Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lost in Translation...meaning what you say in the 18th century

Doctor Johnson in the Ante-Room of the Lord Chesterfield Waiting for an Audience, 1748
by Edward Matthew Ward, 1845
So, having reached Part II of my work-in-progress, Through the Hourglass, my young heroine time travels back to 1718. As a sixteen-year-old from the year 2014, one of her immediate adjustments is that of language. Even though she is in her hometown of Edenton, North Carolina (known at the time as the Town on Queen Anne's Creek,) and even though the inhabitants are speaking her own native English, she finds the meanings of many words have changed, causing much room for misunderstandings!

In researching the changes in word usage, I came across the dictionary authored by
Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary of the English Language
Samuel Johnson in 1755. (Another 18th century book with a loooong sub-title:)

IN WHICH The WORDS are deduced from their ORIGINALS, 
BY EXAMPLES from the best WRITERS. 

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can peruse Mr. Johnson's work at: 
(You can see photos of the actual original pages by clicking "Page View.")

Here is a list of examples, one for each letter of the alphabet, to give you some idea of the misunderstandings a time traveler might encounter:

AWFUL—Not rotten but awe-inspiring, as in “awful majesty.”
BAGGAGE—An insulting term for a woman, like “hussy.”
CLOWN—A rustic or bumpkin, not a circus performer.
DESERT—Any deserted or uninhabited place—a wilderness, not necessarily a place filled with sand. 18th century author Daniel Defoe placed his Robinson Crusoe on a desert island filled with lush vegetation.
ENTHUSIASM—Fanaticism, especially in religious matters. Not a positive attribute.
FOND—Foolish, naive, innocent.
GENEVA—Gin. The word and its shortened form come not from the Swiss city, but from genever, Dutch for juniper, the plant which provided the flavor for the original Dutch variety.
INTERVIEW—Any sort of meeting. Not just to see about getting hired for a job.
JADE—Could refer to the green stone we think of today but also as an abusive term applied to women; something like slut.
KID—Young goat. To kid meant to bring forth young goats. (Nothing at all to do with teasing!)
LEECH—Johnson’s first meaning is: physician (and not derogatory at all) and second meaning is: the critter that sucks blood. The norm for medical treatment was bleeding the patient.
MAKE LOVE—Johnson lists 59 entries under "to make___" and this is number 39: To court, to woo (with no sexual connotation.)
NICKNAME—A name given in contempt with great derision.
OUCH—An ornament of gold or jewels, unless referring to the ouch of a boar in which it means a blow from a boar’s tusk, (Ouch!)
PECULIAR—Particular (not odd or unusual.)
SNACK—A share of something often by a compact or agreement.
TOILET—A dressing table (no indoor plumbing, remember?)
UPHOLSTERER—One who furnishes houses (not limited to one who makes or repairs upholstered furniture.)
VINE—The plant that bears the grape (apparently all vines were assumed to be those that produced vino.)
WOMANIZE—To make a man more like a woman, effeminate, emasculate (something done TO a man not BY a man.)
X—“No words in English language begin with this letter” according to Samuel Johnson.
ZONE—Girdle (which meant anything that surrounded one’s middle not just the suck-you-in undergarment of your grandmother’s day. )
Sophia Drake, by Ralph Earl, 1784

As you can see, a young time traveler could get herself into a lot of hot water if she misspoke or misunderstood. Let's hope she doesn't go for an interview as a hothouse worker!

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Luck of the Irish...was NOT with Poor John Lawson

Portrait thought to be of John Lawson, 1700, artist unknown
I write this on the eve of St Patrick's Day to be first read on March 19 while I trust visions of all things green and lucky are still dancing in your head (and perhaps a bit of maniacal step dancing by some leaping leprechauns, as well!) At any rate, for some unknown and mysterious reason, my thoughts have turned to that most unlucky of eighteenth century fellows, John Lawson. Oh, poor John. Truly.
Title Page of John Lawson's Book

Last week's blog post featured John Lawson's glowing account of the qualities of women he discovered on his journey throughout the Carolinas in the first decade of the 1700s, published in 1709 as A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country: Together with the Present State Thereof. And a Journal of a Thousand Miles, Travel'd Thro' Several Nations of Indians. Giving a Particular Account of Their Customs, Manners, &c 
See: to view a copy of his book.

