Tuesday, May 4, 2010

An Irish Runaway (Pennsylvania Gazette, 9-26-1771)

As much as I despise ethnic stereotypes, it is inevitable that you encounter individuals who are almost satirical in their adherence to such conventions. And so it was with Nathaniel Anster, an "Irish servant man" belonging to Isaac Wayne of Chester County, who ran away in the fall of 1771. Nathaniel was of medium height with a swarthy, "sandy complexion" and "short bushy hair." Having arrived as an indentured servant just after the French and Indian War, Nathaniel still spoke with a thick brogue and was "much inclined to strong drink." He had already run away from his masters twice. Isaac Wayne explained that Nathaniel had been caught stealing money the day before he escaped, would probably attempt to use an expired indenture as a pass, and might acquire new clothes through his "natural propensity to steal."
When he ran away, Nathaniel could not have looked more provincial. Confined to rural Chester County, he wore "an old striped blanket coat," with a large tear down the back seam, over coarse homespun trousers and shirt. At least his buckled shoes were in good condition, and he wore "a good felt hat" shoved down over his curly hair.

It is tempting to imagine this stocky Irishman stumbling out of a roadside tavern into the lap of his pursuers. Or perhaps facing the barrel of a fowling piece while raiding some farmer's clothespress. But in reality, we may never know Nathaniel's eventual fate. The best we can do is enjoy this caricature of an early Irish immigrant, and hope, for his sake, that he managed to find a new set of clothes and avoid the bottle.


  1. If he was treated poorly as many indentured servants were I can imagine him needing to drown his sorrows in grog and understand his need to escape.

  2. What do you mean you despise ethnic stereotypes? Some of our best laughs have been over stereotypes...