coloured folk: to clarify

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Fri Jul 15 22:34:43 UTC 2011

The whole story of Schoonmaker vs. Hodgeboom is interesting, but what I had
in mind for you-uns was that as early as 1825 well-meaning "philanthropists"
were trying to improve the status of a group by changing the word which
identified it.

As for knowing from her name that Phillis was coloured, Phillis and Chloe
were stereotypical names for black women; Cuff is an African name, but
parallel to Phillis and Chloe were the names Pompey and Cato for men.  Cato
Alexander kept a very well-known roadhouse in the east 50s, I think, for
decades, the 1820s and after; it was very popular with a sporting crowd.
 Otherwise, I'm not sure that I have encountered an actual person named
Phillis, Chloe or Pompey.  (Encountered while time-travelling in early 19th
C NYC, that is.)


On Fri, Jul 15, 2011 at 1:35 PM, George Thompson <george.thompson at>wrote:

> It's true that the OED's entry on "colored", adjective, was written when
> Jim Murray was little more than an infant; still, whether or not the files
> today have instances from the U. S. before 1825 of coloured in the racial
> sense [OED = 2b:], the following has interest.
> [From a report of a suit in New Paltz, N. Y. in 1825 by Phillis Schoonmaker
> against Cuff Hodgeboom, for Breach of the Promise of Marriage.]
> The parties as their names indicate, are black, or, as philanthropists
> would say coloured folks.
> This is taken from the New-York Spectator, of April 29, 1825, but citing
> "Noah's Advocate", aka the New-York National Advocate (which is not the same
> as the National Advocate, which was being published in NYC at the same time.
>  Don't ask how's come -- I might tell you).
>  The story went viral, and a search of Readex's America's Historical
> Newspapers turns up 11 versions of it, all citing Noah's Advocate.
> The OED:
> [2b]  Having a skin other than ‘white’; *esp.* wholly or partly of black
> or ‘coloured’ descent. In *S. Afr.* Of mixed black or brown and white
> descent; also (with capital initial), of or belonging to the population
> group of such mixed descent. *Cape Coloured* *adj.* and *n.* at cape *n.**
> 3* Compounds 2<>
> .
> 1612    J. Speed *Theatre of Empire of Great Brit.*<> i. xxv.
> 49/1   Their‥coloured countenances, and curled haire.
> 1760–72    J. Adams tr. A. de Ulloa *Voy. S.-Amer.*<> I. iii. iii.
> 121   The‥Negro women, or the coloured women as they are called here.
> 1832    F. Marryat *Newton Forster*<> II.
> iii. 32   ‘Au cachôt!’ cried all the coloured girls.
> 1838    W. B. Boyce *Notes S. Afr. Affairs*<> 134
> The coloured population are‥demoralized in large towns in the
> neighbourhood of canteens.
> 1844    Gilchrist *Cape of Good Hope*<> ii.
> 20   The native population of the colony is generally called Hottentot, or
> bastard Hottentot, most of the coloured people approaching pretty nearly to
> the Hottentot formation, and some presenting a greater or smaller mixture of
> other, principally European, blood.
> 1850    H. B. Stowe *Uncle Tom's Cabin*<> xviii.
> 182   Among the coloured circles of New Orleans.
> [and more]
> --
> George A. Thompson
> Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
> Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ.
Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society -

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