The demand for labor in the colonial period was such that by 1775 an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 indentured persons had been transported to America. The majority of these individuals were indigent, eager for a better life in the New World and willing to work off the cost of their passage by reimbursing ships’ captains or others by the sweat of their brow. Other servants–especially after England’s Transportation Act of 1718 opened the floodgates for exiled criminals–were in America to work off their prison sentences. This combined labor pool was vital to economic life of the Middle Colonies, including Pennsylvania, which received a significant population of German servants, also known as redemptioners.
Given the scale of indentured servitude, runaway servants were not an uncommon phenomenon in the 18th century. One source estimates that between 20-25% of indentured servants fled their masters. In the years immediately prior to the American Revolution, as this volume of colonial Pennsylvania runaways illustrates, the phenomenon of runaway servants was clearly on the rise. More Pennsylvanians fled indentured servitude between 1773 and 1775 than during any comparable three-year period.
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 is uncovered in the thousands of runaway ads placed in colonial newspapers by the disgruntled “owners.”
Enter Joseph Lee Boyle with his fifth collection of runaway servant ads for colonial Pennsylvanians, in this case spanning the tumultuous years 1773-1775. Mr. Boyle’s transcriptions of the runaway ads, taken from thirty-two different colonial newspapers (including papers from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and New York), provide valuable demographic information on about 3,500 additional individuals, with name, age, sex, height, plate of origin, clothing, occupation, speech, physical imperfections, and sometimes personal vignettes.
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.