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Irish Indentured Servants on the Run in 18th Century Boston

 


New England Courant, February 8-15, 1725


Thousands of Irish boys and girls came to America in the 1700s as indentured servants. Some of them came voluntarily, while others were kidnapped by marauding British soldiers and sent over as cheap labor in the colonies. 

As indentured servants, many Irish and Scots gained passage to America by agreeing to work in servitude for up to seven years. But once they got here, many of them quickly absconded from their masters, as evidenced by the number of classified ads in the first half of the 18th century, like this ad for Mary Farrel in the New England Courant on January 29, 1725

Little is known about Mary Farrel, apart from the ad, which describes her as a ‘runaway Irish servant maid’ with a reward for her return. When she absconded on a cold winter night, Farrel was wearing only ‘a black Griffet Gown, an old grey Petticoat, and a pair of Ticken Shoes with red heels.’ 

Sometimes the runaway servants were caught and punished, only to escape again. Edmund Murphy absconded from Milton resident Thomas Craddock in November 1737, was captured and returned to Craddock, only to run away again in March 1738. Murphy's companion in the escape in May 1738 was Edmund Butler. He was described as “a good scholar who speaks English, Latin, Greek, and French, a thin-looking fellow of middle stature.” 

Excerpt from Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past, by Michael Quinlin, published by Globe Pequot Press.   

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