Slaves, indentured servants, & convict servants formed the core of the garden labor force in the Mid-Atlantic & South. When indentured servants & convict servants became scarce in the early republic, slaves became the main maintenance gardeners.
The vast majority of gardeners of whom there are records were indentured & convict servants from Scotland, Wales, Ireland & England. Although slaves often assisted in the gardens during this period, their tasks or trades were usually not recorded, so it is difficult to verify their numbers.
Originally, most indentured servants imported into the Mid-Atlantic & Upper South worked in the labor-intensive task of raising of tobacco. The second half of the 18th century, especially in Maryland, witnessed growing urbanization & artisan production as well as a steady diversification in agriculture away from tobacco & toward less labor-demanding grain crops, such as wheat.
The Revolutionary War disrupted the flow of indentured & convict servants from Britain to the colonies, & between the end of the war & the turn of the century only five additional white indentured gardeners appeared in Maryland records. White indentured & convict servants increasingly became employed in a variety of trades, as their numbers dwindled in the new republic.
Most indentured & convict gardeners were transported to Atlantic coast docks, & then their labor was sold, much like other imported goods of the period. Their arrival was usually announced in a local newspaper, but little specific information appeared in these notices.
Much information about indentured & convict servants is gained through newspaper ads placed by the master who owned the service of a runaway servant. Most gardeners who ran away during the pre-Revolutionary years were indentured servants, not slaves; & most records of them that survive are fugitive notices in contemporary newspapers. The advertisements placed to apprehend runaway gardeners described these servants ---their clothing, mannerisms, & bad habits---in hope of speedy identification & capture.
The average age of servant gardeners was between 20 & 30. When Charles Carroll the Barrister in Baltimore, Maryland, was making his request to his English factor in January 1768, he wrote, “If the above servants are Turned thirty years of age I shall like them better as they are more Likely to be Riotous & Troublesome if young.”
Many garden servants bore the scars of health problems such as smallpox, frostbite, cataracts, & past violence. Some convict gardeners wore double-riveted steel collars as a mark of their status, especially if they had a history of “stealth of self.”
In 1737, indentured gardener Edward Major, born in England and "bred to Gardening," absented himself from the service of Richard Pearne in Brockley Township, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.
Convict gardeners were running away in Virginia as early as 1738, when gardener Robert Shiels, "a lusty well set fellow about 26 Years of Age" ran from Northumberland, Virginia. English convict garden servant James Spencer ran from Stafford, Virginia, in August of 1747; and John Weller, a convict gardener rode away from John Sutherland in Fredericksburg, Virgina, in 1759, on a large black horse stolen from his master.
In the 1740s, several South Carolina runaway notices mentioned gardeners, both enslaved and serving under an indenture. Run away... a servant man... a Gardener by trade (South Carolina Gazette, January 8, 1750).
In 1741 Philadelphia, the vessel the Snow Prince of Orange arrived from Dublin, with "a Likely Parcel of Servants" including several gardeners. A few months earlier, the Snow Penguin arrived from Cork, also offering a gardener "to be disposed of."
The port at Philadelphia was a popular arrival point for indentured servants. In 1750, the Snow Golden Fleece arrived from Bristol with some gardeners. Several "likely servants" including gardeners arrived in November of 1751; and 1754 saw a "parcel of likely, healthy servant men" including gardeners arrive from London on the brigatine "Lark."
In Philadelphia in 1751, Edward Cross, an English indentured gardener ran away from his service wearing a brown coat with a plush collar, a striped waistcoat, brown stockings, leather breeches, & a dark brown wig.
And another gardener jumped the ship Dolphin, when it landed. Stephen Gom, an English gardener, was also wearing a brown wig, when he escaped the vessel and his indenture contract in 1752.
Convict gardener Jacob Parrott, born in the West of England, ran away from Bohemia, Maryland, in 1752. In 1753, Henry Tedder, "born in Essex, England, about 30 & brought up a Gardiner" ran away from John Hall & Jacob Giles in Baltimore, County, Maryland. Henry had a "pretty wide mouth, talks pretty quick, and snaps his eyes when he talks much, which he is apt to do; much given to drink."
Convict Thomas Warner ran from his garden indenture in Baltimore, County, in 1756; while John Johnson, by trade a gardener, about 25 years old, ran away from the ship Anna, in Lower Marlborough, Maryland. A reward was offered for his return.
John Shupard, "an Englishman, a Gardiner by Trade" ran away from his master John Brown in Cecil County, Maryland, in December of 1757. "An old man, a Gardiner, that belonged to Mr. Thomas Ringold" ran away from Chester Town, Maryland, in the fall of 1760.
