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“Born to be hanged”
What Runaway Apprentice Advertisements Reveal about Connecticut’s Master Craftsmen in the Early RepublicWILLIAM F. SULLIVAN, JR.
Originally published in Connecticut History, vol. 46 (Spring 2007), 1-15. Reprinted here by kind permission of the author and publisher.
Ideally, the system of indentured apprenticeship in the early American Republic offered benefits to both workers and employers. By written or verbal contract, a master craftsman agreed to teach a young person a trade, as well as feed, clothe, and care for the apprentice as if he were a member of the family. In exchange, the young apprentice agreed to work without pay for up to seven years until the arrangement terminated, typically at the age of twenty-one. Upon “graduation,” the apprentice became a journeyman who earned a wage and waited for the time when he too could attain the independence of a master tradesman with his own workshop. Thus, in its model form, this symbiotic relationship provided training for aspiring craftsmen, labor for the master, and a new class of skilled artisans for the economy. Yet not all indentured apprentices chose to honor the bargain. They often ran away from their masters to escape abuse, or boredom, and in many cases to pose as journeymen and earn a wage from a different artisan. The abandoned craftsman often posted notices in newspapers, such as the following advertisement which appeared in Connecticut’s American Mercury:
Run away from the subscriber in the night following the 25th inst. Levi Treat, in the 19th year of his age an indented apprentice, about 5 feet 8 or 9 inches high, dark complexion, dark hair; took with him a short Blue Jacket, one pair Blue Overalls, one Red Spotted Vest, two check Shirts, two pairs Stockings, one wool Hat, and many other articles not enumerated. Whoever will return said Levi to the subscriber shall receive 25 cents, but no charges paid.
N.B. All persons are hereby forbid harboring, trusting, concealing or carrying away said Levi on penalty of the law.
Glastonbury, Jan. 26, 1801
In addition to the case of Levi Treat, some 250 additional examples of apprentices running from their masters are revealed through Connecticut newspaper advertisements from the period 1790 to 1815. Certainly, many more broke their indentures. Not all newspapers from this era survive and some masters did not advertise for the return of apprentices.
|Total Number of Runaway Apprentices in Connecticut Broken Down by Year and Number, as Reported in Advertisements for their Return, 1790-1815.|
|Total Number of Runaway Apprentices: 251.|
The data provided from this body of evidence creates a sketch of the typical runaway apprentice from Connecticut: an eighteen year old white male, traveling alone and undeterred by severe weather or poor road conditions, who hailed from any one of a wide variety of trades. Masters reported only fourteen-point-seven-four percent of their runaways departing in groups of two or more. The incidence of running spiked in the early summer and early autumn, as one might expect, but harsh winters and muddy roads did not prove a significant deterrent.
|Month of Departure: Connecticut Runaway Apprentices as Reported in Advertisements for their Return, 1790-1815.|
Because masters wrote the advertisements, however, the material reveals just as much about the deserted artisans as the absconded workers. The runaway apprentice advertisements of Connecticut demonstrate that in many cases the master either accepted the loss of his apprentice or was actually pleased to be rid of the worker and placed the notice in the newspaper for the purposes of legal and financial protection. Furthermore, the ads disclose that a large number of tradesmen worried about public perceptions and sought to defend their reputation from charges of abuse or neglect. Many masters therefore published the circumstances surrounding the apprentice’s disappearance and often included attacks on the character and work ethic of the runaway.
|Trades from which Connecticut Apprentices Ran: as Reported in Advertisements for their Return, 1790-1815.|
|Shoemakers (sometimes identified as Tanners)||33|
|Tailors / Clothiers||7|
|Carpenters / Cabinet/ Chair Makers||6|
|Brass Founders / Braziers||3|
|Bricklayers / Masons/ Plasterers||3|
|Clock / Silversmith||1|
|Ads that did not report a trade||125|
Clearly, some of the “subscribers” of runaway apprentice advertisements wanted their laborer returned. A number of artisans offered substantial rewards for the recovery of wayward apprentices. Zerah Alben, an apprentice in the comb making trade, carried an astonishing price of thirty dollars on his head. While no master ever matched this generosity, readers of Connecticut newspapers witnessed rewards of ten, fifteen, or twenty dollars from time to time and a total of seventeen-and-one-half percent of the advertisements uncovered in this study featured sums of five dollars or more. These amounts compare to the rewards given for the capture of runaway slaves in Connecticut during this era. The return of a young male “runaway negro” almost always fetched between five and twenty dollars, with ten dollars being the most typical reward.
