Query: English in 1790 Virginia

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Fri Apr 19 20:17:42 UTC 2002

In a message dated Fri, 19 Apr 2002  3:05:24 PM Eastern Daylight Time, Grant Barrett <gbarrett at WORLDNEWYORK.ORG> writes:

>From: "Patton, Margaret" <Margaret.Patton at pentamark.com>
>Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2002 14:56:36 -0400
>Subject: Virginia, 1790

>I'm looking for information
>on dialect and language use for a lower class farmer living in Virginia,
>circa 1790. He is a second generation American.
>Maggie Patton

A lot of historians and geneologists have posted copies of diaries and letters and affidavits from all periods of American history on the Web.  Using any browser, search on a combination of words and phrases that your 1790 farmer might have used.  I tried this, using "I was born" + "reckon" + "Virginia" and came up with the following random example:


March 13, 1778
I hayte me pa. I hayte John Harvey. I hate the mann dat kiylled me ma. If I waus fre I wood kill thiys man. I wood sea him dye and lyke seeiing it. I wood kill hyis kiids and havvee him sea right befoe I kil him. I dont like any persn but me an me mothr. I wishs my mom wus stil here so we culd talk at nite and so I kan set her freed by wrkng foe mony. I dont no what to do. I kant live witout my mom, and do not want to continu live wit out her. I doonot rite oftn but todae I had to do somting.

Everyone tels me that I am twlve o thrteen but I tels pople I am fortein. I saes this bekas I kan do the thengs a fortein year old kan do. I kan reed and whrite gooud inglis, and I kan pik tobaco and pees. The peple al so tels me dat my ma wus a good gyrl and dat she luvs me so.

Janruary 3, 1791
It wus about a monthe ago when I saw the pretiest sight I hav ever seen in mi life. It was a gal named Suki who had just ben bought by my master as a slayve. It was luv at first site for me but not her. It took her a mont to sea me as her luver, and when she sees me she liked me. Rite now me an her are plaining an working to have a childe. I hop we hafve a boy but if itis a garl I wil styl luv her. I want to spende the reast of my life wit Suki bekaus I luve her. I refues to luse her and wil diye fore her foe she is da onliye women in my lifve.
Mie and mi mastr John haf been arond eachother a lot lateley synce I am a driyver now. John has lette me an Suki goe wit him to wat thea call The churche of kristans o somthing like that. We go on Sundayes foe 2 houeres o so. At churche a man taks about stoyries in a book an at da end everyone closes theis eiyes an listens to him talks. One daeye I did this an I likeded it so I kontinueed to do it foe now on.

   Granted, this is the diary of a slave and you want a lower class white, but this particular slave seems not to have any Africanisms in his writing so his diction might be close to what you want.  Once you start spotting characteristic features you can start searching on them.

     - James A. Landau

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