[Ads-l] Help on "fellow" = "black man" in America

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Sun May 7 11:28:33 EDT 2017

I would like to learn more about the use of "fellow" to mean "a black man" (and not "a white man"), specifically in colonial and antebellum America, 1700 to 1850.  Are there books or articles that discuss this usage?

The OED (sense 10.d, A black man. U.S. Obs.) has only two quotations:

1753   in New Jersey Archives (1897) 19 270   Run away..a Mulatto Fellow named Anthony... Whoever takes up said Fellow..shall have Three Pounds Reward.
1860   J. R. Bartlett Dict. Americanisms (ed. 3) 144   Fellow or Black Fellow, a black man. Southern.

Sense 10.c, "contemptuously. A person of no esteem or worth", goes back to c1440 and continues through 
1884, modern times for this OED entry.  It seems intuitionally obvious that "fellow" became the term for a black man at the time white men began to feel an increased need to differentiate themselves from blacks (perhaps when there was an increasing number of free blacks, although 1753 is early for that).  This is one of my questions associated with the general topic.

There are, of course, numerous newspaper quotations for sales of slaves and for runaways that use "fellow" (with and without "black"), but I'm hoping someone else has already done the analysis of newspapers and other writings.


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

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