The desire to recover stolen property sometimes explains why craftsmen offered sizeable rewards for their missing apprentices. When tools, cash, substantial amounts of clothing or pocket watches vanished with the runaways, bounties for their return tended to be higher than for those who simply left with a change of clothing or two. One subscriber specified that he would pay ten dollars for “the boy and goods” which had been stolen, but five dollars “for the boy only.”
Those searching for runaway relatives also tended to put forward better rewards than most. The sample group produced seven instances of masters and apprentices who shared the same last name. Of the six advertisements that mentioned specific rewards in this group, five met or exceeded the median offer of six cents. We can certainly understand why one of these subscribers chose to post only a penny for the return of his relative. In his description of the fugitive, the master stated that the runaway was “very apt to be drunk.”
As one would suspect, the level of skill a runaway apprentice had attained in his craft represented the most important factor in determining an appropriate reward for his return. Gillian Hamilton’s analysis of the apprenticeship system points out that the value of an apprentice’s labor rose as he aged. In the first few years of the contract, the cost of feeding and clothing the youngster outweighed the apprentice’s ability to produce revenue for the master. As the apprentice gained experience, however, his output in the shop exceeded the cost of caring for him. The tendency of older teens to run in Connecticut, as well as the fact that masters never once offered a reward of more than ten dollars for an apprentice under the age of eighteen, supports the contention that both masters and apprentices understood that the apprentice’s value increased over time. Young people ran away to realize their true value as wage earners, and some masters paid more generous compensation for the return of apprentices in the most productive years of their indenture.
|Number of Runaway Apprentices by Age, as Reported in Advertisements for their Return, 1790-1815.|
|Age||Number of Runaways|
|Age Not Reported: 35|
|Average Age: 17.83|
|Median Age: 18|
Yet, overall, many masters seemed less than anxious to be reunited with their runaways. In an era when a pound of bacon sold for between eight and twelve cents wholesale, half of the advertisements for runaway apprentices promised payments of less than six cents, with one penny being the most common compensation. Two even advertised an insulting prize of a single mill (one-tenth of one cent).
|Number of Rewards Greater than $10 Offered for the Return of Runaway Apprentices by Age, as Reported in Advertisements for their Return, 1790-1815.|
|Age not reported||1|
A growing number of missing apprentices did not carry any price on their heads. Between 1800 and 1815, approximately one out of every ten advertisements made no mention of a reward. In addition, the offer to pay the expenses incurred by those returning runaways was never widespread and declined sharply after 1800. In almost two-thirds of the advertisements studied, the subscriber explicitly stated that “no charges” or “expenses” would be paid.
|Rewards for Runaway Apprentices Broken Down by Percent, as Reported in Advertisements for their Return, 1790-1815.|
Most probably, Yankee frugality explains why some masters promised little or no compensation for their runaway apprentice. In addition, perhaps some trusted that the law and civic mindedness of others would be enough to secure the return of a worker.
|Percentage of Connecticut Advertisements Offering to “pay charges,” as Reported in Advertisements for their Return, 1790-1815.|
|1790 – 1799||22%|
|1800 – 1809||17%|
|1810 – 1815||10.9%|
Still, the language employed by a number of subscribers betrays the fact that they actually did not want their wayward apprentice back. From time to time, masters commented that “no Thanks” would be part of a token reward. Just in case readers missed the point, some masters went even further to make known their lack of interest in the runaway’s return. Instead of simply failing to mention a reward, Nathaniel Harrison of New Haven felt compelled to write: “I shall pay nothing to the person who shall bring him back.” After his blacksmith apprentice stole from a local store and disappeared, Timothy Bidwell took out an advertisement titled “Not a Cent Reward.” Elijah Gaylord of Harwinton left no question as to his feelings, when warning that “Whoever shall take up and return said runaway, will have the displeasure of the subscriber and no charges paid.”
