"black as the ace of spades"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Wed Jun 18 17:52:43 UTC 2008

More on early uses in America of "black as the ace of spades", from EAN:

1820 Aug 5, "Unknown Title, published as Weekly
Messenger [EAN doesn't give the city, but it's
probably the Boston Weekly Messenger; available
on microfilm], page 2, col 2, "Biography of
General John Adair" [biography on
Wikipedia]:  "On one day however when the
prisoners were amusing themselves with a pack of
cards (all as black as the ace of spades),
..."  [It's not clear to me from browsing this
article whether "black" is a reference to the
"prisoners", who were American revolutionaries
captured by the British, I think somewhere in the
south.  Adair himself, from his bio and picture,
was not African.  Perhaps the prisoners were
simply dirty.  Surely the red suits were not black?]

In 1825, there were a number of publications of
the case of "Phillis Schoonmaker vs. Cuff
Hodgeboon," which I listed in my previous message
as being in William Hone's _The Table Book_
(published 1827).  The earliest instance EAN
finds is the Rhode-Island American, 1825 April
29, page 2.  At the end, it is credited to
_Noah's Advocate_.  [Google helps:  This is
probably Mordacai M. Noah's New York City National Advocate."]

1827, Farmer's Cabinet, Amherst, NH, April 28,
page 3, credited to the "N.Y. Enq."; also several
other papers:  About the "ex queen of Hayti",
"The Americans who have visited Port-au-Prince in
her time, will remember that she is a fat, greasy
wench, as black as the ace of spades, and one who
would find it difficult to get a place as a cook
in this city."  [Haiti proclaimed its
independence in 1804; Americans circa 1825 were
becoming concerned about the presence of freed
slaves in the northern colonies.  (The South of
course was not so concerned; there blacks were slaves.)]


At 6/18/2008 10:22 AM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>At 6/18/2008 08:33 AM, Murrah Lee wrote:
>>The term "spade" for an American black person probably derives from
>>the phrase, "black as the ace of spades," which was used at least in
>>East Texas in the 1950s to describe a particularly black-skinned person.
>This is what I remember also -- although I couldn't say from when.
>1882,   s.v. "manually, adv.":  G. A. SALA Amer.
>Revisited (1885) 185 An obliging waiter..facially
>and manually as black as the Ace of Spades.  OED.
>1827, confirmed, The Table Book, by William Hone
>[2 vols.], page 181:  "She was, as her counsel
>represented, truly made up of flesh and blood,
>being what is called a strapping wench, as black
>as the ace of spades."  London, Hunt and
>Clark.  In "Loves of the Negroes. At New Paltz,
>United States. Phillis Schoonmaker v. Cuff
>Hogeboon."  (Its second sentence is "The parties,
>as their names indicate, were black, or, as
>philanthropists would say, _coloured folk_.)
>Google Books  I note that Phillis and Cuff are
>common names in the "bobalition" broadsides,
>which IIRC date from the 1820s; see John Wood Sweet, _Bodies Politic_. .
>1833, confirmed, Blackwood's Magazine, Vol 33,
>Jan-June, page 752 (May):  "The aide-de-camp was,
>as I have said, jet-black as the ace of spades,
>but he was, notwithstanding, so far as figure
>went, a very handsome man ..."  In "Tom Cringle's
>Log". Harvard tells me this is by Michael Scott
>(1789-1835), Edinburgh and London, 1833.  Google Books.
>1835, confirmed, Blackwoods' Edinburgh Magazine,
>Vol. 37 (Jan. - June, 1835), page 454 (March):
>"The fellow was a negro, and as black as the ace
>of spades ..."  In "The Cruise of the Midge,
>Chap. 12.  Harvard tells me this also is by
>Michael Scott, imprint varies, 1834-1835, 4
>volumes; and two other editions in 1835.  Google
>Books, which identifies it as No. 231, Feb. 1835.
>1840, confirmed, Bentley's Miscellany, Vol. 7,
>[ed.?] by Charles Dickens, William Harrison
>Ainsworth, page 11.  "No wun would no me now, for
>I am as black as the ace of spades as was, and so
>is my shurt, and for clene ..."  In "Some Letters
>froom the Letter-Bag of the Great Western. Letter
>from a Stoker," by Sam Slick.  Google Books, full view available.
>1849, confirmed, The Knickerbocker, Vol. 33, page
>172 (February): "sitting in an inn in Baltimore,
>the other day, be was struck with the singular
>appearance of an old Guinea negro, • black as the
>ace of spades,' who was attending to some menial
>duty in the travellers' room."  In "Editor's Table".  Google Books.
>And many others.
>It's also, Google tells me, in Cassell's
>Dictionary of Slang, ed. 2006; and The New
>Partridge ..., 2006.  Do those give dates?
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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