Further Antedating of "African-American"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Sep 25 23:22:57 UTC 2011

What I can't get my head around is this.

If we were "Americans" in 1822, why will people still be suggesting
that we go _back_ to Africa in 2022?

Or is it the case that, here, "American" in conjunction with "African"
means only "Africans randomly come to be in [the United States of]
America" and not "regarded as ordinary 'Americans' in the sense of
'peculiar to [the United States of] America' in some
socially-meaningful way."

You know. Like "American Negro" or "American Jew," as opposed to, say,
"Chinese-American" or "Irish-American."

That is, I don't believe for an instant that "African[-]American" in
1822 had anything like the meaning that people are trying to force
onto "African-American" today. Indeed, I wouldn't believe it even if
it could be documented that George Washington himself understood
"African-American" to have exactly the same sense as

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint
to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

On Sun, Sep 25, 2011 at 11:48 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
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> Sender: Â  Â  Â  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Â  Â  Â  "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject: Â  Â  Â Re: Further Antedating of "African-American"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Well, I still disagree.
> Fred wrote:
>>1832 _Edinburgh Encyclopedia_ XVII. 275 (Google Books) Â Since the
>>year 1822 the Americans have founded a colony at the mouth of the
>>river Mesavada, to the south of Sierra Leone. Â This colony has been
>>called Liberia, and the principal town Monrovia. Â The population
>>consists of African-Americans, and of free negroes.
> (The containing article is on Sierra Leone, and was written before
> the Republic of Liberia was declared.in 1847.)
> This clear association with Liberia and 1822 only reinforces, in my
> mind, that the 1822 and 1832 "African-American" have the same meaning
> -- Americans of African descent.
> Fred wrote:
>>My response to Joel is the following: Â Liberia was frequently
>>referred to as "the American colony." Â "African American colony"
>>meant the American colony in Africa. Â It is a collocation that only
>>coincidentally looks like the phrase "African-American" in its
>>familiar meaning.
> I don't think the collocation is "only coincidental", given the 1822
> and 1832 quotations. Â And if the meaning was "the American colony in
> Africa", wouldn't the 1822 article title have been "American African
> colony" in that order? Â (Or "American colony in Africa"?)
> At 9/25/2011 08:31 AM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
>>The best part here is that it shows the evolution from [African
>>[American colony]] to [African-American]--but, although this is a noun
>>and it's completely integral, the meaning is still "Americans in
>>Africa", not "Americans /from/ Africa".
> [Here Victor is referring to Fred's 1832 quotation.] Â This is the
> essence of the disagreement. Â I say that it is *Americans* who were
> *from Africa* -- either by birth or descendants of such -- that is
> meant by "African-American" in the 1822 quotation. Â There can be no
> question that it is *Americans*, "of color" and "free black", that
> emigrated -- they left from Charleston.
> And I see the same meaning, "Americans of African descent", in Fred's
> 1832 quotation (I assume he does too, since he provided it here as an
> antedating of the OED's 1855 quotation.) Â But if the 1822 quotations
> means "Americans in Africa", as Victor says, then isn't that also
> true of the 1832 quotation -- both don't qualify?
>>I am assuming, also, that "free
>>negroes" refers to the indigenous population.
> I frankly think the Edinburgh Encyclopedia description is off-base or
> loose: "The population consists of African-Americans, and of free
> negroes." Â In the 1822 quotation the "free negroes" have left
> America: Â "Several free persons of color, and one young black man,
> who had been implicated in the late plot at Charleston, sailed from
> that place ...". Â And "free negroes" at this time and in this context
> meant "freed", not "born free". Â Thus the "free negroes" are not
> indigenous to Liberia. Â And surely by "African-Americans" the
> Edinburgh Encyclopedia did not mean native Africans who were (now)
> living in an "American colony". Â (As I wrote earlier, Liberia was
> never an American dependency; the land was purchased for the American
> Colonization Society, a private organization, governed by the
> residents, and declared a republic in 1847.)
> Certainly loose is the wording "the Americans have founded a colony
> ...". Â This does not distinguish the American government (the U.S.)
> from a private enterprise. Â (While the 1822 article also does not
> explicitly distinguish government from private -- it says "the
> American colony on the African coast" -- I read that as "the colony
> of Americans".)
>>Of course, there is a
>>subtext that the "Americans" who ended up in Liberia are themselves
>>/from/ Africa,
> This of course is my argument (except for *sub*text). Â And "from"
> means "born in or descendants of persons born in".
>>so it may well be a moot point. However, the question
>>remains as to when the tag "African-American" stopped being applied to
>>someone who was physically in Africa.
> I doubt that it ever meant broadly "someone [American] who was
> physically in Africa". Â Surely such a label surely would not have
> been acceptable to/for a white American in Africa. Â It could only
> have been applied to someone "of African origin; a black American",
> as in the OED definition.
> Joel
>>Both types of finds are significant--and I don't want to discount Joel's
>>pair in the least--but the significance is rather different.
>>On 9/25/2011 8:02 AM, Shapiro, Fred wrote:
>>>African-American (OED3 1855)
>>>1832 _Edinburgh Encyclopedia_ XVII. 275 (Google Books) Â Since the
>>>year 1822 the Americans have founded a colony at the mouth of the
>>>river Mesavada, to the south of Sierra Leone. Â This colony has been
>>>called Liberia, and the principal town Monrovia. Â The population
>>>consists of African-Americans, and of free negroes.
>>>NOTE: Â Although the 1832 dating appears to be accurate based on the
>>>digitized title page, one never knows with Google Books, so this
>>>would need to be verified in the print before being accepted.
>>>Fred Shapiro
>>>YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)
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