"Guinea" etymology

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun May 2 16:57:46 UTC 2010

At 5/2/2010 09:35 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>... my impression is that "guinea," as applied to Africans, was not
>in freq. use in the 1870s and later.

1)  When did immigration from Italy begin to increase, presumably in
the second half of the 19th century?

2)  Assertedly "Guinea" as applied to Africans was well-known in the
North in the decades just before and after the Civil War.  (I have no
idea about frequency from the 1870s.)  One has to pass over much
that's about Papua, but:

      From the first page of " 'New Guinea at One End, and a View of
the Alms-House at the Other': The Decline of Black Salem,
1850--1920", by Michael Sokolow, NE Quarterly, Vol. 71, No.2 [June
1998] (JSTOR, so I must go to the library for the full article):  "To
contemporary readers from the urban North, 'New Guinea' was a
familiar phrase commonly used to refer to black neighborhoods in
cites such as Boston, New Haven, Philadelphia, and New York."  The
quotation in the article title is from the "Custom House"
introduction to "The Scarlet Letter", published in 1850.

      From "Black Walden: Slavery and its Aftermath in Concord,
Massachusetts, by Elise Lemire, p. 119 (Google Books):  "This pattern
of segregated inhabitation resulted in a term for referring to the
burgeoning enclaves of former slaves after the war. 'New Guinea was
used to describe the secons of New Haven, Philadelphia, New York,
Boston, and Plymouth where former slaves settled."  Lemire then
quotes Thoreau's reference in "Walden" to a Cato Ingraham: "Some say
that he was a Guinea Negro."  "Walden" was published in 1854.

      From "Black trials: citizenship from the beginnings of slavery
to the end of caste", by Mark Stuart Weiner, p. 35 (Google Books
snippet): "... vibrant community of free blacks, which clustered near
the Charles Town ferry in
a neighborhood then called New Guinea."  [Needs more context to
determine when "then" was.]

      From "Sarah's long walk: the free Blacks of Boston and how
their struggle for ...", by Stephen and Paul Kendrick, p 188:  "The
district known as New Guinea, where black sailors lived, had 683
inhabitants in 1840. Five years after the Fugitive Slave Law's
passage, only 50 people were living there."  [Again, needs more
context to determine just when was it known as "New Guinea".]

      From "Bound for the promised land: Harriet Tubman, portrait of
an American hero", by Kate Clifford Larson (Google Books), p.
155:  "Living in a small black settlement known as New Guinea, on the
east side of Auburn running along the Owasco River, Nat and Lizzie
found support and shelter ..."  This is upstate New York, circa 1857.

      From "Chivalry, slavery, and young America", by John Burke
(1866), p. 125 (Google Books, full view), in an apparently undated
poem:  "... Most feelingly spoke of the sons of New Guinea Oppressed
in our midst ...".


At 5/2/2010 09:35 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>I nearly included this ref. in brackets in HDAS I but decided it was
>Doug's new evidence suggests I was wrong.  Like his, my impression is that
>"guinea," as applied to Africans, was not in freq. use in the 1870s and
>later. Had there been a real connection, I'd have expected the early
>evidence to have come not from NYC but from N.O., which had a history of
>both African slavery and Italian immigration.
>Right now, I'm inclined to believe that the name was suggested by the song.

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