Antedating of "Indian Summer"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Mon Aug 19 11:45:59 UTC 2013

In 1911 Josiah Morrow published an article titled "Indian Summer" in the Monthly Weather Review, March 1911, pp. 469 ff.  Morrow notes that the term appears three times in "Gen. Josiah Harmar's journal of his expedition against the Maumee Indian villages in 1790.  This journal is printed in the last number of the Ohio Archeological and Historical Quarterly."  The earliest occurrence is the following:

"Thursday, October 21 [1790].  Fine weather -- Indian summer."

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Joel S. Berson [Berson at ATT.NET]
Sent: Sunday, August 18, 2013 3:27 PM
Subject: "Indian summer", 1798 & (in French) 1803

The OED's (updated Sept. 2009) earliest citation
is 1794, its next a1813.  Two early interdatings --

In George Lyman Kittredge's _The Old Farmer and
his Almanac_ (1904; 1920 edition in Google
Books), pp. 191-2, after mentioning Ebenezer
Denny's 1794 use (the OED's) he cites two other
early instances of "Indian summer":

(1)  1798 June.  "About the beginning of January
the weather softened considerably, and continued
mild for several days. Most people supposed the
Indian summer was approaching (a week or
fortnight of warm weather, which generally takes
place about the middle of January), but instead
of this, there succeeded to these pleasant days a delightful fall of snow ..."

Cited to Dr. Mason F. Cogswell, Medical
Repository, II, 282.  [This is online, Google
Books.  Although published 1805 (Third edition)
the letter is explicitly dated on page 281.]

Apparently some people in 1798 thought Indian
summer could appear in January; the OED says
"late autumn in the northern United States and Canada".  No comment from me!

(2)  1803.  Kittredge writes "In 1803 the French
traveller Volney, who visited America between
1795 and 1798, mentioned the Indian summer as
occurring towards November and equated it with
the 'St. Martin's summer' of the French."

Cited to Tableau du Climat et du Sol des
Ëtats-Unis d'Amérique, Paris, 1803, 1, 283.

Kittredge writes "These are the only writers of
the eighteenth century, so far as we know, who
employ the term Indian summer at all." It seems
that as of Sept. 2009 the OED didn't know more
either, and perhaps knew less -- or perhaps it just wasn't telling us.  :-)


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