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“A Person Like Me, Oppress’d By Dame Fortune, Need Not Care Where He Goes”: The “Infortunate” William Moraley Tries His Luck in America, 1729.

Many travelers made their way to Philadelphia and the Mid-Atlantic colonies in the eighteenth century in search of economic opportunity, but not all experienced the fabulous success of Benjamin Franklin. William Moraley, born in 1699 into a modest artisanal family, was more typical. Economic cycles were often critical in determining migration patterns; approximately 73,000 people left for the British colonies in the 1730s, twice the average of earlier in the century (17,000 arrived in Philadelphia). Like half of all European emigrants to North America in the eighteenth century, Moraley faced grim conditions at home. After the death of his father, a journeyman clockmaker, Moraley possessed scarce resources and was imprisoned for debt. The thirty-year-old Moraley bound himself for five years as a servant in the British North American colonies. He titled his picaresque account of life in Britain and America The Infortunate: The Voyage and Adventures of William Moraley, an Indentured Servant.


About this time [1720], the World run mad after the South Sea Bubble. My Father was bit to the Tune of 800, which somewhat impair’d his Fortune; and being advanc’d in Years, proposed to my Mother to settle at Newcastle, where he had many Friends.—She declin’d this Proposal for some Years, but at last agreed to it, by my giving her a good Account of the Place, where I had been some Years before.

We arriv’d at Newcastle after two Days Sail, and settled for about two Years, meeting with Encouragement in our Business from the generous Inhabitants. In the meantime, my Father having Notice of the Death of his Brother, left us, in order to secure his Effects, but unfortunately died at Harwich, in his Passage home from London, in the Year 1725, from which Time I date all my Misfortunes. He had made a Will, which not answering my Expectations, occasioned frequent Quarrels and Contests between my Mother and myself; and her marrying again, widen’d the Breach, and oblig’d me to leave Newcastle for London, where I arrived with 12s. [shillings] only, given me by my Mother, to seek my Fortune, she assuring me she could not raise any more, by reason of her Marriage.

The Money being soon spent, and not readily falling into Business, I was reduc’d to Poverty. A Gentleman let her know my circumstances. She answer’d, she had given all out of her Power, and could do no more for me. He writ to her again, throatening [threatening] her, if she did not restore the third Part of the Personal Effects to me, he would do me Justice; and withal let her know, he had applied to the Chamber of London on my Account. She answer’d him, if her or I gave her Trouble, she would leave all she had a Right to, from me: So the Affair dropp’d. I had now my Ingenuity to trust to; and it was in vain to expect any Subsistence from her.

The said Gentleman writ another Letter to her, and told her it was needless to contend with me, for I was resolv’d to have my Right, notwithstanding my Father’s Will, and any Release I could give her, unless she could prove I receiv’d my whole Fortune from her, a Release only standing good for so much as I had receiv’d, which was but 20 for the Acquittance of about 300 (for the Lord Mayor’s Court being a Court of Equity, Remedy would be had against such an Imposition) and advised her to restore me the remainder.

But not hearing from her, I being resolute, as not caring what became of me, it enter’d my Head to leave England, and sell myself for a Term of Years into the American Plantations. Accordingly I repair’d to the Royal Exchange, to inform myself, by the printed Advertisements fix’d against the Walls, of the Ships bound to America; where musing by myself, a Man accosted me in the following Manner. Sir, said he, I have for some time observ’d you, and fancy your Condition of Life is alter’d for the worse, and guess you have been in better Circumstances; but if you will take my Advice, I’ll make it my Business to find out some way which may be of Service to you. Perhaps you may imagine I have a Design to inveigle you, but I assure you I have none; and if you will accept of a Mug of Beer, I will impart what I have to propose to you. The Man appearing sincere, I gave Ear to him.

I was dress’d at that Time in a very odd Manner. I had on a Red Rug Coat, with Black Lining, Black Buttons and Button Holes, and Black Lace upon the Pockets and Facing; an old worn out Tye Wig, which had not been comb’d out for above a Fortnight; an unshaven Beard; a torn Shirt, that had not been wash’d for above a Month; bad Shoes; and Stockings all full of Holes.

After he had shav’d me, he proposed to me an American Voyage, and said there was a Ship at Limehouse Dock, that would sail for Pensilvania in three or four Days. Sir, said I, a Person like me, oppress’d by Dame Fortune, need not care where he goes. All Places are alike to me; and I am very willing to accept of your Offer, if I could have some View of bettering my Condition of Life, though I might have expected a better Fate than to be forc’d to leave my Native Country: But adverse Fortune is become familiar to me, by a Series of Misfortunes; so had rather leave a Place where I have no Prospect of advancing myself, than to continue here where I have no Friends to relieve me. Besides, in a distant Place, not being known, no Person can reflect on me for any ill Management, which oftentimes discourages one’s Friends from supporting one, knowing the ill Use that is made of their Support.

