February 3

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-London Gazette (February 3, 1769).

“LAST Wednesday morn, at break of day, / From Philadelphia run away, / An Irish man, nam’d John M‘Keoghn, / To fraud and imposition prone.”

The “Poets Corner” was a regular feature in the New-London Gazette in the late 1760s. It frequently ran in the first column on the final page, appearing alongside advertisements and, on occasion, news items. When readers perused the February 3, 1769, edition, they encountered a relatively short poem in the “Poets Corner” and a much lengthier one among the advertisements. This second poem, bearing the title “ADVERTISEMENT,” told the story of John McKeoghn, an Irish indentured servant who ran away from Mary Nelson in Philadelphia on January 10.

The poem told a cautionary tale about how looks and actions could be deceiving. “He oft in conversation chatters, / Of scripture and religious matters, / And fain would to the world impart, / That virtue lodges in his heart; / But take the rogue from stem to stern, / The hypocrite you’ll soon discern, / And find (tho’ his deportment’s civil) / A saint without, within a devil.” Not only had McKeoghn run away, he had also stolen several textiles and garments from Nelson. In addition, he “Can curse and swear as well as lie.” The poem warned colonists to assess inner character rather than rely on outward appearances. Just because McKeoghn possessed goods that testified to a particular status, just because he often comported himself in a particular way, did not mean that he truly belonged among the ranks of the genteel that he so successfully imitated. With sufficient observation, anyone who met him should have been able to recognize him for the fraud he was.

It seems unlikely that Nelson paid to place this advertisement in the New-London Gazette. More likely, Timothy Green, the printer, spotted the poem among the advertisements in the January 16 edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle and decided to reprint it as an entertaining piece for his readers. The poem did not mention any suspicions that McKeoghn was headed to Connecticut in particular. If Nelson had intended to place the advertisement in newspapers beyond Philadelphia, she certainly could have chosen others with more extensive circulation and more readers, especially newspapers published in Boston and New York. Although printers did not usually reprint advertisements free of charge, Green may have made an exception in this case, seizing an opportunity to present a curiosity to his readers.

Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 16, 1769).

16 thoughts on “February 3

  1. I find it particularly interesting that the escaped indentured servant, John Mckeoghn, is not depicted as a righteous individual who has just been liberated from the fetters of servitude, but an iniquitous individual who has wrongfully escaped his duties. Oftentimes, when indentured servants are described as escaping they are usually placed in a better light, but the fact that this servant is placed in a less favorable light, meant to exemplify the falseness of one’s outward appearance is pretty interesting.

  2. How expensive could an advertisement like this have been? Considering the printing time and effort, especially with such a long poem, it seems like it’d be substantial.

  3. I’m really intrigued by this advertisement. Was it common practice to write advertisements in the form of poems? If not, why did Nelson choose to do so?

  4. I’m really intrigued by this advertisement. Was it common practice to post advertisements in the form of poetry? If not, why did Nelson choose to do so?

  5. After completing a document report on Anne Hutchinson, I could only think about her while reading this poem. I feel like in early British America, there was a large vein of people who embodied the therm, “Enough is enough”. It’s extremely bold and brave of these people to speak out/stand up for what they believe in even in such a repressive time. Hutchinson and McKeoghn paved a large pathway stirring civil discourse throughout history and it’s admirable, because acts like these gain popularity and press and inspire others to speak out against whats unjust. Speaking out against what is unjust is a key principle of The Constitution, and I think it’s amazing how early American people have spoke out throughout history despite the consequences.

  6. Do you think by using this form of art it drew more attention to capturing the run-away servant (if he even existed), or was it viewed more as a component for entertainment and not taken as seriously compared to the type of advertisements that were commonly used in newspapers?

  7. A poem seems to go away from finding the slave and seems to encourage one to find it entertaining rather than an actual ad. So why might she write about a poem about a runaway if it is in fact true?

  8. I think that it is so interesting that this advertisement appears as a poem rather than using common language. Is this because the author wanted the advertisement to stand out among the rest or is it entirely a literary work of fiction?

  9. Assuming that McKeoghn really did do this, did this advertisement help to identify this? Do we know that he was ever caught impersonating a high-class individual in Pennsylvania or elsewhere?

  10. Was this advertisement used to teach people to look out for escaped indentured servants? It appears as though it is warning the colonist of the unfaithfulness and lies of indentured servants like the one mentioned in the poem.

  11. Hello Professor Keyes, my name is Billy and I found this advertisement very interesting explaining the story a runaway indentured servant. I was curious and had a question that I hope you could answer. I understand that this is a poem, and it is made unclear to me if the indentured servant depicted in the advertisement McKeoghn is a real person or not. I was also wondering if Mckeoghn was a real person and this was his story of a runaway indentured servant, what ever happened to him? Was he ever put to death for his actions, or did he escape and live a free life?

  12. Comparing this, to the document 22 is very similar and seems to show that the relation between slaves or servants with there masters was the ran away a decent amount of time. Its bad, people died when they were caught sometimes for running away.

  13. This is a very fascinating excerpt. It displays a very revealing attitude that colonial Americans had on indentured servants. However, what i wonder about is whether this attitude was universally shared among the colonial populous or if there was a more mixed and complex attitude?

Leave a Reply