Those who expressed “displeasure” should an apprentice reappear in the workshop probably fell into one of two categories. For many, the breaking of the indenture may have represented a misfortune, but they accepted the event and did not want to deal with the likely problems should the apprentice be dragged back to work. Masters surely reasoned that even if the runaway had previously been useful in the shop, the likelihood seemed poor that a displeased worker would return to be an industrious laborer. Moreover, there always existed the possibility that he would run again. A second category of masters viewed the disappearance of the apprentice with pleasure. Those cursed with lazy and disobedient workers most likely rejoiced at the prospect of no longer having to invest their time nor share their home and food with the unproductive youth. While these masters could have dismissed apprentices for failure to fulfill the duties of their indenture, the apprentice could challenge such a decision in court. Surely, the time, expense, and risk involved in such litigation discouraged many masters from pursuing this recourse. For them, having the apprentice steal away one night actually saved the trouble of discharging them. As is true today, employers generally find it easier for the worker to quit on their own behalf than to go through the difficulties of firing them.
Thus Connecticut advertisements offer a wealth of evidence to confirm the argument that a number of masters accepted or even welcomed the departure of apprentices. The question remains, however, regarding why tradesman who no longer wanted their workers bothered to take out an advertisement. One answer is the fear of lawsuits and possible financial ruin. Common law held masters liable for the actions of servants, including the fairly regular practice of apprentices purchasing items on their employer’s credit. Thus a runaway could acquire a large amount of goods and leave his former master with the bill. Saddler Francis F. Olmsted, for example, complained in his advertisement that, “two or three days before he ran away, borrowed money in several places and carried it off with him.” To avoid this form of eighteenth century identity theft, runaway apprentice ads served the critical function of informing the public to not extend credit to wayward apprentices. Masters almost always warned others to not “trust said runaway on my account,” or more specifically stated that “All persons are forbid trusting him as I shall pay no debt of his contracting.”
The ads also opened the possibility that the master could seek legal action against others. The basis of Connecticut’s common law, Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, advised masters to seek damages against their runaway servants and any new masters who might employ them. The master, however, had no legal recourse if the new employer failed to know that the apprentice belonged to another. The advertisement therefore served as a basis for possible litigation by apprising potential employers of the runaway’s name, their physical features, and a legal notice, which typically forbade “all persons from harboring” or “employing said apprentice on penalty of law.” Infrequently, a master stressed this part of the advertisement by adding comments such as “we are determined to put the law in force against any one that is found doing so.”
In addition to the legal protections offered by runaway apprentice advertisements, the newspapers afforded masters the opportunity to defend their standing in the community. Lest their neighbors think that masters had been abusive or negligent towards their apprentices, subscribers, at times, included a note of explanation as to why a young worker had left them. The standard method of absolving themselves of any blame was to make clear that the apprentice either possessed a natural inclination to run, had committed some crime against the master, broke the contract out of greed for wages, had been lured away by another runaway, or wanted work in a different field, with the lure of the sea being a common draw. One such example from the Connecticut Courant noted, “It is not strange that he should run away for his mother ran away several times before him”; or the American Mercury advertisement which announced that he “went away with a view to go to sea.”
Sometimes, in absolving themselves of having anything to do with their apprentice’s departure, a master disclosed a story of interest. For example, New Haven blacksmith Peter Johnson related that, “In consequence of a drinking frolic on Sunday last with David and Lyman Johnson and others, a quarrel ensued between them and Lewis Alling, tavern keeper, which induced Lyman Johnson to run-away, he being an indented apprentice to the subscriber.” Johnson offered to pay two dollars “to any one, (the Sunday company excepted) who will deliver him” and added that Lyman was “a smart active boy. . .very obliging, but full of mischief.”
The need to explain the circumstances surrounding the worker’s escape seemed particularly necessary for those masters who found themselves regularly losing apprentices. In two separate incidents, Thomas Hall had a total of four boys escape from his chaise making shop in Middletown. He attributed their decision to “Eighteen year old fever.” Isaac Avery explained that an enterprising twelve–year-old Native American named Collins Wogs was “frequently in the habit of running away” so he could work for the wages of others. When doing so, this bold or, perhaps, naive child had “no care to conceal himself or his proper name.”  Perhaps no master did a better job of portraying himself as a victim, rather than the perpetrator of some misdeed, than New Haven shoemaker Benjamin Grannis. Between 1805 and 1809, Grannis had four apprentices run away, including two who were his relatives. In an attempt to gain a measure of sympathy for his cause, Grannis lamented that he took in his nephew “out of pity for the boy at seven years old” only to now have the ungracious lad steal his labor away.
