“Sly and Artful Rogues,” Maryland Runaways, 1775-1781


Author: Boyle, Joseph Lee
Publication Date: 2014
Pages: xiii 482 pp.
ISBN: 9780806357195


This is the fourth volume compiled by Mr. Boyle containing 18th-century Maryland runaway servant ads posted in local newspapers. It follows runaways during the period of the American Revolution, 1775-1781. The roughly 1,000 ads found here name between 3,000 and 4,000 persons–indentured servants, convict laborers, and African-American slaves–reflecting the fact that the transportation of servants and convicts into Maryland reached its height in the middle of the 18th century. Eighty percent of the runaways were males. Few, if any, additional servants arrived during the war, and the vast majority of newcomers after 1781 were free white men and women and, of course, slaves.

In any case, 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, Revolutionary-era newspapers carried ads offering rewards for the apprehension of runaways and/or notices about their capture. In addition to an individual’s age and whereabouts, the ads tell a great deal more about the character and physical appearance of runaways than we are accustomed to learning from most source records. These ads, compiled mainly from a half-dozen Maryland and Pennsylvania newspapers, but also from states as far north as Massachusetts, form the basis of this book.

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