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‘Who Calls Himself WILLIAM WILSON’
When a False Identity Steals itself in Plantation America

April 25, 1771

The Pennsylvania Gazette

Philadelphia, April 22, 1771.

EIGHT DOLLARS Reward. RUN away from the subscriber, living in Waterford township, Gloucester county, a servant man, who calls himself WILLIAM WILSON, but his right name is WILLIAM McCOLLUN, born in Ireland. [1]

He is about 30 years of age, 5 feet 5 or 6 inches high, of a sandy complexion, his hair almost red, tied behind, and is a well set, full faced, fresh coloured fellow, with a large under lip, grey eyes, and has a sour look.

Had on, and took with him, a good felt hat, a broadcloth jacket, of a blue grey colour, without sleeves or lining; two shirts, one ozenbrigs, the other sheeting; old black knit breeches; one pair of good blue stockings, and an old grey pair; a pair of neats leather shoes, half worn, with brass buckles. [2]

Whoever takes up said servant, and secures him, so that his master may have him again, shall receive the above reward, and reasonable charges, paid by BENJAMIN INSKEEP.

All masters of vessels are forbid to carry him off at their peril. [3]


1. Born in Ireland meant that the person arrived as a child from Ireland., which, in this case, puts William on his third 7-year term.

2. Additional time will be added to his term for running away, and also for theft.

3. Since 1741, the British Admiralty had been sworn to enforce the property claims of plantation slave owners over captains of merchants and men of war, who might take on such runaways as crewmen—a form of slavery itself often more brutal than that inflicted upon Negroes in Antebellum Virginia. What soul-eating condition impels a man to seek life as a brutalized slave sailor?

So His Master May Have Him Again

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