Newspapers served as a relatively safe forum for masters to assume this defensive posture. Only those fugitive workers with the resources and those who felt they had the legal justification to break their indentures would dare respond to the accusations of a master. One such worker published the following notice in the Connecticut Journal:
This is to inform the public that I Reuben Hughes have not runaway from Noah H. Booth – that I am not an Indentured Apprentice to him – that I, neither my parents did agree to have me live with him, no longer than he fulfilled a verbal Agreement – Therefore, I leave him for abuse by his wife and breaking his promise. Southbury, January 30, 1812.
Other Connecticut runaways did not display such pluck. While William Rorabaugh’s research found such “rebuttal” advertisements common in the United States, this study of Connecticut uncovered only one other such notice in the state’s newspapers. Rockwell Manning, who had lived and worked in Windham, Connecticut for two years, claimed that he left his master in Cherry Valley, New York, “in consequence of ill treatment,” and called the advertisement for his return a “wanton, malicious, libel.”
Advertisements also gave jilted masters the chance to vent their anger. Connecticut’s runaway apprentice ads are filled with disparaging comments directed at the absent worker. In criticizing their runaway apprentices, masters touched upon a whole range of faults scorned by New England society: ill-temperament, drinking, swearing, indolence, and dishonesty. Most commonly, masters commented upon the poor attitudes of their apprentices. They found their workers “very bold and assuming,” “of a down look and sour countenance,” “saucy,” or “very grum and having a good opinion of” themselves. Jeremiah Spencer of Torrington seemed elated to be rid of his apprentice cooper, who he described as “very much attached to scuffling, an accomplished politician and blackguard in his own opinion, of a passionate, malicious disposition.” Similarly, a hatter from Danbury warned the public to beware of runaway Ebenezer Burnham, who had “a down cast look when spoken to, though when closely questioned he will probably assume a brazen front.” Still, this master posted a fifteen dollar reward for the apprentice’s return and promised to pay charges because the rebellious youth understood “making Napt Hats very well.”
Masters seemed less willing to welcome back apprentices who engaged in sinful behavior. In describing their runaways, subscribers often included observations such as “said runaway will be known by his foul language and intoxication whenever he can get liquor,” “is much given to profane language,” or has an “evil eye.” Elisha Babcock informed readers that his runaway printer “stammers considerably when he attempts to speak the truth.” Some advertisements betrayed that the master held little or no hope that their young worker could be redeemed. One master conjectured that his apprentice did not drown when he plunged into a river because the boy had “been born to be hanged.” Vexed by the wild living of his apprentice, Aaron Colton ended his advertisement with this testimonial: “Whoever will take up said boy and return him to the subscriber and make him faithful and willing to be at home in season one night a week, shall be generously rewarded.”
As employers of all eras can appreciate, complaints about the laziness of workers abound in Connecticut’s runaway apprentice advertisements. Variations of the quip that the apprentice “walked away from the subscriber (for he was never known to run),” appear frequently in newspapers. A Hartford shoemaker made the more direct statement that his runaway was “more fond of indolence than industry.” After posting his reward for a fugitive apprentice, Samuel Arnold added the telling postscript that he was looking for an apprentice “who has it in contemplation of attending to business.”
Youngsters breaking their indentures might also find their physical appearance and habits the object of derision in newspaper advertisements. Connecticut ads included such colorful descriptors as “rather cross eyed,” “silly,” “great nose,” “uncommon large head,” and “crooked legs.” Perhaps no apprentice suffered in print more than one Daniel Leach, whose master penned the following portrayal in 1796:
He is about 5 feet 6 inches high when his chin is over his right shoulder which it is natural for him to rest it there when a person speaks to him. . .when he is talking he appears to be choked, some words he will speak loud and some he will whisper, and at the same time he must be turning one way and the other, and looking as if he wanted to find a place to lie down; his hair is brown,the end of it whitish, it much resembles a woodchuck.
