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The King of Crooks
John Murphey is Worth Half a Negro!

It is difficult to read the ad below without liking well-spoken, polite, strutting John Murphey, joiner, coin-stamper, forger, singer—the very Frank Sinatra of Plantation America.

August 28, 1760

The Pennsylvania Gazette


RUN away, on the 28th of July last, from the Subscriber, living in Alexandria, Fairfax County, Virginia, A Convict Servant Man, named John Murphey, born in Ireland, about 28 Years of Age, by Trade a Joiner, a low set Fellow, about 5 Feet 4 Inches high, struts in his Walk, has a pale Complexion, large black Beard and Eyebrows, wide Mouth, and pleasant Countenance, sings extraordinarily well, having followed it in the Playhouses in London, talks proper English, and that in a polite Manner;

his Apparel not all known by me, but had a fine hat, almost new, good Wig, and Linen, both coarse and fine, two brown Cloth Jackets, with and without Sleeves, new black knit Breeches, also good Buckskin Ditto, fine white Cotton Stockings, and others, Brass Buckles, and good Shoes. I believe he has a musical Grammar, the Owner Name wrote in it Richard Rigg;

likewise I am informed had a Quantity of Dollars, and likely to be base Metal, as he seems experienced in coining. It is imagined he has forged a Pass, and likely will deny his Name, Trade and Place of Nativity.

Whoever secures the said Convict in any Goal, so as his Master may have him again, shall have the above Reward, and if brought home, reasonable Charges, paid by JOHN PATTERSON.

N.B. All Masters of Vessels are forbid to take him off at their Peril.


1. A Negro servant sold for 35-45 pounds. The prices were based largely on the length of service expected. Blacks were sold for life, largely because the colonial and later state authorities were highly resistant to permitting a master to free a black, as they were generally not desired in the population at large. As the countdown to the Civil War wound down Southern states tightened restrictions on freeing slaves, up to and including a ban on freeing one’s own slaves.

2. Peter Williamson sold for 15 pounds and prices for 7-year servants went as low as 5 pounds. Based on the 20 pound reward, it seems reasonable that John’s conviction was for a high crime and that he was a year or two into a 14-year term of service.

America in Chains

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