And they call the van "Mariah" (1846)

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue Sep 30 19:02:17 UTC 2003

I had two mid-1830s references:
Escape. -- A man named Henry Stage . . . contrived to make his escape on Saturday last while on his way from Bellevue prison to the city in the carriage generally known as "Black Maria."  New York Transcript, December 24, 1835, p. 2, col. 5

Pray ask Mr. Justice Bloodgood what is done with the gold watches and jewelry which are taken from the unfortunate girls who are marched, by him, out to Black Maria?  The Herald, August 6, 1836, p. 1, col. 2

In addition, I have notes of several passages from the same period illustrating the failure to use the term "Black Maria":
In 1834 it was called "the corporation coach" -- New York Daily Advertiser, January 30, 1834, p. 2, col. 3; in 1835 the same paper called it "the prison coach" -- New York Daily Advertiser, February 10, 1835; in 1837 it was called "the Rogues Omnibus" -- New York Times, February 2, 1837, p. 2, col. 6.  Of course, the fact that the NYDA didn't use "Black Maria" in 1834 doesn't prove that it hadn't been coined then.

There had been two notable racehorses named Black Maria, mother and daughter, the older active in the 1810s, as I recall, and the daughter in the early 1830s.  For instance, the younger was thoroughly beaten by Flying Dutchman in a race of three four-mile heats on the Jamaica course, in 1832.   "We cannot say whether the knowing ones were taken in or not, but we regret the discomfiture of Black Maria, who was the favorite.  It is said she was suffering from a cold, and came in lame. . . ."  New-York Commercial Advertiser, May 24, 1832, p. 2, col. 1; [Black Maria finishes 6th] New-York Evening Post, May 23, 1832, p. 2, col. 5.  I suppose that the name was suggested because the Black Maria got its passengers to the lockup a good deal quicker than they wanted.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
Date: Tuesday, September 30, 2003 3:00 am
Subject: Re: And they call the van "Mariah" (1846)

> >This gives some legitimacy, I would think,  to the first cite
> being from
> >Philadelphia.
> George Thompson has presented earlier citations from New York, I
> believe:see the "Black Maria" entry at Michael Quinion's site.
> >It is more important, IMHO, that the term is spelled "Mariah"
> rather than
> >"Maria."  I assume that the writer understood the word to be
> >pronounced Ma RYE Ah, rather than Ma REE Ah.   It was a black Ma
> RYE Ah as
> >I grew up in the 1950's.
> Yes, it's generally pronounced like that. I don't know whether
> this odd
> spelling had the same weight back in the day, though.
> >I wonder now 'how' the name 'Maria' was pronounced in the early
> 1800's?
> I believe it was often or usually "ma RYE ah".
> For comparison, MW3 shows such a pronunciation first under "Maria
> Theresadollar": another holdover, I suppose.
> -- Doug Wilson

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