damaged leather-heads

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sun Feb 28 02:50:00 UTC 2010

Actually, what I have is "the damages" = the bill, the charges; and "leatherhead" =  a watchman; not a combo of the two though both from 1837.
I hope I haven't mislead any of you.

1837:   [men go into a porter house for drinks,] and presented an American half eagle to the bar-keeper to take out the damages. -- The sight of the "mint drop" so completely overcame the virtue of the publican, that, making an excuse to go out and get the piece changed, he took to his keels and ran off with it.
        N-Y D Express, August 12, 1837, p. 2, col. 5

HDAS: *1755, from OED; 1843, 1845, &c.  A remarkable 88-year gap here, but an antedating for the U. S, at least..
For "mint drop" (= gold coin) HDAS has 1835, 1836, 1837, &c., starting with Nathaniel Hawthorne, that slangy rascal.

1837:   . . . the boy O'Brien was identified as a kind of powder-monkey in the action, having been seen . . . carrying his arms full of stones and brick-bats in an alley way leading to the houses of the rioters, and heard to exclaim, "Let's beat the d----d leather-heads' heads off."
        N-Y D Express, September 11, 1837, p. 2, cols. 4-5

HDAS: (3) 1845

This is from a story about a riot in an Irish neighborhood  when it was invaded by a mob of "Native Americans" (in the 1830s sense}; the Irish chased the Natives off, then a squad of watchmen showed up, and were mistaken by the Irish for the Natives returning and under this mistake the watchmen were attacked  -- this was the Irishmen's defense, anyway.  It didn't work -- O'Brien, who was 15 and the son of a small-businessman in the neighborhood, was convicted, along with another.  No Natives were arrested.

"powder monkey" was old in 1837.

As a bonus: "fork up" = pay up (I miss it by one year):
1837:           Henry Munro, of Brooklyn-Balloon-failure, and Garden-street-bell-metal notoriety, . . . purchased a gold watch and chain of  the value of $147.  He wished to take the watch away with him, and not being able to "fork up," he offered . . . a promissory note. . . .
        N-Y D Express, August 15, 1837, p. 2, col. 5

HDAS: 1836 & 1839, from DAE

Munro was a balloonist -- or so he claimed.  The year before he had announced a flight from Brooklyn that didn't happen.  I don't  know what the "Garden-street-bell-metal" sneer alludes to.


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

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

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