New-England Runaways, 1774-1777 by Joseph Lee Boyle: Book Review

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review and I have received other books from Genealogical Publishing Company, also for review. However, my opinions are my own and not influenced by outside sources.

In November 2021, I reviewed Joseph Lee Boyle’s book, New-England Runaways, 1769-1773., which was newly published.

Boyle’s newest book in the series is now hot off the press.

New-England Runaways, 1774-1777 is particularly interesting because not only does it contain entries full of juicy, hard-to-find details about ancestors who lived in the 18th century, it also covers runaways who took to foot during the first half of the American Revolution.

No Table of Contents is needed, as entries are listed in alphabetical order by surname. The Introduction, however, makes for as interesting a read as the book itself as Mr. Boyle shares examples of the types of records found, mostly in local newspapers.

There are errant husbands – and wives, runaway servants, military deserters and even ads seeking the return of stolen items with the majority of ads placed in newspapers in New England and New York.

Abridged Examples:

Anderson, Ashebell – with the sloop Jolly and much cargo, sailed from Middletwon, Connecticut on 4 December 1774 with orders to proceed directly to Rhode Island. However, information has him placed in North Carolina. He is a repeat offender, having stolen the same sloop and cargo four years previously. Full entry describes Mr. Anderson in detail along with cargo, the ship, and various merchants involved with the shipment.

Smith, Thomas and William Benson, a Negro man escaped from jail in Cambridge, Massachusetts on 17 November 1775. Smith is a well known thief who ‘hath been in almost all the Goals on the Continent.’ Full description of both men is given with $2.00 reward offered for their capture.

Goodrich, Solomon, accused by his wife Esther of having ‘cruelly pulled my hair, pinch’d my flesh, kick’d me out of the bed, dragged me out by my arms and my heels, dragged me across the room and flung ashes upon me to smother me – and more! For these reasons, she has left his bed and board, 22 October 1776.

Greenhill, Joseph – was charged with breaking into the house of Captain Samuel Leffingwell of Norwich, Connecticut and stole a ‘quantity of plate,’ which was then melted into bars. He was a repeat offender, having the mark of amputation on both ears. Under the alias of John Brown, he was tried and sentenced to be hanged in Litchfield, but broke out of jail and escaped.

Silk, Thomas alias Old Ginger, a villain, Thomas Dix, a British soldier, John Cunningham, another British soldier and a number of German prisoners (Hessians?) have escaped or deserted in Boston, 28 November 1777.

I really, really wish I could find an ancestor or two in this book. Although I see some familiar surnames like Coffin and Buckman, I didn’t even find anyone closely related to an ancestor.

In spite of that, this book is a fun, interesting volume that most definitely paints a picture of daily life in the late 1700s. For those who might think life was simpler back then, it appears there was still enough crime to be found and unhappy servants, slaves, wives and soldiers were unhappy with their lives and chose to take off. Life was not so simple back in the ‘good old days.’

New-England Runaways, 1774-1777, compiled by Joseph Lee Boyle (as well as numerous other books in Mr. Boyle’s series on colonial runaways – prices vary) can be purchased for $45.00 online from Genealogical Publishing Company.




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