Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Boston Hero John Boyle O'Reilly Dies on August 10 in Hull, Massachusetts

John Boyle O'Reilly, one of Boston's most accomplished citizens, died on August 10, 1890 in Hull, Massachusetts, from an accidental overdose of medication.  His sudden death marked the end of an amazing life of heroism, advocacy, leadership and literature that helped transform the city and the nation. Arriving in Boston in 1870, O'Reilly spent the next 20 years reconciling the city's racial and ethnic factions who struggled against one another.  He became editor and then owner of  The Pilot ,  the leading Irish Catholic paper in America, using the paper as a bully pulpit to advance various causes.  He befriended the Yankee establishment while admonishing them for the prejudices.   O'Reilly defended American Blacks who were still looking for post Civil War equality.  He welcomed new immigrants such as Italians, Jews and Chinese, insisting that they get the same privileges as nativist Americans.  Throughout his life he pursued freedom of Ireland from Bri

Boston Mayors of Irish Descent, 1885-2014

Hugh O'Bien Here are the Mayors of Boston Claiming Irish Heritage:  Hugh O’Brien 1885–88 Patrick Collins 1902–05 John F. Fitzgerald 1906–07, 1910–13 James M. Curley 1914–17, 1922–25, 1930–33, 1946–49 Frederick W. Mansfield 1934–37 Maurice Tobin 1938–41, 1941-44 John Kerrigan 1945 John B. Hynes 1950–59 John Collins 1960–68 Kevin H. White 1968–83 Raymond L. Flynn 1984–93 Martin J. Walsh   2014-   Martin J. Walsh is the twelfth  Mayor of Boston to claim Irish ancestry.  The lineage dates back to 1884, when Irish immigrant Hugh O'Brien of County Cork became the first Irish-born mayor elected in Boston, serving four one-year terms (1885-88).  He was followed by Irish-born Patrick Collins (1902-05), also of County Cork, who died in office. John F. Fitzgerald became the first American-born mayor of Irish descent; he served two terms. James Michael Curley served four terms in four different decades. From 1930 to 1993, the

Irish Ship Carrying Famine Refugees sinks off Cohasset in Massachusetts, killing most of the passengers, on October 7, 1849

Illustration by Leonard Everett Fisher A passenger ship called Brig St. John sank off the coast of Cohasset on the morning of Sunday, October 7, 1849, pushed to the brink by a severe nor'easter that rocked the boat for hours before it sank. On board the ship were 127 passengers from Ireland, along with sixteen sailors. The majority of passengers were poor Irish immigrants fleeing the famine. Writer Henry David Thoreau heard about the wreck and traveled from Concord to witness the aftermath. He wrote about it in his book, Cape Cod . "We found many Irish in the cars going to identify bodies and to sympathize with the survivors, and also to attend the funeral which was to take place in the afternoon," Thoreau wrote. "When we arrived at Cohasset, it appeared that nearly all the passengers were bound for the beach, which was about a mile distant, and many other persons were flocking in from the neighboring country."  Illustration by Leonard Everett Fisher On