Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tracking Runaways and Convicts

Virginia Immigrant Runaway
Mid-Atlantic State Immigrants - 1700's
Often when we think of runaway servants, we equate the historical events to slaves, especially in the south. We fail to recognize the many immigrants that were contracted to serve several years prior to gaining their complete “American” freedom. 

More than half of the immigrants that came to America in the 1700’s were assigned, contracted or bound to work for a fixed term of years. Many did not complete their work terms and instead fled from their contracts. Since many of these runaway servants, often convicts, owned both time and money, ads were placed in various newspapers for their capture.   Ads were placed in theall of the mid-Atlantic states to include Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland.

Runaways in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Gazette, 1728-1796, provided over 6000 runaway ads.  Copies of these advertisements are available on thanks to Farley Grubb’s 1992 publication of “Runaway Servants, Convicts and Apprentices.”

This collection may offer the family researcher the runaway’s origin, occupation, and physical features. Often a date of immigration is provided. 

Runaways in Virginia
Virginia historians easily spout that over 75% (3/4) of the white colonial immigrants arrived in bondage in the 1700’s. Wiki shares that these immigrants were French, German and Scots.  

The Colonial Williamsburg website offers an  index of the Virgina Gazetter 1736-1780.  Be sure to also “Explore Advertisements” on The Geography of Slavery in Virginia website.  . This project offers transcriptions and images of runaways.

Runaway Maryland Servants 1728-1775
As genealogists we rely on early news accounts of history, and The Dunlop’s Maryland Gazette, the Maryland Gazette and the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser do not disappoint. The C. Ashley and Beverly B. Ellefson Collection (MSA SC 5931) at the Maryland State Archives holds an index of Runaway Servants from 1728 -1775 by name.

According to the Collection Description, this 4 box compilation of index cards donated by scholars C. Ashley and Beverly B. Ellefson contains records of convicts imported to Maryland from England, 1716-1774, records of runaway servants, 1728-1775, and runaway convict servants, 1734-1775.

I have reprinted descriptions (or abstracts) from the Maryland State Archives website for each Box in the collection. Be sure to visit the indexed lists of the Inventory.
Box 1, ‘Imported Convicts” A-L and Box 2, “Imported Convicts” M-Z:

  • Records list convicts imported to Maryland from England, 1716-1774:
  • Lists or entries in the Baltimore County Record of Convicts, 1770-1774,
  • 1783 Kent County Bonds, Indentures, etc.;
  • Several volumes of the Provincial Court Land Records;
  • Frank F. White's list of imported convicts in the Maryland Historical Magazine, XLII, March 1948, pp. 57-59 (list at that time in Maryland Historical Society); 

Box 3, "Runaway Servants"
Index cards with records of runaway servants, 1728-1775 taken from advertisements in the Maryland Gazette, Dunlop’s Maryland Gazette, Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser.

Index cards with records and runaway convict servants, 1734-1775, taken from advertisements in Maryland Gazette, Dunlop’s Maryland Gazette, and Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser.

Enjoy Chasing Your Runaways!

Kathleen Brandt, Professional Genealogy
Accurate, accessible answers

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