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Runaway From Freedom?

By Mike O'Malley, George Mason University

We know a great deal about the “founding fathers”—the famous patriots who fought for their freedom in the Revolutionary War. We know much less about the much larger numbers of Americans who labored as slaves, indentured servants, or apprentices. Benjamin Franklin estimated that at the time of the American Revolution, roughly one half of Pennsylvania’s labor force was legally unfree—bound to someone else as property, for many years or for a lifetime.

This assignment uses online advertisements for runaway slaves to build a database of information about runaways—those who sought freedom. Using this collected information, we will then try to draw useful conclusions about the people on whose labor the revolution depended.

Step One: Download this database spreadsheet. Click the right mouse button to save a copy to your disk, or on a macintosh, click and hold the mouse button and choose “download link to disk.” It runs in Microsoft Excel.

Step Two: Begin searching at the Geography of Slavery in Virginia website. The search page for this site is at this link. Begin your search with the period 1728-1750, then search the period 1751-1765, then finally the years from 1766 through 1776.

Step Three: Enter the information you find into the “runaways” database you downloaded. You should enter information for at least thirty runaways. They may be slaves, or indentured servants, or apprentices. Consider these questions as you begin to compile your database.

Step Four: Write a three page analysis of the data.