English convict servant gardener Thomas Humphreys ran from Stephen Bordley in Kent County, Maryland, in 1760. Bordley noted that Humphreys "is a slippery Chap." The following year, John Nelson, a convict servant gardener, ran from Benjamin Rogers in Baltimore Town.
In a daring over-the-wall escape in 1762, John McDaniel, a convict gardener, made it out of the goal in Philadelphia, wearing his own hair. Also in 1762, John Inglis, a servant "gardiner" from Leith, Scotland, escaped his master John Malcolm on the Bristol Road.
In 1766, William Firth, "a Gardiner, an Englishman, about 45 Years of Age" ran away from Rousby Hall, Patuxent River, Maryland. In Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Irish servant gardener & shoemaker John Logan, under contract to James Alexander near Philadelphia, was waiting in the Carlisle Goal to be picked up by his master or sold for costs & fees by the local jailer. Less than a year later, English servant gardener Thomas Bowman left John Lee Webster in Bushtown reportedly heading for the bright lights of Philadelphia or New York.
At least two gardeners conscripted into His Majesty's army, ran away from their military service. In 1760, Thomas Holmes, an English gardener, deserted in Philadelphia; and Dublin gardener John Fitzpatrick left the service in Annapolis, in 1762.
Some South Carolina indentured servants did not choose to serve their sea service and fled for terra firma, as evidence by this as in the Gazette on September 28, 1767, ABSENTED on the 25th of Sept. 1767, from the ship Two Friends, Samuel Ball, master, indented servant, JAMES FOSTER, aged about 22 years, well set, about 5 feet 6 inches high, his complexion ruddy, but a good deal sun-burnt , with short brown hair, inclined to curl; born in Norwich, and a gardener by trade, had on when he went away a brown coat, but may have changed his dress.
Some indentured servant gardeners were unwittingly impressed into naval service at European ports during the last half of the 18th century. At least 3 men who ended up as gardeners in the Chesapeake had jumped ship; when they arrived in the ports of the bay, in order to get back to terra firma. One of them was 30-year-old white sailor Pierre LaFitte, who fled a French privateer in Baltimore, hoping to return to his original trade as a gardener, further inland, at Frederick, Maryland.
LaFitte quickly came to enjoy some of the benefits of life on land but disliked others. He soon ran away from his gardening chores at Frederick as well; however, he did carry with him several silver spools & a 22-year-old French-speaking black girl wearing a green petticoat.
In 1762, an exceptionally well-dressed servant Englishman John Crocott, who "worked in a Garden at times whilst with me" ran away from Westmoreland County, Virginia. "He took with him a dark Kersey Coat with large Metal Buttons, and Breeches of the same almost new...a blue jump Jacket, double breasted, with small Metal Buttons, white and coloured Stockings."
The ship "Hugh and James" arrived in Philadelphia, from Ireland in 1766, offering servant gardeners among the cargo. The brig "Patty" arrived at Philadelphia bringing "about 100 Servants and Redemptioners, Men Women, Boys, and Girls" among which were serveral gardeners in 1772. It was followed by the Brigatine "Dolphin" in 1774, also with several gardeners "to be disposed of."
Welch convict gardener William Springate ran from Daniel Chamier in Baltimore in 1771; and in 1775, Springate, this time noted to be "a great thief and drunkard" ran again from Job Garretson in Baltimore County, Maryland.
James Vaux of New Providence Township in Philadelphia County, lost his English servant gardener Leonard Broom, who was weraring a handkerchief about his neck, when he took off. In 1776, English servant gardener Thomas Saltar also ran away from New Providence and his owner Rowland Evans.
In 1774 ship, "London Packet," offered "100 likely German & English servants" including one gardener. In 1775, the brig "Dolphin" returned to port with a number of "healthy Servants and Redemptioners" including gardeners, who would serve for a term of 4 years.
In the same year, Samuel Hanson of Charles County, Maryland, advertised for the return of his Irish servant gardener Robert Mills. Charles Tippin, a gardener, ran away from William Reynolds in Annapolis in November of 1775.
Irish gardener John McMahon ran away from Tom's Creek in Frederick County, Maryland, in June of 1776. He traveled north to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and was calling himself John Melony there, as he looked for work. The next April, John Brown, "a Gardener by trade" ran away from John Galloway in Chestertown, Maryland.
After 1750, many of the gentry had begun to garden for both sustinance & pleasure at their in-town residences as well as out on their plantations. By the time the young Charles Carroll of Carrollton returned to Annapolis after completing his education in Europe, in 1765, the grounds has already been set in some order. Charles Carroll of Annapolis, his father, had begun working on their gardens in 1730, with the assistance of a servant gardener. Later, when planning the extensive renovations of their property, the Carrolls decided to buy the indenture of a 22-year-old Welsh convict gardener, in addition to renting the two gardeners from Colonel Sharpes.
