Antedating of "Tarheel" Meaning North Carolinian

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu Apr 16 03:45:26 UTC 2009

Shapiro, Fred wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Antedating of "Tarheel" Meaning North Carolinian
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The OED's first use for _Tarheel_ is dated 1864.
> Just to make sure Jesse has this for the OED, the earliest known usage of _Tarheel_ meaning specifically a North Carolinian is apparently in a Feb. 6, 1863 entry in the diary of William B. A. Lowrance:
> This web page, which also describes other early _Tarheel_ usages, has an image of the diary, but I'm not sure where there is an OED-citable printed version of the diary entry.
> Fred Shapiro
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Bonnie Taylor-Blake [taylor-blake at NC.RR.COM]
> Sent: Saturday, April 11, 2009 7:56 AM
> Subject: Tar heels [1846]
> 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.)

Here is another 1863 instance, from N'archive:


_North Carolina Standard_ [Raleigh NC], 3 June 1863: p. '2':

[letter from Sgt. G. W. Timberlake, N. C. Troops, dated 9 May 1863]

[description of battle on 3 May 1863]

<<The troops from other States call us "Tar Heels." I am proud of the
name, as tar is a sticky substance, and the "Tar Heels" stuck up like a
sick kitten to a hot brick, while many others from a more oily State
slipped to the rear, and left the "Tar Heels" to stick it out.>>


I note that the 'usual' antebellum term for "North Carolinians"
apparently was not "tar heels" but rather "tar boilers", which 'makes
more sense'.

It looks as though there may have been a little interstate rivalry from
time to time, and it might could be that the "troops from other States"
did not use "tar heel" with exactly the same interpretation as that
offered by Sgt. Timberlake.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

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