Primary Resource

"Against Runnaway Servants" (1658)

In this law, "Against Runnaway Servants," passed in its March 1658 (New Style) session, the General Assembly addressed the problem of indentured servants who ran away, while also making provisions for servants who believed they were being mistreated to seek justice in the courts. Some spelling has been modernized.

Transcription from Original

WHEREAS there are divers loyteringe runnawaies in this countrey who very often absent themselves from their masters service, and some times in a long time cannot be found, whereby their said masters are at great charge in finding of them, and manie times even to the losse of their yeares labour before they be had Bee it therefore enacted and confirmed, that all runnawayes that shall absent themselves from their said master's service shall be liable to make satisfaction by service at the end of their times by indenture vizt. double the time of service so neglected and in some cases more if the com'rs. for that place appointed shall find requisite and convenient, And if such runnawaies shall be found so to transgresse the second time or oftner, if it shall be duely proved against them, then they shall be branded in the shoulder with the letter R. and alsoe double their time of service neglected, and likewise double his time if at any time afterwards hee shall neglect, and in some cases more if the court shall think fitt. And be it also further enacted, That he or shee that shall lodge or harbor any runnaway shall pay thirtie pounds of tobacco for everie night as long as they shall be prooved to entertaine them, contrary to the former act about hireing of servants; And it shall be lawfull for any servant giveing notice to his master, haveing just cause of complaint against their masters by harsh and bad usage, or else for want of diett or convenient necessaries, to repaire to the next com'r. to make his or their complaint And if the said comissioner shall find by just proofe that the said servants cause of complaint is just, the said com'rs. is hereby required to give order for the warneing of the said master or mistresse before the com'rs. in the severall countie courts, where the matter in difference shall be decided, as they in their discretions shall think fitt, and that care be had that no servant or servants be misused by their master or mistresse where they shall find the complaint to be just.