Before delving into the awful manner of Mr. 
Carolina Wildlife from John Lawson's Book
Map of John Lawson's Journey from
Lawson's demise, let me tell you a little of this remarkable man's accomplishments. In addition to exploring, what was then, a land of rough and tumble people, a land filled not only with the natural beauty and grace of its gentler inhabitants, but also with poisonous snakes, savage biting insects, and an air of lawlessness we usually attribute to the Wild West frontier days of America, John Lawson was responsible for the layout and establishment of North Carolina's oldest town, Bath, as well as for that of the town of New Bern, North Carolina. John Lawson traveled on foot and by canoe as he witnessed and recorded the amazing diversity of flora and fauna as well as the people, both native and immigrant. Note--I use the term, "Indian," here as that is how Lawson described them as opposed to today's preferred term, "Native American."--  On December 28, 1700, he, along with a crew of five Englishmen, three Indian men and one Indian woman, set out on a fifty-nine day journey snaking along rivers and trading paths beginning at what is now Charleston, South Carolina, moving in a crescent out to the piedmont region of both South and North Carolina and ending near present day Bath, on the coastal plain. Although probably about five hundred miles as flies the proverbial crow, his trip took such a circuitous route, his claim of a thousand miles is not unwarranted. His descriptions of the many Indian tribes he encountered (often a different one for each river) were, though sometimes colored with his bemusement, most often respectful, sometimes comparing them favorably to his fellow countrymen (and women.) To quote Lawson, with modern spelling:

Amongst (Indian) women, it seems impossible to find a Scold: if they are provoked, or affronted, by their Husbands, or some other, they resent the Indignity offered them in silent tears, or by refusing their Meat. Would some of our European Daughters of Thunder set these Indians for a pattern, there might be more quiet Families found amongst them, occasioned by that unruly Member, the Tongue.

Lawson did not limit his praise to the fairer sex, however, and although he referred to the native people as savages, he often remarked they were less savage in some ways than their Old World counterparts. His praise of the native peoples is all the more ironic in that his death was at the hands of the Tuscarora, whom he acknowledged with sympathy and respect in his book.
Tuscarora Warrior, artist unknown

in 1711, on the verge of war against the colonists, some of the Tuscarora looked upon Lawson as an agent representing people who were the source of terrible injustice and mistreatment of the natives. Not only had Indian lands been confiscated but many Indian women and children had been taken as slaves. Lawson, for all his close interaction with the Indians, appeared unaware of their belief that he was actually working against them. In mid-September, during a time simmering with hostility, John Lawson placed himself in the heart of Indian country as he took an expedition trip along the Neuse River to find a quicker route through North Carolina to the Virginia border. He was captured by Tuscarora warriors and subsequently killed. Baron Christoph Von Graffenried and his slave who accompanied Lawson on that fateful trip were eventually released by their captors and the baron's own illustration of the event is included in today's post. For those with a weak stomach or prone to nightmares, I seriously suggest you stop reading the remainder of this post. I am not being humorous and I certainly want the Reader to understand the grave and graphic nature of the description passed down to us from centuries past. Although it may have been embellished for reasons of propaganda, the methods described match those Lawson, himself, recorded during his time among the Tuscarora. So, here goes:
The Death of John Lawson, 1711, by Baron Christoph Von Graffenried

Splinters made from pitch pine were stuck into Lawson's skin covering his entire body. The horrible pain this caused was then increased a thousand fold when the splinters were set ablaze and the unfortunate man was burned alive. To quote Marjorie Hudson in her article, "Among the Tuscarora: The strange and mysterious death of John Lawson, gentleman, explorer, and writer," reprinted at  from its original publication in North Carolina Literary Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, Summer 1992: 

His bleeding skin numbed by pitch pine, he begins to feel the heat on the skin of his legs and feet, the rush upward, the death dance now frenzied in his limbs, the last sight of this world framed in fire, and, finally, the soul escaping into a heavenly place like Eden, like the New World when it was still young, belonging to itself alone, a land that fulfills all expectations of balance, of beauty, of perfect enmity.

This terrible event preceded a war between the Tuscarora and the colonists which after two dreadful years ended with all of that tribe either killed, taken as slaves, or fled northward out of the Carolinas.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! (And may we learn from the past.)


