Accents in the courtroom, 1841

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Jan 28 16:34:40 UTC 2009

        Thomas J. Middleditch was tried for a misdemeanor, in falsely registering his name on the registry list, as a voter, . . . on the 7th September, 1840.  ***  It was not found, however, whether he registered his name himself, or whether it was done by some other person.  It also was proved by Henry Draper that he sailed from Portsmouth, England, in the same ship with the accused, and that they landed here on the 18th December, 1835 – that he believed the accused was an Englishman.  Mr. Shaler, counsel for accused, objected to proving the nationality of a man by his accent.  The Court said the Supreme Court had decided that a Englishman’s nationality could be proved prima-facie, by his English accent, and an Irishman by his Irish accent.  Thomas Dolan, one of the Commissioners of the Registry, deposed that the accused had his name registered himself.  For the defense Mr. Shaler produced an authenticated copy of the naturalization record of the Marine Court, dated 13th A!
 pril, 18
37, certifying, on the false oath of a man named Beberry, that the prisoner had been here five years prior to that date, whereas he had not been here two years.  The Court decided that, although this was a gross fraud, yet the record of another Court was evidence, and instructed the Jury to acquit the prisoner, and they found a verdict of not guilty.
        New-York Tribune, April 20, 1841, p. 2, col. 5

Perhaps my son, now a lawyer, could find this Supreme Court decision for me; I haven't asked him.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

The American Dialect Society -

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