[Ads-l] Bentley on "caucus, " as perhaps from "Cooke's House, " 1821

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sun Jun 28 15:09:02 UTC 2015

Biographical Sketches of Eminent Lawyers, Statesmen, and Men of Letters, Samuel L. Knapp (Boston, 1821) p.289, footnote following a mention of Middlecott Cooke's upbringing in the Boston mansion of his father Elisha Cooke, Jr.:

"*The frequent political meetings at that house, have by some (the late Dr. Bentley) been supposed to be the origin of the word "caucus"--a corruption of "Cooke's House." But see Pickering's Vocabulary." [The latter made the unlikely "caulkers" proposal, apparently based in part on a misreading of the make-up of the membership.] The much abridged 1914 edition of the Diaries of William Bentley (1759-1819), one of the most learned and multilingual of the Americans of his day, does not include this, but it does record that Bentley's father, Joshua, "was brought up in the school of the Cookes & had been often at Middlecott Cooke's house."(p. 589)  Samuel Knapp probably knew Bentley, so his source could have been either oral or written. Bentley's proposal is probably the earliest serious explanation.

That does not mean that the proposed Algonquin (or, more precisely, Virginia Chickahominy?) source is mistaken. But it is worth noting that the latter has no real known support prior to J. H. Trumbull's 1872 publication (and perhaps included in the 1869 lecture version), Proc. Am. Philol. Assoc. p. 28-30). Well, I did find one very slightly earlier:

"Caucus. - Among the other suggestions as to the origin of this word, it seems to me strange that no one (so far as I know) has suggested the corruption of concourse, an assembly. It is at least as rational as the others. But is not the true derivation from some Indian word? We have in New Jersey "Seacaucus" and "Rancaucus" as local names, the terminal syllables undoubtedly having a signification, if one only knew it...."  Historical Magazine and Notes and Queries (1868) 307-8. [Secondary sources explain Seacaucus as having unrelated meaning.]

"school of the Cookes," ... "Cooke's House" ... "caucus."

Stephen Goranson


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

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