Monday, March 22, 2010

A Plush Vest and Shoe Strings (Pennsylvania Gazette, 3-13-1796)

Richard Gibbs and Samuel Nicholson partnered to offer a substantial reward of $20 for the return of their indentured servants in April of 1796. William Williams, boney though he may have been, was well-dressed when he ran away, and his plush (wool velvet) vest made him all the more remarkable. His accomplice Thomas Brown was clothed more plainly in a rough short jacket and linen trousers. Both men wore unique hats - Williams's was cocked up on one side and Brown's featured a square crown. Their shoes were tied with strings in place of buckles, which was not uncommon among the "lower sort," America's working poor.

On the whole, Williams and Brown were typical of runaways in early America. Indentured servitude was quickly falling from favor by 1796, under pressure from both economic forces and new republican ideals. But Gibbs and Nicholson had paid for the immigration of their workers, and were intent on receiving their full terms of labor in payment.

Whether either man was recaptured remains a mystery. It is tempting to imagine them striking out for a new life in a new country - running into the sunset, and maybe tripping over their shoestrings...

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