While revenge most likely provoked such attacks upon the appearance of a runaway apprentice, the devotion of so much ink to questioning the work ethic and character of the fugitives suggests that other motives were at work. In Ian Pilarczyk’s examination of runaways in Montreal, he theorizes that, in part, masters may have felt a sense of duty to warn fellow men in the trade to not take in their former, difficult apprentices. The evidence from Connecticut suggests this as one possible motivation. Craftsmen who read these ads could surely infer that employing thieves, drunks, or sluggards did not serve their interests. In addition, a few advertisements contain direct statements of concern for other artisans suffering the same grief as the subscriber should someone dare provide work for the fugitive. For example, following the desertion of one of their own newspaper apprentices, The American Mercury offered a reward of one cent and published the following notice: “Masters of vessels, (except those who command ships of war,) are cautioned against admitting him on board, as they will assuredly meet with trouble should they do it.” Likewise, Danbury printers Douglas and Ely wrote an ad, stating, “Printers are cautioned against employing said Run-away, as they would avoid being troubled with a head-strong fellow, too wise to be taught and too much a MAN to bear the least reproof.”
A second motivation to denigrate the apprentice in print was to once again defend the reputation of the master. By describing the runaway as lazy, given to drink, rebellious, or dishonest, the master alerted his neighbors that the breakdown in the master-apprentice relationship rested solely with the runaway. Such boys lacked the disposition to honor a proper labor contract. In this way, masters could disprove possible rumors of abuse or neglect and upheld their honor as honest tradesmen. We should not be surprised that artisans would utilize the newspaper to defend their reputation by any means. When faced with labor protests today, companies regularly turn to the media for a presentation of their case, insisting that they are benevolent employers victimized by the unreasonable demands of workers. Consider that when faced with a strike in 2006, the Connecticut-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation defended itself by issuing regular press releases and purchasing full-page advertisements in the Hartford Courant – the same paper which accepted notices for runaway apprentices from master craftsmen some two centuries before. In their ads, Sikorsky appealed both to the striking workers and the public as a whole. The company laid out the case that the union had rejected a “fair and generous” contract offer. Thus, by implication, the union was irrational and entirely to blame for the strike. In much the same way, masters of the early nineteenth century utilized the newspaper to respond to the most common “job-action” of their day – the disappearance of an apprentice.
Judging from the number of runaway advertisements which appeared in Connecticut newspapers, the widespread use of token rewards by masters, the rising trend to post no reward and pay no charges, and the tendency of subscribers to belittle the work ethic and character of their runaways, it is clear that the institution of indentured apprenticeship did not always produce a relationship of mutual benefit. Between 1790 and 1815, at least one apprentice per year fled the perhaps oppressive or dull workshops of their masters to enter a labor market they hoped would reap them financial reward. While the runaway problem did not constitute an epidemic in Connecticut, it unquestionably pained the individual master who had invested in the development of a productive worker only to lose him to another.
Connecticut’s runaway advertisements offer an intriguing and informative lesson regarding the nature of master-apprentice relationships in the late eighteenth through early nineteenth century. Whereas the apprentice system was designed to benefit the master, the apprentice, and the wider economy, circumstances did not always work out as planned. Runaway advertisements let historians know that this was more than infrequently the case. Still, runaway advertisements do not always provide a clear understanding of who was at fault, especially regarding cases of master abuse. Few apprentices had the financial resources or, perhaps, the daring to print notices in their defense. What was far more likely was the master’s view. In these instances the ads sometimes show that the experience of many a master was often every bit as miserable as that of a disgruntled apprentice. It should not surprise readers to learn that more than a few craftsmen felt a certain amount of relief and even cheerfulness to rise one morning and find the bed of their obstinate protégé empty. For these artisans, the breaking of the indenture solved one problem: they were forever free of their troubled laborer. Yet apprentice abandonment potentially created two new problems for the master: charges of abuse or neglect, and the potential of runaways to drive the master into debt. Newspaper advertisements, then, offered the opportunity to counter possible rumors of ill-treatment and to avoid fraudulent debt. The ads therefore indicate that the state’s craftsmen were fiercely protective, not just of their financial interests, but of their public reputations as well.
