Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Tracking Runaway Indentured Servants

Irish Indentured Servants

Mid-Atlantic State Immigrants - 1700's

National Women's History Museum, 2007

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 all of the mid-Atlantic states to include 1) Pennsylvania,  2) Virginia, and
3) Maryland.

This is an example of an indenture contract from abt1683.  It is important to note the phrasing "free and willing to be retained to serve".  This highlights the voluntary nature of indentured servitude which would set it apart from slavery. The age of the servant is included as well as her length of service.  This particular contract directs responsibility of payment for passage to America to the master.  The master must also "provide and allow all necessary meat, drink, washing, apparel, and lodging." Servants could take their masters to court if they felt the terms were not being honored.  This contract appears to contain an official seal as well as numerous signatures, indicating agreement amongst parties involved.

Resources to Find Indentured Servants
Here are 3 of our favorites highlighted for Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. 

1) The Pennsylvania Gazette, 1728-1796
The following Scottish indentured servant, Daniel Baldridge ran away with presumably his wife, son and daughter. John King, the subscriber, wanted Daniel and his son returned. 

This collection may offer the family researcher the runaway’s origin, occupation, and physical features. Often a date of immigration is provided. Copies of these advertisements are available on ancestry.com thanks to Farley Grubb’s 1992 publication of “Runaway Servants, Convicts and Apprentices. Over 6000 runaway ads were placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

2) Runaways in Virginia
This Westmoreland County, VA. skilled duo ran away: Richard Bulling a shoemaker, David Powell a bricklayer who used the alias Francis Evans, 
Virginia Immigrant Runaway

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

The Colonial Williamsburg website offers an Indentured Servants Index that was posted in 
the Virgina Gazetter 1736-1780 publications.  This is one of the first stops for a3Genealogy researchers to uncover white, "negro,", and mulatto indentured servants. For African American ancestry research, be 
sure to also “Explore Advertisements” on The Geography of Slavery in Virginia website. This project offers transcriptions and images of runaway slaves.   

3) 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.

Be careful not fall in the "rabbit hole" while chasing Your Runaways!

Be Historically Correct
Kathleen Brandt
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