Query: "I've got your [ouse] number."

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 5 06:56:13 UTC 2010

[Minor addition--dating "flea market" back to 1913, see Part II]

Part I. House Numbers.

I don't recall the resolution of this issue, but I am going to take
this as the final word--1783.

I recalled, at the time, having seen earlier ads in newspapers with
house numbers, although I could not recall the date, the paper or the

This was, in fact, correct--I found a number of ads in late 18th
century newspapers with references to house numbers on specific
streets. Oddly, there were many ads in French, advertising the wares
of a French grosser, but they appeared in both New York and
Philadelphia papers with the same address, without specifying the
city, so I am not sure what's going on there.

Today, I reran a couple of searches in that particular period and hit a jackpot.

Headline: [No Headline]; Article Type: Advertisements
Paper: Royal Gazette; Date: 07-25-1781; Issue: 503; Page: [4];
Location: New York, New York

> WILLIAM BURTON, has for sale in his store, No. 9, in Water-Street, between the Coffee-House and the Old Slip, the following Articles, viz.
> Madeira, [etc.]

Aside from Burton's ad, there are nine others on the /same page/--in
fact, the whole page is filled with them. There are five streets and
one other location mentioned by name: Queen Street, Water Street,
Smith Street, Little Dock Street, Wall Street and Fly Market. I'll get
to the Fly Market a bit later.

Two are of particular interest for historians:

> INTENDING for England with his first fleet, requests all those who have any demands against him to call and receive payment. And those who are indebted to him, are desired immediately to discharge their accounts.
> His Stock on hand, consisting of a large and general assortment of English and India Piece Goods, will be sold very low for Cash only, at his Store, No. 229, Queen-street.

> To such persons as now are within, or may hereafter enter the British lines, and stand in need of his Majesty's pardon.
> ...
> City of New-York, Secretary's Office, No. 204, Water Street, May 14th, 1781.
> JAMES SIMPSON, Secretary to the Commissioners.

Checking the earliest available issue of the Royal Gazette, reveals
another page-full of ads with house numbers--oddly enough, they are
all on one page and ads on other pages do not have house numbers.

Paper: Royal Gazette; Date: 12-13-1777; Issue: 147; Page: [3];
Location: New York, New York

> (At No. 9, in Queen-Street, next door to the Hon. Henry White's.)

> Fit for beef or pork, sold at two shillings per bushel, by *Peter Corne*, at his house, No. 230, Queen-Street, nearly opposite to Mr. Rivington's printing-office.

> Eight days ago, a MILCH COW, the owner may have her again, paying all reasonable charges, describing the marks and proving, his property, by applying to Mrs. Stokes, No. 68, at the head of Maiden-Lane.

> Sold by the Cask or Hundred, in Duke Street, No. 29, by John Dreuidz,

Note that by December 1777, Queen Street had already had house numbers
exceeding 200.

There may be earlier references--I did not check other New York
newspapers. I found no similar ads with house numbers in Philadelphia
or Boston newspapers, but I did not look extensively. It does appear,
however, that New York may well have had house numbers on downtown
streets (including Wall Street!) at the time of the proclamation of

I'll leave it to someone else to investigate this possibility--this
was merely a side find for me on another search.


OED has "Flea-market" as "colloq. [cf. Fr. marché aux puces, in
Paris], term applied jocularly to a street market".

> 1922 G. S. DOUGHERTY In Europe 130 It is called the ‘*Flea’ Market because there are so many second hand articles sold of all kinds that they are believed to gather fleas. 1960 N. MITFORD Don't tell Alfred xx. 213 He must learn to clean and crate and pack the object as well as to discover it and purchase it and resell it. From flea-market to Jayne Wrightsman's boudoir. 1970 New Yorker 15 Aug. 62/2 The preservation of the open-air flea market.

Among the numbered locations I have identified above, one stands out
as Fly Market. One ad from the above mentioned July 25, 1781, issue:

> William Torrance and Company,
> HAVE removed to No. 2, FLY-MARKET, next Door to Mr. William Campbell's ; where they are opening for Sale, a Variety of Goods suitable for the present Season

This makes a lot of sense:

Fly, n.
1.    d. A type of something insignificant.

1297 R. GLOUC. (1724) 428 Wat was y strenge wor?..ywys not wor a flye.
c1386 CHAUCER Reeve's T. 272 Aleyn answerde I count hym nat a flye.
1529 MORE Comf. agst. Trib. I. ii. Wks. 1123/1 Without which..all the
spiritual coumfort that any man maye speake of can neuer auaile a
flye. 1794 BURNS ‘O Philly, happy be that day’ x, I care nae wealth a
single flie. a1830 HAZLITT Convers. Authors, He would not hurt a fly.