In fact it was almost always the parents who negotiated these agreements. The selectmen of Connecticut towns also indentured orphaned and/or destitute youngsters to craftsmen. Still, such agreements were binding upon the worker whether they freely entered into the contract or not. The law did offer several protections to the apprentice. Abuse or neglect on the part of the master constituted a breach of contract. For an overview of the institution of indentured apprenticeship and the problem of runaways, see, William Rorabaugh, The Craft Apprentice: From Franklin to the Machine Age in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life: 1790-1840 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), 42-45; Herbert Gutman, Who Built America: Working People and the Nation’s Economy, Politics, Culture and Society, vol. 1 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989), 102-105, 242-251; Joseph Rayback, A History of American Labor (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1959), 18-19, 55; Jackson Turner Main, Connecticut Society in the Era of the American Revolution (Deep River: The New Era Printing Co., 1977), 32-38; Janice Law Trecher, Preachers, Rebels, and Traders: Connecticut 1818-1865, (Chester: Pequot Press, 1975), 3, 11-13, 29; Ronald Schultz, The Republic of Labor: Philadelphia Artisans and the Politics of Class, 1720-1830 (New York: The Oxford University Press, 1993), 6-7; Paul Gilje, “Identity and Independence: The American Artisan, 1750-1850,” in Howard Rock, Paul Gilje, and Robert Asher, ed.s, American Artisans: Crafting a Social Identity, 1750-1850 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1995), xiii-xv;Christopher L. Tomlins, Law, Labor, and Ideology in the Early American Republic (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 111-113, 270-271, 336-337; Bernard Elbaum, “Why Apprenticeship Persisted in Britain but not in the United States,” Journal of Economic History 49 (2) (June, 1989): 337-349; Alfred F. Young, “George Robert Twelves Hewes (1742-1840): A Boston Shoemaker and the Memory of the American Revolution,” in Herbert G. Gutman and Donald H. Bell, ed.s, The New England Working Class and the New Labor History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press: 1987), 11-17; Gillian Hamilton, “Enforcement in Apprenticeship Contracts: Were Runaways a Serious Problem? Evidence from Montreal,” Journal of Economic History 55 (3) (Sept., 1995): 551-574.
The era 1790-1815 was selected because of the large number of newspapers in circulation, many of which have been preserved, as well as the desire to study the institution before the decline of its paternalistic attributes after the War of 1812. Only those advertisements that clearly identified the runaway as an apprentice were included in this data set. Advertisements for runaway apprentices were found in the American Mercury; Chelsea Courier; The Courier; Connecticut Centinel; Connecticut Courant; Connecticut Gazette; Connecticut Herald; Connecticut Journal; Connecticut Mirror; The Courier; Danbury Gazette; Independent Republican; Litchfield Monitor; Middlesex Gazette Norwich Packet; Rural Gazette; The Visitor; Weekly Monitor; The Witness; and Windham Herald. Archived in Early American Newspapers: Series I, 1690-1876, www.infoweb.newsbank.com.
Ninety-nine-point-two percent of the runaway advertisements provided descriptions of males. One ad described the runaway as a “negro,” two as “mulatto,” one as an “Indian,” and one said the fugitive had a “complexion as dark as creoles are.” See American Mercury, July 5, 1815, 4; American Mercury,July 2, 1801, 3; Connecticut Gazette, June 28, 1809, 3; The Courier, June 28, 1809, 2; Connecticut Gazette, March 27, 1811, 1.
Detailed studies of runaway apprentice advertisements are rare. For an exceptional examination of runaway advertisements in Montreal, see Ian Pilarczyk, “The Law of Servants and the Servants of the Law: Enforcing Master Rights in Montreal, 1830-1845,” McGill Law Journal 26 (3) (May, 2001): 779-837. The theory that the insults contained in Pennsylvania’s runaway apprentice ads were meant to enhance the authority of the master over the slighted worker is advanced in Sharon V. Salinger, To Serve Well and Faithfully: Labor and Indentured Servants in Pennsylvania, 1682-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 109.
Thirty-three advertisements were examined from Connecticut newspapers for runaway slaves between 1790 and 1799. Rewards ranged from as low as 6 cents for a fifty-five-year-old female to $150 for the return of three young males who had escaped from New York. The average reward for the return of males under the age of twenty-five was $19.13 and the median offer was $10; see also, Guocun Yang, “From Slavery to Emancipation: The African Americans of Connecticut, 1650s—1820s” (Ph.D. diss., University of Connecticut, 1999).
Representative examples of theft include: American Mercury, June 3, 1802, 4; Connecticut Courant, July 21, 1794, 2; Connecticut Gazette, December 16, 1801, 1; Connecticut Courant, December 24, 1792, 2; Windham Herald, September 24, 1801, 4.
Connecticut Courant, December 24, 1792, 2; The Courier, August 12, 1793, 4; Windham Herald, November 7, 1795, 4; Connecticut Gazette, April 15, 1801, 3; Connecticut Gazette, October 3, 1805, 3; Connecticut Gazette, December 7, 1805, 3; Middlesex Gazette, April 4, 1811, 3.
