Tar heels [1846]

Bonnie Taylor-Blake taylor-blake at NC.RR.COM
Sat Apr 11 11:56:07 UTC 2009

Here's an antebellum use of "Tar heels" that seems applied broadly to poor
Southern whites, though it's possible the term may have had more specific
application to those living in tar-producing areas of the South.  (Bayley
was writing from Amesbury, Massachusetts, and may not have accurately
reflected nuances in usage.)

>From what I can tell of others' research, the earliest appearances of "Tar
heel" noted so far have dated to 1863.  All are linked in some fashion to
North Carolina.

-- Bonnie


There are at this moment at least as many poor whites in the slave states as
there are slaves, who are hardly less miserable than the slaves themselves.
They have no weight in society, grow up in ignorance, are not permitted to
vote and are tolerated as an evil, of which the slaveholder would gladly be
rid.  They are never spoken of without some contemptuous epithet.  "Red
shanks," "Tar heels," &c., are the names by which they are commonly known.
The slaveholders look with infinite contempt upon these poor men -- a
feeling which they cherish for poor men every where.

(From A.L. Bayley, "To the Workingmen of Essex," *The Emancipator* [New
York, NY], 21 October 1846.)

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list