Sir, says the Person, I’m entirely of your Way of Thinking, and believe you will better yourself by following my Advice. I will recommend you to the Captain, who is bound for Philadelphia, in Pensilvania, a Country producing everything necessary for the Support of Life; and when your Time is expir’d, you will be free to live in any of the Provinces of America.

Then he ask’d me, if I was bred to any Business. I told him, Watchmaking was my Occupation. He said, he was afraid I would not do for any other Business, that being of little Service to the Americans; the useful Trades being, Bricklayers, Shoemakers, Barbers, Carpenters, Joiners, Smiths, Weavers, Bakers, Tanners, and Husbandmen more useful than all the rest. They bind themselves for four Years; but If I would consent to bind myself for five, he said he would undertake to get me admitted.—Those Men Brokers have generally for their Pains Three Half Crowns, given them by the Masters of those Vessels which they are employ’d for.

After we had drank two Pints of Beer, he paid the Reckning. I absolutely agreed to go, and to that Intent we went before Sir Robert Bailis, Lord Mayor, where I was sworn as not being a married Person, or an Apprentice by Indenture. He paid for my Oath one Shilling, a Perquisite of his Clerk. From thence we went to London Bridge, to a Stationer’s Shop, and there an Indenture of Servitude was drawn, which I sign’d.—After this we took Boat at Billingsgate, steer’d our Course for Limehouse, where we arriv’d about Eleven o’Clock in the Forenoon. The Ship was named the Bonetta, of about 200 Tons; the Owner Charles Hankin, James Reed, Commander. There were on board 20 Persons, all Men, bound to the same Place, and on the same Account. As soon as I enter’d, my Friend left me to think better on it, and wish’d me a prosperous Voyage, and a good Wife....

We all of us had the Liberty of Visiting the Town [on arrival in Philadelphia], where I sold my Red Coat for a Quart of Rum, my Tie Wig for Sixpence, with which I bought a Three-penny Loaf and a Quart of Cyder. Our Cargo consisting chiefly of Voluntary Slaves, who are the least to be pitied, I saw all my Companions sold off before me; my turn came last, when I was sold for eleven Pounds, to one Mr. Isaac Pearson, a Man of Humanity, by Trade a Smith, Clock-maker and Goldsmith, living at Burlington, in New Jersey: He was a Quaker, but a Wet one....

I left Philadelphia to go to Burlington to my Master; I went in a Boat, where I got myself Drunk for the first time after my Arrival, and then first experienced the Strength of Rum. About Twelve we landed there, and I was conveyed to my Master, where I dined upon Dumplings, boil’d Beef, and Udder; when I became enamour’d with Mrs. Sarah, the Daughter. I was stripp’d of my Rags, and received in lieu of them a torn Shirt, and an old Coat: They tell me, it was only for the present, for I might expect better.

I went to bed that Night, being the first Time I had seen one since I left London, which was fifteen Weeks. The next day I had leave, upon my Desire, to walk about the Town: It is close to the river, and contains about 300 Houses; the Number of inhabitants was 800. It has a Key and Wharf, where Ships of 500 Tun may anchor: At the Upper-End, is the Prison, built of Brick.—Every House has a Garden and Orchard, stored with Apples, Peaches, and Cherries. Cyder is the common Drink here; some Houses making one hundred and fifty Barrels in the Year....

My Master employed me in the Business: I continued satisfied with him for sometime; but being desirous to settle at Philadelphia, during the rest of my servitude, I declared to him, I would stay no longer, and desired him to dispose of me to some other Master, and insisted upon it, agreeably to the Tenour of my Indenture. This Demand made him cross to me, and I attempted an Escape, but was taken, and put into Prison; but was soon released, with a promise to satisfy my Demand. About a Fortnight after, we went to the Mayor of Philadelphia, his Name was Griffith, a Man of exact Justice, tho' an Irishman, who reconciled us; so I returned back to Burlington, and continued with him three Years, he forgiving me the other Two: I was ever after perfectly pleased with my Master’s Behaviour to me, which was generous.

Source: William Moraley, The Infortunate: or, the Voyage and Adventures of William Moraley. Written by Himself. Newcastle, England, 1743; reprint, Chester, PA: The Delaware County Republican, 1884.