Unusual use of "Tarheel" (1848, 1852)

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 23 19:06:46 UTC 2013

On Mon, Sep 23, 2013 at 2:37 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:

> I think there's good plausibility to Tarheel for Douglass arising
> from Bonnie's "application of tar to one's heel" anecdotes involving
> blacks.  Especially with "an 1850 piece from Ohio"; Bonnie's "Fred
> Douglass Tarheel" is 1852.  It certainly fits Douglass better than
> "North Carolinian" or "poor white".  And for ""Pompey Tarheel" whom
> Caesar was familiar with, Pompey (along with Caesar) was one of the
> most popular "classical" slave names in both the 18th and 19th
> centuries.  (My sources on demand.)

Thanks for that, Joel.

And of course it now occurs to me we might not need a "tar on de
heels" anecdote to account for the curious application of that last
name.  "Pompey Tarheel" in the 1848 anecdote may have served as a
symbolic slave name with "Tarheel" perhaps just used as mock acquired
family name, after his (white) slaveowner (perhaps ironically so since
"Tar Heels" in 1846 may have been reserved for marginalized poor
Southern whites who were not slaveowners).  The same case could be
made for an incongruous, derisive naming of "Fred Douglass Tarheel" in

In any event, I think there are a couple ways these symbolic black
characters could've acquired "Tarheel" as a last name.

-- Bonnie

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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