In a 1892 History of New York City, a footnote suggests:

The memorial history of the City of New-York. By James Grant Wilson
> The Fly Market was located at the foot of Maiden Lane.

There is a graphic of the Fly Market on the same page. Later it was
apparently supplanted by Fulton Market--my knowledge of New York
history is largely from lectures and other secondary sources, so I can
only rely on what I have been told or read. But Fulton Market dates
back to 1821 or so--it was built up at the end of Fulton Street, which
used to end at ... Fly Market.

[So this connects a cluster of ads that I identified above with
numbers either in the Fly Market or on Maiden Lane or on Queen Street
where it runs into the Fly Market--adding Wall Street, and the rest of
the list basically means that most of downtown was numbered.]

Is it a Fly Market because they sold "flies", small items there? Well,
not exactly. That seems to be the /least/ likely explanation. Fly
Market actually predates the English settlers, so it's something that
easily might have been derived from the Dutch colonial period.

Another GB hit offers a connection between the Dutch settlers and Fly Market.

Memoir read before the Historical Society of the State of New-York,
December ... By Egbert Benson, New-York Historical Society, p. 81-2

> A marsh, described, sufficiently for our present purpose, as extending from the river to the high grounds, the line of the rear of the lots on the northern side of Pearl-street, between Pine and Fulton streets, called *Smee's Vly*, or *De Smee's Vly*, and therefore uncertain whether the name, or occupation of the person intended, /Smith's/, or the /Smith's/, Vly--Vly, an abbreviation of Valey, /Valley/, and in use with the Dutch here to denote a marsh, our /salt meadow/. When the *Maagde Padtje*, /Maiden-lane/, was continued through the river, and widened below Pearl-street for the slip, called Countess' slip, in compliment to the lady of the Governor Lord Bellamont, a market was built there, known as the Vly Market, the market /in the marsh/, corrupted to the /Fly Market/; hence, when in the sharp contest heretofore between a New-Yorker and a Philadelphian, on the all-important question, in which of their respective cities /the best fare ?/ and the New-Yorker would boast !
 of his fish, their variety, scores of kinds, their freshness, some even alive and gasping in the market, and the fact not to be denied, but to avoid the effect of it as triumph, the Philadelphian would only, but significantly, remind him, that however /fresh/ his /fish/ might be, the /flesh/ he ate during the summer months not quite free from /taint, for that from the swarms of the insect in the principal market it was called emphatically the /Fly/ Market ; the poor New-Yorker, ignorant of the Dutch language and of the etymologies from it, and hence /knowing no better/ than that it was the true name of the market, left without a reply, left to experience what no one can know who has not experienced it, /to be obliged in a disputation to give up the point/.

This seems logical and well collected. Only one problem. Not all the
information is unquestionable--although that's not particularly
different from other sources on the subject. When attending some
"Dutch in New York" event last summer, a City Museum curator in NYC
opined about the origin of Wall Street as a street that went to the
outer wall of the Dutch settlement that served as the north-most
barrier against possible invaders. Benson suggests a different
origin--from Dutch "Waal", the anchor point for merchant vessels
unloading their vessels at the /other/ end of Wall Street.

But there may be a reason to take Benson's words somewhat more
seriously than those of others, especially where it concerns the Fly

> We have seen /Coenradt Ten Eyck/, from his residence there, giving name to a slip ; in like manner, *Friend* /Edward Burling/, gave his name to /Burling's/-slip, and /Benjamin Peck/, to /Peck's/-slip, and *Pieter Roos* to the Fly-Market, *Pieter Roos' Markt*, /Peter Rose's Market/, being the name by which it was at first, and continued for some time to be, known. He was my father's mother's father ; his father *Gerrit Janse Roos*--there are circumstances from which it may be inferred the father of *Gerrit* came over, and, if so, I now see in my family the ninth generation from the first Dutch colonist ancestor, females of a mature age, and probably the intervening period not exceeding a century and an half--nine generations in a century and an half, not common. The motive with me for the mentioning this fact, and I persuade myself others will be persuaded I have none other, is, that it may be received as /doctrinal/, and the /improvement/ of it by our /Cœlebses/, to show t!
 he advantage of the /earliest search for a wife/. If the name, /Peter Rose's/ Market, had been continued hitherto, so as to have become sufficient for the intendment he was the *founder* of it, I think I might then have ventured to challenge any "American Bourbon or Nassau to go higher." I should at least be on a par with old Witham Marsh, Clerk of the City and Country of Albany, who died here about fifty years ago, his gravestone to be still seen in Trinity Church-yard, his name on it in Law Latin, /Withamus De Marisco/, the rest of the inscription in other Latin and purporting "that by his father's mother's side he was most nobly born;" the whole by the direction of his will ; also among the ways by which a man may bequeath something to himself, something to save his name /from being forgotten/.

