“very apt to speak one side of the truth”: New-England Runaways, 1774-1777


Author: Boyle, Joseph Lee
Publication Date: 2022
Pages: x, 324 pp.
ISBN: 9780806359403

Item #: 8155 Categories: , , ,


This work marks Joseph Lee Boyle’s fourth volume of colonial New England runaways, as identified in contemporary newspaper ads. (The first three volumes covered the period 1704-1754, 1755-1768, and 1769-1773 respectively.) The majority of the individuals in this compilation are runaway servants and slaves, but a number are runaway apprentices–both men and women—and military deserters, with horse thieves, counterfeiters, burglars, jail breakers, an occasional murderer, and other lowlifes represented, as well as quite a few allegedly errant spouses. This volume also contains ads for runaways who did not originate in New England, but who had connections there. A number of the runaways were skilled, including butchers, bakers, coopers, carpenters, joiners, farriers, shoemakers and tailors, no doubt reflecting New England’s more settled society.

Curiously, several ads seem to have been intended to let the runaways know how little the master thought of them as very low rewards were posted. In 1774, Jesse Kimball advertised for his apprentice, Nathan Estry, but offered only “One Shilling reward, but No Charges.” The next year David Robinson offered “three Spanish Potatoes Reward” for William Jenneis, a runaway boy. Hezekiah Stevens offered only “ONE PENNY Lawful Money REWARD” for his apprentice John Campbell. The printers of The Boston Evening Post offered but “ONE PENNY” for apprentice James Hogan, who had developed great proficiency in “Profaneness, Lying, and some ancient and modern Vices.”

This compilation lists all individuals mentioned in the ads. If an individual is listed with more than one name, all the names appear in the index. While many of the Negroes and some Indians are listed as slaves, many are not, so they may have been paid servants. In compiling the present work, Mr. Boyle examined over a score of newspapers from New England to Maryland, including The Boston News-Letter, The Boston Post-Boy, The Boston Gazette, The Connecticut Courant, The Connecticut Gazette, The Massachusetts Spy, The New Hampshire Gazette, The Pennsylvania Gazette, The New York Gazette, and The Maryland Gazette.

Each ad in this collection conveys a number of details about the runaway and his/her master, including names and aliases of the runaway, physical description, personality quirks if any, location in New England (including the future states of Vermont and Maine), and where to contact the advertiser. In all, this book contains about 1,200 ads and names over 2,200 persons with connections to colonial New England.

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