
John Avery . . . Sentenced for stealing a linen sheet and transported to VA in Sep 1767 by the Justitia. Scotch convict servant, cunning and artful, recently flogged.
Noticeably different from the dry records of the English Assize courts (the source of most information previously published on transported felons), this listing of runaways from newspaper advertisements is as interesting as it is informative, and is a brilliant conclusion to Mr. Coldham’s lifetime ambition to bring this little-known episode in American history to light.
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