I'll leave this particular issue alone--make of it what you will.

Yet, there is always doubt, looking that far back--although I have
little doubt that "Fly Market" was a corruption of a phrase of Dutch
origin, like, as Benson claims, much of Lower Manhattan.

I just talked to a Dutch woman (family connection) who suggested that
the folk derivation of both the French and the Dutch name for flea
market is popularly connected to the actual fleas in the second-hand
clothing one used to find there. The Dutch word for "flea market" is
"vlooi markt", which is just a calque--no idea who got it first or
when. But, given the prevalence of the term, the literal "flea"
connection looks to be little more than an urban legend. More
likely--although I am not about to study the history of flea
markets--there is either the connection with small objects that, like
"fly" in English, might have been described with a word for "flea" (or
"fly") or might have been an eggcornish formation in one of the
languages (no reason to believe it was not Dutch) that connected the
folk etymology with the name.

Now, I have absolutely no idea if the Dutch expression "vlooi markt"
goes back to the 1600s. But, if it does, it certainly would give an
alternative explanation to Fly Market--not "Valley/Marsh Market", as
Benson suggested, but Vlooi Markt, corrupted to Fly Market. If this is
the case, the history of the flea market may well be re-written. But,
for now, I don't know how old the French or the Dutch expressions are,
although Dutch concept of a flea market goes back over 100 years.

As for OED, I have a 1913 cite.

Markets for the People: The Consumer's Part; By James William
Sullivan. New York: 1913. p. 170
> Besides the officially recognized open-air markets are several tolerated Sunday morning markets in streets immemorially given over to the sale of miscellaneous articles--the incogruous displays of the Rue Mouffetard, the "flea" market of the Rue St. Médard.

There are also 1917 references to the "flea market" in St. Petersburg
(Russia) and a 1922 in Peking, although both of these are given a far
more literal interpretation of markets infested with fleas (another
market in Peking identified in the same snipped is the Thieves
market). Unlike Dutch and English, there is no Russian connection
between small or minor objects and small insects. I suspect the same
holds for Chinese, although I can easily be proven wrong.

"Marché aux puces" can be easily tracked back to 1893 in GB, but the
trail goes cold from there (not even false hits). Looking for specific
Dutch sources is a waste of time, at the moment, as there is not
enough in GB--although some early book are quite interesting. But if
anyone has a copy of Van Dale that mentions the origin of "vlooi
markt", I'd appreciate a deconstruction.


On Wed, Mar 17, 2010 at 2:42 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
> Thanks, George.  I have not found a productive way of searching EAN
> for such house numbers -- EAN wants to ignore periods (in "No."), for
> one thing.
> The New York street numbers precede the example of cab license number.
> Lots allotted in the division of New England towns were numbered from
> the early 1700s, but that's not what we think of as a street address.
> I did find a "John Shepherd, merchant taylor, No. 32, Hanover Square"
> from 1789 (Daily Advertiser, NY), fitting in with George's 1783 and
> 1794 dates.  And a lot with a house "on the north side of
> Elliot-street, and known by the numbers 37 and 38", in the State
> Gazette of South-Carolina, 1786 Oct. 5, p. 1.  The phrasing suggests
> that numbering houses on streets was a new concept for Charleston in 1786.
> Joel
> At 3/17/2010 01:45 PM, George Thompson wrote:
>>References to House-numbers, from NY City newspapers:
>>         FRONT TEETH.  ANY Person disposed to part with their FRONT
>> TEETH, may call at No. 28, Maiden-Lane, and shall have a good price
>> for them.  Also, some DRY TEETH are wanted.
>>         Independent Journal, November 24, 1783, p. 3, col. 3
>>         STRAYED, THE 20th instant, from No. 24, Maiden Lane, A
>> Little Brown DOG, about two months old.  ***
>>         Diary, or Ev Register, January 24, 1794, p. 3, col. 3
>>         Subscribers to the Morning Chronicle who change their
>> residence, are requested to sent WRITTEN information to the office,
>> No. 99, Water-street.  And it is particularly requested that they
>> will mention also the street and number FROM which they remove.
>>         M Chronicle, May 3, 1805, p. 2, col. 4

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