Of course, subscribers advertised more generous rewards for particularly talented laborers than those described as “indolent” at any age. For example, sixteen year old James Benjamin, “a good workman at the shoemaker’s business,” merited an outlay of five dollars for his return. The Courier, June 8, 1795, 2.
Note: Not adjusted for inflation. Data does not include advertisements which promised a “reasonable,” “sufficient,” “generous,” or “handsome” reward. Throughout the 1790s, the old system of expressing values in shillings and pence continued, along with the new decimal system. The 1795 value of $4.53 to buy one pound was used to convert to decimal values expressed above.
Pilarczyk, “The Law of Servants,” also noted the tendency to offer token rewards. He found rewards of more than one or two pence to be rare. He believed that, on the part of some, this indicated a lack of interest in the return of the runaway. Alternatively, he suggests that for others generous rewards were unnecessary because those who helped capture and return fugitives were eligible to a share of the fines that might arise from court proceedings.
Sir William Blackstone, Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (originally published1765), Book I, Chapter 14. Blackstone became the basis for Connecticut and American common law. See Trecher, Preachers, Rebels, and Traders, 3.
Connecticut Gazette, June 18, 1800; Connecticut Courant, November 5, 1806, 1. Pilarczyk also found that a powerful incentive to advertise was the desire to avoid debt illegally contracted by the runaway. See, Pilarczyk, “The Law of Servants and the Servants of Law,” 780-784.
Blackstone, Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book I, Chapter 14. For a discussion of the legal implications of running away, see Tomlins, Law, Labor, and Ideology in the Early American Republic, 246, 270-271.
Connecticut Journal, June 2, 1808, 3. In his study of Montreal, Pilarczyk also found that legal protections were a paramount importance to subscribers. See, Pilarczyk, “The Law of Servants and the Servants of Law,” 780-783; For an argument that the large number of runaway advertisements in the late eighteenth century provides proof that the law did not effectively protect the rights of masters from the problem of runaways, see Ian M.G. Quimby, Apprenticeship in Colonial Philadelphia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1985), 85; An alternative view is offered by Hamilton, “Enforcement in Apprenticeship Contracts: Were Runaways a Serious Problem? Evidence from Montreal,” 551-574.
Connecticut Courant, April 12, 1802, 1; American Mercury, October 13, 1803, 4; others ads included: “a noted runaway,” The Courier, March 5, 1806, 3; “went away with a lad, who it is supposed enticed him away,” Connecticut Journal, August 19, 1802, 3; “went with another ropemaker,” American Mercury, February 20, 1806, 3; “Said Joel committed a number of outrages on my property,” Middlesex Gazette, May 5, 1814, 4; “took a number of new goods, about 15 dollars in money,” The Courier, April 14, 1796, 2.
Pilarczyk, “The Law of Servants,” 780-783. Pilarczyk also found that those who advertised in Montreal were taking a public stand against the problem of runaway apprentices in general. He found instances of subscribers asking others to not harbor or employ fugitive apprentices because it would encourage others to do the same. This study of Connecticut uncovered no such explicit language in the advertisements examined.
In the case of Douglas and Ely it is difficult to determine if they were sincere in their professed concern for others. They offered a reward of “Ten Dollars, and all necessary charges” for their “head-strong” fugitive. It seems odd that this “very bold and assuming” apprentice would merit such a reward. Perhaps their warning was a clever ploy to scare off potential employers from a worker who they did indeed want back. Even if this is the case, in most instances, advertisements that described apprentices in demeaning terms posted token or no rewards. Connecticut Courant, January 14, 1793, 3.
Salinger asserts that the insults contained in Pennsylvania’s runaway apprentice ads were intended to reinforce the position of authority that the master held over the servant. Salinger, To Serve Well and Faithfully, 109.
We will never know with any statistical certainty the rate of desertion. Since many apprenticeship agreements were not committed to paper, the total number of apprentices in Connecticut cannot be known. In addition, the incidence of running away reported in this study must be considered an absolute minimum because not all masters bothered to take out advertisements and not all newspapers from this era have been preserved. To consult an ambitious work which lists 2,700 Connecticut apprentices, culled from surviving indenture documents, see Kathy Ritter, Apprentices of Connecticut: 1637-1900, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Incorporated, 1986).