Margaret Johnson, a Runaway Indentured Servant

Dateline: Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1687. Margaret felt ill-used by her mistress. She ran away. What happened when they caught her?

Let’s get right to the case:

3rd day, 10th month, 1687 (3 Dec 1687)

Robert Moulder, plaintiff

William Tally, defendant

Modernized transcription begins:

The declaration was read

James Brown [our direct line] being attested declares that Margaret Johnson’s mother, inquiring of the plaintiff where her daughter was, he told her he knew not; he thought she knew best, but the next day this deponent says that he saw the said Margaret making hay in company of the defendant;

And Mary Best being attested declares that after Mary Johnson [sic] had run away to the plaintiff’s and his wife did often offer her time and opportunity to visit her parents’ and that she has often run away since, without any occasion given her;

Morton Canute being legally attested declares that Margaret Johnson told him that she did look after her parents’ cattle and that she could not live with the plaintiffs by reason of her hard usage by the plaintiff’s wife and Mary Bisse [Best] and that she further told him her father knew nothing of her being at home, but her mother did; and the next day after, she came again with her parents’ cattle to this deponent’s, where he showed her a paper threatening her that if she came anymore he would send her to her master Moulder;

William Hamby being attested declares that the defendant and his wife came to the plaintiff’s upon a first day of the week, the defendant’s wife pretending she came to look [for] daughter Margaret’s head [sic] upon which the plaintiff’s wife answered she would make her do it herself, the defendant’s wife replied she was better damned than meddle with her;

William Hawkes being attested for the defendant declares that he heard the plaintiff say at his own house that he would be troubled himself no more with her as a servant since George Stroad [Stroud] had given his judgment that the indenture was not good;

The verdict of the jury is they allow the plaintiff twenty-seven shillings with the cost of the suit and the girl to remain with her mother;

Hereupon the judgment is granted.

Transcription ends.

So it looks like Margaret Johnson is freed from her indenture to Robert Moulder and was free to live with her mother. The court often enough investigated the abuse of servants and would place them in another household, if necessary.


Positive Lessons from Indentured Servants in Colonial America

One Troubled Servant in Chester Co., Pennsylvania, 1685-1688

Indentured Servants, Indians, and Rum in Philadelphia 1684-85

How to Punish a Servant for Slander

Record for the Courts of Chester County, Pennsylvania, Begun the 13th of September, 1681, Ending the 10th day of March 1696/7, pp. 110-111

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