Runaways

A newspaper ad describing an escaped indentured servant.
Newspaper Escape Ad describing two Convict Servant Men who “had Iron Collars on when they went away,” Maryland Gazette, September 25, 1766.

NPS

The “Description of White Workers” at Northampton begun in 1772 (and now in special collections at the Maryland Historical Society, MS. 691) had a single purpose, identification of indentured servants who escaped. Advertisements for escaped indentured workers provided detailed physical descriptions. They also provided insight about how people escaped and punishments inflicted on runaways. Payments are recorded amongst the Northampton accounts of the Ridgely papers for broadside announcements, newspaper notices, expenses for employees and horses to pursue and bring back escapees, and for sheriffs’ and jail fees and rewards. Unlike later enslaved freedom seekers who were able to escape to Baltimore City and assimilate there among a large free black population, Baltimore Town of the late eighteenth century was still a small town with a population suspicious of convict laborers. Indentured servants more often struck out for Annapolis, Philadelphia, and southern Pennsylvania, sometimes with the goal of returning to England.

A number of references to neck rings—iron collars—are recorded in newspaper advertisements, usually on habitual runaways. This cruel punishment was probably intended to make examples of them and to make identification easier should they chose to run again. These horrifying measures also had an effect on hired workers who went in fear of corporal punishment. Confinement of indentured servants in the county jail is well documented because jail fees had to be paid, and there was also a private jail on company lands.

Last updated: July 9, 2020

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