Runaway slaves and runaway servants were a consistent problem for landowners during the colonial era

Runaway slaves and runaway servants were a consistent problem for landowners during the colonial era, 17th and 18th century. Runaway slaves and servants fled from abusive masters, mainly to get away from the demanding work and the cruel mistreatment they were faced with every day. Some would even escape to find their family members or friends who they had been split from at some point or another. Some servants and slaves were persuaded into doing work for their master’s neighbors; this could be seen as neighbors attempting to steal labors from those the slaves and servants serve. “The Geography of Slavery in Virginia is a digital collection of advertisements for runaway and captured slaves and servants in 18th and 19th century Virginia newspapers”. This research utensil allows for countless cases to be examined and viewed to find how Virginian’s went about finding their runaway slaves and/or servants. White and black slaves and servants would runaway together, separate, but ultimately, punishment varied from servant/slave to servant/slave. The General Assembly passed laws in regards to how punishment would work for those who ran away. Their every moved was watched and regulated, “would brand them, cut their hair, and would even have rewards for those that captured the slaves and/or servants”. Slave women were perceived to be less worthy of a big reward and would normally be granted 20 shillings if found. Servant women could range between a pistol reward and 61 ‘like money’ and this is apparent in the ads. Another difference between the two, were that slaves had a tendency to run away with another slave. Servants would run away single handedly. Though presumably similar, slaves and servants are very different as found through The Geography of Slavery.
The difference between slaves and servants has been an ongoing discussion that many do not know where to draw the line on what defines a servant and what defines a slave. During the 17th and 18th century there were many changes that occurred during that time and so there was no steady definition for either party. The roles, particular characteristics and duties of the slaves and servants will always seem similar yet different at the same time depending from what historical content and perspective is provided. To sum up, slaves appeared to be treated more harshly than servants. One of the main reasons for this is due to the fact that slaves were not given freedom even after many, many, many years of working from their master. Normally slaves are slaves for life and so are their kids and it continues on. They are owned property to their master and that is about it for them. Servants were different from this because they were given freedom after 4 to 7 years of working for their masters. During the Colonial Virginia era, servants signed a contract by which they “agreed to work for a certain number of years in exchange for transportation to Virginia and, once, they arrived, food, clothing, and shelter”. However, some would have to serve longer than agreed due to an infraction or violations. Overall, there is a common definition as to what labor was back then; it was harsh, cruel and life was no longer a life to live and that was why many of them ran away.
Hunting down runaway women slaves and servants were enforced through cruel ads. These ads described in great detail the runaway’s skills, missing teeth, height, weight, name, who owned her, age, and when they believed she had run away. The ads even described markings, scars, or any form of brutal punishment. For women slaves, like Margaret, Lizzy, Kitty, and Fanny, they received a short little three sentenced description about what they look like, “mulatto” or “negro”, age, where they left from, who owns them, and what their worth is. Given this information, one can conclude that though slaves were treated with disrespect and cruelty, that did not stop in these ads either. Slaves Margaret and Lizzy were two ‘Mulatto’ girls, or a mixed black and white slave, age 12 and were owned by Jonathan Patteson. Patteson was willing to reward whoever found these girls “20 shillings reward, besides what the law allows”. Kitty, who was 40, and Fanny, who was 24, were two ‘Negro’ women who were owned by Jordan Anderson. He was willing to have “20s reward, besides what the law allows”, too. Though these ads were written in 1767 and 1769 they still show a lot of similarity as to how they went about finding women slaves. They were disrespectful, rude, short and to the point, yet great detail and it even contained a great reward (hence the sarcasm). 20 shillings today is now worth 20 cents in U.S. dollars.
Servants varied from criminals to skilled workers to people trying to start over somewhere new. They were the lowest paid in Virginia due to them working for free in exchange for clothes, food, and shelter (not as luxury as you think). Servants kept nothing, and had nothing. Servants became a hot and new demand for many, especially with the expanding tobacco market growing. Isabella Pierce, was rebellious and not only did she try and run away, but she also stole from her ‘master’ two rings and 61. in cash. Her reward if found was 51 in Virginia currency, if found in Maryland or Virginia, but if found in Pennsylvania or Carolina the reward would be 61. Thomas Lewis went into great detail to find Ms. Pierce for his ad was about a half of page long. Susanna Weakly on the other hand ran away with nothing but her ‘Wench’ like self. She was described in great detail; every mark and even her supposed North England dialect. If found this persons was to be rewarded a “pistole reward, besides what the laws allowed”. 8 John Silbey, owner of Weakly predicted what her next move was and what she’d attempt to do, insinuating he knew a lot about his servant or this was not his ‘first rodeo’ and possibly not his last.
Between the 1730s and 1780s, women slave and servant owners advertised in the Virginia Gazette for the many that ran away. These ads illustrated the desire and want these slaves and servants craved for a hint of freedom. Though slaves were normally slaves for life and servants would eventually received their freedom, freedom was not something to work for or pay for, it was something you were born with, but for them that was not the case. Being valued, yet at a low price was hypocritical and something interesting to fathom. Even once they were captured after running away the first time, they did not give up and continued to resist their masters.