Over the next few years, they directly employed several indentured servant gardeners as well as slaves to dig drainage ditches. (The gentlemen themselves were busy ordering seeds, grasses, & clover from their English factors.) In 1772, various laborers built garden gates & a washhouse, & by 1774, brick masons had laid the brick wall surrounding the gardens.
Stonemasons & slaves completed a sea wall at the bottom of the garden terraces in 1775, & the next year laborers were erecting the two octagonal pavilions that would sit 400 feet apart at either end of the sea wall. The servants’ & slaves’ final addition to the grounds, a bathhouse, was up & working in 1778. The artisans & gardeners who achieved these complicated additions to the Carroll grounds at Annapolis worked side by side with Carroll slaves regularly assigned to garden work.
By the 1780s, the Carroll garden was established & only needed to be maintained, so after that date the Carrolls employed few new white garden indentured servants, using for the maintenance work the slaves who had been trained during the renovation.
Similarly, young Annapolis attorney William Paca married wealthy Mary Chew in 1763, & immediately began to plan his Annapolis home & gardens, which he began building in 1765. Paca employed at least one indentured garden servant, who doubled as a shoemaker, to help plan & construct his brick-walled pleasure grounds. His garden was dominated by geometric terraces that fell to a small naturalized wilderness garden boasting a pond, a Chinese-style bridge, & a classical pavilion.
Of the 30 gardeners identified in Maryland documents before the Revolution, all but four were white indentured servants. Many were seasoned British gardeners. The first Maryland servant gardener appeared in Anne Arundel County records in 1720.
Mid-Atlantic & Upper South colonists often looked for specific experience in their indentured servant gardeners. Charles Carroll of Annapolis asked each prospective gardener “How long he served, in what Place, in what places & Gardens He has Worked Since He was out of his apprenticesh[ip], in What Branch He has been Chiefly employed, the Kitchen or Flower Garden of Nursery, whether He understands Grafting Inoculating & Trimming.”
During the 1770s, these indentured servants were usually paid between 6 pounds & 32 pounds per year plus their meat, drink, washing, & lodging. Garden servants often supplemented their regular duties in the winter by doubling as dyers, & weavers. Familiarity with the dyes produced by various plants led gardeners naturally into textile trades. The combination of crafts flourished outside the Mid-Atlantic & Upper South as well. Slaves who served as summer gardeners also sometimes doubled as shoemakers during the winter months.
Some of Maryland’s convict gardeners had practiced the gardening trade before arriving in the colonies, & one possessed an unusual knowledge of sophisticated gardening techniques. In January of 1768, Charles Carroll the Barrister, cousin to the Carrolls of Annapolis & Carrolton, wrote to his English agents, “I am in want of a Gardener that understands a Kitchen Garden…Grafting, Budding, Inoculating & the Management of an orchard & Fruit Trees…under Indenture for four or five years…There come in Gardeners in every Branch from Scotland at Six pounds a year.”
The requested servant arrived at Mount Clare later that year & was apparently well respected by the Barrister & his fellow gentry, even though he was a convict. When Charles Carroll of Carrollton bought a gardener for his father at the docks in Baltimore, he asked the Barrister’s convict gardener to interview the new immigrant & then wrote his father, “I have bought a new gardiner from Captain Frost. I gave 23 pounds currency for him; he is not about 21 years of age, appears to be healthy & stout & orderly; he says he understands a kitchen garden pretty well; Mr. Carroll’s gardener examined him: he has 4 years to serve.”
Carroll Barrister’s convict gardener may have been a good judge of men, but he did have a few negative qualities. Five years into the man’s indenture, the exasperated Carroll placed & advertisement in the Maryland Gazette on May 6,1773: “TEN POUNDS REWARD…Ran away…a convict servant man, names John Adam Smith…by trade a gardener; has with him…a treatise of raising the pineapple, which he pretends is of his own writing, talks much of his trade & loves liquor.”
Occasionally masters placed a spiked iron collar around the necks of their white indentured servants for other offenses. In 1770, one of the servant gardeners of Charles Carroll of Annapolis got drunk & insulted several women in the Carroll family. Carroll threatened to have the man whipped, but the women begged for leniency on his behalf.
Carroll wrote to his son, “Squires was not whipt, He wears a collar in terrorem to others, & as a Punishment which He justly deserves, but I think to take it off soon." Carroll felt fully justified in often whipping his favorite servant gardener, John Turnbull, for drinking too much & was surprised when the man chose to work for Carroll no more, when his indenture expired in 1772. Ah, freedom.