By one estimate, between 350,000 and 500,000 colonists came to America as compulsory laborers. Some came as indentured servants, others as convicts. The transportation of servants into Maryland, in particular, reached its height in the middle of the 18th century, while convicts arrived there in ever-increasing numbers prior to the onset of the American Revolution. 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, colonial newspapers carried ads offering rewards for the apprehension of runaways and/or notices about their capture.
In November 2010 Genealogical.com published the later (chronologically speaking) of Joseph Lee Boyle’s two volumes pertaining to Maryland runaways identified in contemporary newspaper ads as “Drinks Hard, and Swears Much.” White Maryland Runaways, 1770-1774. The previous decade’s runaway ads are now available in Mr. Boyle’s prequel, “When Drunk Is Very Bold.” White Maryland Runaways, 1763-1769.
As Mr. Boyle has written, “The runaway ads provide a first-hand view of history, as well as valuable demographic information with the age, sex, height, place of origin, clothing, occupation, speech, as well as physical imperfections, etc. They often display attitudes of the owners, and personality traits of the runaway, such as a common affection for alcohol. Some ads give extensive vignettes of individuals with their perceived idiosyncrasies. They provide a bonanza of information for the social historian. Those interested in tracking their ancestors will also find a goldmine of details.”
The roughly 750 runaway notices in “When Drunk Is Very Bold” name upwards of 2,500 people in all. The transcriber has gathered this otherwise inaccessible data by combing through twenty colonial newspapers, including the Maryland Gazette. While the overwhelming majority of the runaways named were from Maryland, the author includes out-of-state fugitives when the papers refer to them. Besides the carefully transcribed ads themselves, researchers have the benefit of Mr. Boyle’s introductory history of the convict trade and indentured servitude in Maryland, as well as an extensive bibliography and a comprehensive name index.