Indentured Servants’ Clothing from Runaway Ads in 1775

-Partial Transcription of the Primary Source-

Twenty Dollars Reward.

RUN away, the 9th inſt. the following ſervants, vis. GERMAN CAMPION, an indented ſervant, 30 years of age, born in Derbyſhire, in England, profeſſes farming, is about 5 feet 7 inches high, and has ſhort dark hair; had on, and took with him, a blue half-thicks coat and breeches, a pair of rolls trouſers, check and oſnabrug ſhirts, a ſtriped flannel pea jacket, ſhoes and ſtockings, and a worſted cap. RICHARD CLEAN, an indented ſervant, between 30 and 40 years of age, about 5 feet 7 inches high, by trade a joiner and houſe carpenter, ſays he is an Engliſhman, but I believe his is an Iriſman, and wears his own hair, which is of a reddiſh colour; had on, and took with him, a brown coat with metal buttons, linen and cloth breeches, a pair of rolls trouſers, check and oſnabrug ſhirts, and a fine hat more than half worn, and ſhoes and ſtockings. GEORGE CRAIG, an indented ſervant, a Scotchman, and by profeſſion a gardener ; he is between 30 and 40 years of age, about 5 feet 7 inches high, much pitted with the ſmallpox, has a pert way of ſpeaking, is of dark complexion, and wears his own hair, which is dark ; he has a ſear on the right ſide of his neck (and I believe on his left too)  which appears to have been done with a knife; had on, and carried with him, a brown coat with metal buttons, a blue half-thicks coat and breeches, check and oſnabrug ſhirts, a half worn fine hat, a pair of rolls trouſers, and ſhoes and ſtockings.

Turberville, John. “Twenty Dollars Reward.” The Virginia Gazette 3 (Accessible Archives, Inc.), June 28, 1775. Accessed 2/6/2020. http://www.accessible.com.

-Important Secondary Works on the Subject-

Baumgarten, Linda. What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America : The Colonial Williamsburg Collection. Williamsburg and New Haven: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; in association with Yale University Press, 2002.

What Clothes Reveal
Linda Baumgarten

Linda Baumgarten is an expert on early American clothing and has produced several digital documentation projects, books, and articles on historic textiles. She has worked as a curator of textiles and costumes for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation since 1978. http://www.lindabaumgarten.com/

Williams, Julie Hedgepeth. The Significance of the Printed Word in Early America : Colonists’ Thoughts on the Role of the Press. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

The Significance of the Printed Word in Early America : Julie K ...
Julie Hedgepeth Williams

Julie Hedgepeth Williams is an expert journalist who teaches as Stamford University. An expert on the history of journalism, she has written or co-written several academic books on the history of American Journalism, including The Significance of the Printed Word in Early America : Colonists’ Thoughts on the Role of the Press. https://www.samford.edu/arts-and-sciences/directory/Williams-Julie-Hedgepeth

Breen, Timothy H. The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

The Marketplace of Revolution - T. H. Breen - Oxford University Press
A portrait of T. H. Breen.

T. H. Breen is a professor of early American history at Northwestern University and an expert on 18th Century politics and material culture. He has written several prize-winning books and five dozen academic articles on the American Revolution, colonial consumption of goods (including textiles), and other subjects in American History. https://www.history.northwestern.edu/people/faculty/emeriti/timothy-harris-breen.html

-A Surviving Jacket-

Boy's Jacket

Connecticut Historical Society. Boy’s Jacket. Object number 1981.110.0. Ca. 1775-1785. Date of photo not listed. Connecticut Historical Society Museum and Library Website, http://emuseum.chs.org/emuseum/objects/70/boys-jacket?ctx=d633b9029c0ac9d793eb47e0d5c12121516921c2&idx=23. Accessed 4/8/2020.

This is a simple, vernacular jacket was worn in North America around the time of the American Revolution. It is similar to some of the working men’s jackets described in runaway advertisements in 1775, and is a rare example of everyday, unfashionable clothing from eighteenth-century America.

Research Thesis-

During the 1770s, large numbers of both men and women signed indentures, a form of legally-binding contract in which they agreed to work for a set number of years in return for board, lodging, and passage from Europe to the North American colonies to be paid by their master, the legal owner of their labor. After this set number of years elapsed, the owner of the labor usually paid the indentured party a substantial sum with which to start a new life.[1] However, such servants often ran away from their masters for various reasons, including physical abuse and sexual violence.[2] Subscribers to the Virginia Gazette took out advertisements in the popular[3] newspaper to offer rewards for the return of runaways and describe in detail their appearance, including their clothing.[4]

These advertisements reveal two aspects of the lives of the servants they describe. First, despite period stereotypes, fugitive indentured servants did not all dress in a uniform, class-specific fashion. [5] Rather, they tended to dress as diversely as the rest of the white male population of the colonial South, often wearing attire that reflected their occupation, since most of the indentured laborers described in the ads were skilled tradesmen.[6] Also, they adorned themselves in numerous different types of fabrics, which they had access to because of  the far-reaching extent of British factory-produced cloth trade.[7]


End Notes:

[1] Kenneth Morgan, Slavery and Servitude in Colonial North America: A Short History (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 100.

[2]Kenneth Morgan, Slavery and Servitude in Colonial North America: A Short History, 50.

[3] David W. Sloan and Julie Hedgepeth Williams The Early American Press, 1690-1783 (Westport, Connecticut Greenwood Press, 1994), 120.

[4] Accessible Archives, Inc. “Run Away; Indented Servants” The Virginia Gazette Collection, 1775. Accessed 2/20/2020,http://www.accessible.com.

[5]Diana DiPaolo Loren, Archaeology of Clothing and Bodily Adornment in Colonial America (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003), 50.

[6] Accessible Archives, Inc. “Run Away; Indented Servants” The Virginia Gazette Collection, 1775. Accessed 2/20/2020,http://www.accessible.com.

[7] Timothy H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 140.