[Ads-l] Q: "fifty foot square of my land", mid-1600s Boston

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Sat Sep 3 22:24:21 EDT 2016

In mid-1600s Boston, probably between 1645 and 1670, a free black man named Angola saved the life of Richard Bellingham, sometime governor of Massachusetts, by pulling him from the water when his boat overturned.  Bellingham recalled, Angola "saved my life, which kindese of him I remember.  Besides my giving him fifty foot square of my land to him and his I shall See hee shall not want whilst I live."  A witness to Bellingham's telling Angola this remembered Bellingham saying "I have given you a peice of Land of fivety foot square."

The historian recounting this story writes "The governor's offered parcel was small---fifty square feet of land was not much then or now."

In a later footnote, this historian writes that some years later (she does not say how many, although that would be recoverable from her sources) "his [Angola's] house was broken into".

Am I correct in inferring that this historian has confused "foot square" with "square feet"?  That in the mid-1600s Bellingham, a well-educated Englishman (see Wikipedia), would mean by "fifty foot square" a plot 50 feet by 50 feet, not one perhaps 5 feet by 10 feet?  And that Bellingham would have given Angola, a free black, a plot sufficient to build a house and support a small garden?  The bestowal to "him and his"suggests Angola had a family, which would be consistent with Bellingham's giving a plot large enough for a house.  An interpretation that is also supported by the mention of "his house" being broken into (although there is not enough information to determine whether this house was built on the plot Bellingham bestowed, or some other plot)?


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

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