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Thursday, July 16, 2020

July 1750, Irish Servant Girl Escapes from her 'Master' in Salem, Massachusetts

In the 18th century, many of the original Irish in New England were indentured servants who gained passage to America by agreeing to work in servitude for up to seven years.  But after they arrived here, many of them were dissatisfied with their harsh working conditions and poor treatment.  So they absconded from their 'masters' and escaped into the colonies.

In the first half of the 18th century, newspapers such as the Boston Gazette, Boston News-Letter and New England Weekly Journal regularly ran advertisements seeking the return of these runaway servants.

Very often the servants were captured and returned to their masters, as in the case of Edmund Murphy, who ran away from the home of Thomas Craddock in Milton in November 1737.  He was captured and returned to the Craddock household, only to escape again in March 1738.   Murphy's companion in the second escape was Edmond Butler, who was described in the advertisement as "a good scholar who speaks English, Latin, Greek and French, a thin-looking fellow of middle stature."

In 1738, Irish servants Michael Dullowin and Patrick Shangasseys ran away from gingerbread baker Thomas Pearson.  They were joined on the run by fugitive slave George Tilley, American Indian Jo Daniels and Scottish servant William Cobb.

Often when they were captured, the servants were imprisoned at the Bridewell Prison near Beacon Hill.  In 1739, nine prisoners escaped from the Bridwell.  Five of them were Irish servants, led by 25 year old Thomas Dwyer, and the group also included a one-armed Native American named John Baker, a 20 year old Negro slave named Jocco, a woman and an Englishman.  Each of them had a three pound bounty on their heads.

Numerous runaways were women, such as 24 year old Molly Birk, who had a five pound reward on her head for her capture and return.

Read more about Irish and Irish-American women in New England at

For more about Boston's illustrious Irish history from the 17th century to today, read Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past, published by Rowman & Littlefield.

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