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Brisk Charming Eyes...Carolina Girls of the 18th century

Portrait of an Unknown Lady of South Carolina, 1708-1709, by Henrietta Johnston

In 1709, British Surveyor General John Lawson, wrote an extensive description of the Carolinas which served as an enticement for men of England to brave the seas and help colonize the land. The title for this work certainly boasts one of the longest sub-titles this author has ever seen:

A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country: Together with the Present State Thereof. And a Journal of a Thousand Miles, Travel'd Thro' Several Nations of Indians. Giving a Particular Account of Their Customs, Manners, &c

One of the most entertaining sections of his treatise is his description of the amazing virtues of the region's women. Not only were they "often very fair" and "very fruitful," they were, apparently, not afraid of heavy, outdoor labor and "very handy in Canoes!" Read on to see Lawson's own words regarding these remarkable women: 

"The Women are the most industrious Sex in that Place, and, by their good Houswifry,
A Girl Sewing, 1750, by Philip Mercier 
make a great deal of Cloath of their own Cotton, Wool and Flax; some of them keeping their Families (though large) very decently apparel’d, both with Linnens and Woollens, so that they have no occasion to run into the Merchant's Debt, or lay their Money out on Stores for Cloathing.

As for those Women, that do not expose themselves to the Weather, they are often very fair, and generally as well featurd, as you will see any where, and have very brisk charming Eyes, which sets them off to Advantage. They marry very young; some at Thirteen or Fourteen; and She that stays till Twenty is reckon’d a stale Maid; which is a very indifferent Character in that warm Country.

The Women are very fruitful; most Houses being full of Little Ones. They have very ­­easy Travail in their Child-bearing, in which they are so happy, as seldom to miscarry It has been observ’d that Women long marry’d, and without Children, in other Places, have remov’d to Carolina, and become joyful Mothers.
Louisa Balfour, 1751, by Phillip Mercier

Many of the Women are very handy in Canoes, and will manage them with great Dexterity and Skill, which they become accustomed to in this watry Country. They are ready to help their Husbands in any servile Work, as Planting, when the Season of the Weather requires Expedition; Pride seldom banishing good Houswifry. The Girls are not bred up to the Wheel, and Sewing only; but the Dairy and Affairs of the House they are very well acquainted withal; so that you shall see them, whilst very young, manage their Business with a great deal of Conduct and Alacrity."

Perhaps the Beach Boys should have been singing, "I wish they all could be Carolina girls!"

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

That's Entertainment...18th century American style

The movie award season was capped Sunday night by the 86th Annual Academy Awards ceremony and it made me ponder just what our 18th century American ancestors did for entertainment. Well, the answer is quite a lot, actually. For those wishing to sit back and be entertained there was the precursor to film, live theater, and for the more adventurous, there were circuses. Much of 18th century entertainment was, of course, the do-it-yourself variety and included board and card games, sing-alongs, dancing, and books of jokes and instructions in fortune-telling. We'll get to those later but, this week, let's take a look at the spectator-based entertainments, theater and circus. 
The Laughing Audience, mid 1700s, by William Hogarth

Live theater was determined unsuitable for the mores of the American colonies until the mid-1700s. The Library Company of Philadelphia tells us that in the first half of the century, "religious reformers believed that plays encouraged licentiousness, promoted effeminacy and homosexuality among men, encouraged treachery and hypocrisy (as acting was a form of lying), competed with religious worship, and often challenged religious doctrine."  It wasn't until 1752 that theater was considered somewhat respectable, with the first advertised play being a performance of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice by a theater troupe from Great Britain called the American Company. This production was held in that hotbed of questionable morals, Virginia. It wasn't until 1792 when the anti-theater act of 1767 was finally repealed that New Englanders were free to see such spectacle. Even then, religious purists of that region preached the dangers of the theater and prospective drama devotees had to travel to large cities such as New York to get a taste of such entertainments. 
Laurent Franconi, 1800,  by Carle Vernet 

Now, for the circus. As might be expected, some religious leaders of the time were dead set against such exotic entertainment, primarily because it drew together crowds of people of all socio-economic levels, age and gender and heaven knows what that could lead to! It was also considered a dubious distraction from religious duties. Puritanical objections aside, the first circuses were based on feats of equestrian prowess. Riders performed tricks on horseback that were best accomplished and seen when enclosed in a circle. Thus the term circus, as it relates to the modern circus, came into being. By the end of the century, circuses were extremely popular, drawing those crowds of disparate folks together. Over time, the trick-riding acts were interspersed with other entertainers in the way of clowns and acrobats. The first circuses were housed in buildings set aside for the purpose and in 1793 a British equestrian, John Bill Ricketts, opened the first American circus in the city of Philadelphia followed shortly by the circus of another British horseman, Philip Lailson. By then, the ultra-conservative element of the religious faithful were convinced America was surely going to hell in a brightly festooned hand basket.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!

Thanks to the following for today's resource material: