RUN-AWAY, Last night the 12th instant. From Rebeccah Morehouse, opposite to Alderman Benson, at the shipyards, New-York, a tall, slim, straight, negro wench, named Pegg, about 40 years of age, of a yellowish complexion, has had the small pox, but is smooth faced, and talks good English, has the middle finger of her left hand crooked and cannot straighten it; was born at Oyster-Bay, but has resided several years in New-York, and formerly belonged to Mr. Pell; is sensible, cunning, and artful, and can wash, iron, and cook; had on a short red cloak, a white hat, and a pair of men’s shoes, and had with her a calico gown and a variety of other clothes.
Pegg, the enslaved woman owned by Rebeccah Morehouse, ran away last night. Pegg is a tall, thin, light-skinned Black woman with good posture. She is about 40 years old. She had smallpox, but she has no scars on her face. She speaks English. Her left middle finger is crooked. Pegg was born in Oyster Bay. She has lived in New York many years. She was once owned by Mr. Pell. Pegg is smart, sneaky, and crafty. She can wash, iron, and cook. She was wearing a short red cloak, a white hat, and men’s shoes. She brought other clothing with her.
Whoever will bring home the said wench to her mistress or to the subscriber, ship-carpenter at the ship yards, shall have 2 dollars reward if taken in town, or three dollars, if taken out of town, beside all reasonable charges. John Leversage
If you catch Pegg in the city and return her to Rebecca Morehouse or me, you will get a two-dollar reward. If you catch her outside the city, you will get a three-dollar reward. We will also pay any reasonable expenses you make while bringing her back.
All masters of vessels and others are forewarned not to entertain or carry her away as they will answer it at their peril.
If any ship captain or other sailor helps Pegg escape by sea, he will be punished.
“Rebeccah Morehouse’s Pegg,” The New-York Gazette: or The Weekly Post-Boy, December 13, 1764. New-York Historical Society.
One of the most powerful ways an enslaved person could resist was to run away. Running away carried heavy risks. If runaways were caught, they would be physically punished, usually by whipping, and might be made to wear chains or handcuffs to prevent them from running again. But if an escape was successful, they did not just gain their freedom. They also robbed their owner of the investment that had been made in them, prevented their owner from benefitting from their future labor, and inspired other enslaved people to follow in their example.
About the Document
The runaway slave advertisements that appear in colonial newspapers are not only evidence of the ongoing resistance to slavery happening in the colony, they are some of the only documents that describe the appearance and histories of individual enslaved people. They have proved to be an invaluable resource for historians who want to learn more about the culture and experiences of colonial enslaved people. But they have limitations. The information included is only what the owner deemed necessary to find the person, and they leave no record of why the person chose to run or whether they were successful.
This advertisement is full of fascinating details that give the reader a sense of what Pegg’s life must have been like. But it is also unique in a few significant ways. First, enslaved women were far less likely to run away than enslaved men. Historians believe this is because most enslaved women were forced to bear children for their masters, and either could not or would not leave their children behind. Second, Pegg was much older than the average runaway for her time period, which leaves us to wonder what exactly prompted her to take this risk after so many years. Finally, Pegg’s owner was a woman, and English legal and social custom meant that she could not take the steps necessary to get Pegg back by herself. This is why the ad was placed by a man.
manumission: Release from slavery.
What does Pegg’s physical description reveal about her life?
Why are runaway advertisements a valuable resource for historians? What are their drawbacks?
Why was running away a powerful form of resistance to the institution of slavery?
Teach this document in any lesson about the history of slavery in the Americas.
Ask students to draw a sketch of Pegg based on the descriptions in this advertisement.
Use this advertisement to introduce your students to the practice of analyzing runaway slave advertisements, and then have them conduct their own research using the online database Freedom on the Move.