[Ads-l] Creole English, 1784

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Sun Oct 4 22:47:44 UTC 2015

Why do we get a more vivid sense of runaways, whether slaves or servants, than of their masters?  Runaways (and their clothing or other things they might have with them) would be fully and accurately described so that they could be identified and returned.

George, if you're interested the Boston newspapers will have some statements of languages spoken or understood earlier than the NY newspapers you cite.


      From: George Thompson <george.thompson at NYU.EDU>
 Sent: Sunday, October 4, 2015 1:53 PM
 Subject: [ADS-L] Creole English, 1784
An ad, hoping to retrieve a runaway slave:

            RUN away from the Subscriber, at nine o'clock this morning, a
Negro Boy named JACK, alias Quashey, about fourteen years of age, a likely
face and short wool; speaks Creole English. . . .  [his dress]  He stole,
or squandered away, some of his Master's property, for which he expected to
be chastised, the cause of his elopement.

            Whoever will take up said Boy, and bring him to Messrs. Murray,
Mumford and Bowen's Store, on the Crane Wharf, shall receive Eight Dollars
Reward, and necessary charges, paid by John Blanch.

            N. B.  As he is a sailor boy, it is expected he will apply to
some Captain for a place, and if so, it is hoped they will return him to
his Master.
            Independent Journal (New York), December 29, 1784, p. 2, col. 4

OED's entry on "Creole" has been recently revised; it does not contain
"Creole English".  Anyway, this item becomes the 2nd earliest use of
"Creole" to describe a language.
*a.* As the name of a specific language of this type, *esp.* (in early use)
one spoken by Creoles (sense A. 1
).*plantation creole*: see the first element.
1726  *Four Years Voy. Capt. G. Roberts* 367  Neither he, nor any on
Board, could speak either the Creole of the Islands, or Portuguese.
1809  *Port Folio* July 40  The ignorant negroes [of Haiti] speak a
language called Creole, but is a mixture of that language with the African.
{and later passages]

The ads for runaway slaves in 18th C New York City newspapers often
mentioned the runaway's language skills.  Of the ones I thought interesting
enough to make a note of, most said "speaks good English".  Other comments
as follows:

cannot speak a Word of English or Dutch, or any other Language but that of
his own Country  (1752)

speaks broken English  (1756 & 1758)

speaks tolerable English(1757)

speaks pretty good English (1749)

speaks very fluent good English (1758)

speaks good English, and tolerable Dutch  (1746)

speaks good English and Dutch  (1736 & 1746)

besides English, he can talk very good Dutch (1760)

speaks very good English and low Dutch (1760)

speaks middling good English, Dutch and French (1759)

speaks good Spanish and English  (1754)

speaks French and English  (1752)

Complete notes, with citations, upon request.

As a side-note, it's a curious thought that this ad gives us a more vivid
sense of Jack, alias Quashey, as a living person than we can ever have of
John Blanch.  And many other such notices are much more detailed and
revealing of the self-liberated ex-slave, while the bereft slave-owner is
still only a name -- other ads may show that he was a hardware merchant or
farmer or the like, and there may be clues from the inventory of his
material possessions after his death, but otherwise he is a shadow.

George A. Thompson
The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998..

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

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

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