Further Antedating of "African-American"

David A. Daniel dad at POKERWIZ.COM
Mon Sep 26 17:13:00 UTC 2011

My daughter did a thesis on the illegal diamond trade in Sierra Leone and
Liberia. This, of course, involved some history of the founding of Liberia,
its people etc. The Americans "returning" to Africa were called the
Americans, the American Africans and the African Americans and some other
variations fairly interchangeably, it seems. Returning is in quotes because,
of course, most of them weren’t returning at all, having never been there
before, and, through a racial sort of "lumping" Africa was assumed to be
monolithic. This resulted in people whose roots/ancestry originated in, say,
Kenya or elsewhere on the continent, being "returned" to Liberia. Sort of
like taking a boatload of Albanians and "returning" them to Denmark because
- what the hell - it's Europe. Also interesting to note that the returning
American Africans totally lorded their "civilized" culture over the locals
and regularly enslaved folks from local tribes. The two societies - true
natives and "Americans" - lived in conflict into modern times and apparently
(it's been some years and I forget the details) ultimately led to Samuel
Doe, a "true" native, taking control from the "Americans" in a coup in 1980.
So, the descendants of the American Africans were recognized as such and
called as such into modern times, never having fitted in with their new/old
home, including application of bad cultural habits they took along with

Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
Subject:      Re: Further Antedating of "African-American"

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

> 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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