The Maryland economy in the late 1700s was dependent on servants. These servants included apprentices, slaves and convicts, as well as indentured servants.
Servants and slaves at Hampton were essential to the day-to-day operations at both the plantation and the Northampton Furnace and Forge.
The Ridgelys contracted with more than 300 indentured servants between 1750 and 1800 at the Hampton plantation and the Northampton iron works. Some were voluntarily indentured, while most were involuntary.
As many servants were illiterate, there are few written records by the servants themselves.
Most adult indentures lasted four or five years, but children could serve much longer. The length of the indenture varied and was based on expected productivity.
On plantations, male slaves were often trained in skilled work; the majority of women performed unskilled work.
Although indentured servants tended to receive better treatment than slaves, they more frequently attempted escape.
African-American slaves were less likely to run away than white indentured servants, because they were more conspicous in the free white population and, thus, were more apt to be caught.
More men than women ran away, because, it was believed, men were more aware of life outside the plantation. Women were also hesitant to run because of their children.
Numerous entries in the Northampton accounts refer to runaways. Payments were itemized in broadside announcements and newspaper notices. Fees and rewards for locating runaways were also listed.
Most slaves did not see the American Revolution as a war for their freedom, rather, they regarded the event as an opportunity for escape.
The British quickly realized that slaves could be valuable allies against the Patriots. On November 7, 1775, Virginia’s governor, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, issued a proclamation that offered freedom to slaves who would join the British army. Meanwhile, Maryland allowed slaves to serve in the militia as substitutes for their masters. These arrangements typically involved promises of freedom in exchange for military service. In January 1777, General William Howe issued a proclamation directed to slaves, offering freedom. In response to this proclamation, many slaves escaped in family groups. It is estimated that 6,000 slaves escaped to the British army between 1775 and 1781.