A Runaway a Day 1 (of 5)

Vicki Embrey dressed as Jane Smith, photographed by Sarah Christine photography

Throughout the eighteenth century, newspapers advertised servants, slaves, soldiers, spouses and others who had fled from contractual obligations. The advertisements give us remarkable textual descriptions of everyday individuals about whom little else is known. Each day this week, we’ll present an advertisement for a runaway woman, accompanied by an illustration of carefully researched, handmade clothing modeled to represent how the person may have looked.

One Hundred Dollars Reward. Ran away on Monday morning the 20th instant, an Irish servant girl named Jane Smith, about five feet six inches high, black hair, a down look, remarkably freckled in her face; had on and took with her, a striped short gown, striped lincey petticoat, a pair of new stockings, new shoes, and a new check handkerchief: She stole and took with her a dark grey cloak almost new, a green bonnet with a white ribbond round it, a pair of silver shoe buckles, a pair of white mitts, and about forty dollars in Continental money. Whoever takes up the said servant and secures her in any gaol in this State, so that her master may have her again, shall have the above reward, and reasonable charges if brought home, paid by Jacob Keehmle. N.B. The above Jane Smith is a noted thief, and was concerned in a great robbery in July last. [Pennsylvania Packet, January 1, 1780]


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  • I greatly enjoy these advertisements and the glimpse they provide of the past, in both period clothing and period slang. “Down look” or “downy look” was also used in the descriptions of Moses Dunbar, hanged for treason (i.e. joining a loyalist regiment) at Hartford, CT, in 1777. “Downy” at the time was slang for “cunning.”

    Thus of course a thief (or a loyalist) would have a cunning look.

  • Nice to see these. For people who want lots more, see my multiple volumes of runaways from the colonies/states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, published by Clearfield Books at genealogical.com

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