"Guinea" etymology

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon May 3 05:35:07 UTC 2010

I posted two links for "Guinea negro" last Thursday that I grabbed from
GB. One was Cooper's Red Rover. The other was some random text. But I
was only looking at 1830-50, and even then only did a partial search.



I thought it was interesting that a piece in 1843 Knickerbocker referred
to the New Guinea district identified therein as "African settlement".
Elsewhere, I saw a reference to "classification" of "negroes" and
"Guinea negro" was identified as being "more stupid than other kinds". I
did nor record the location at the time.

What I did not do before posting is search GNA. So I made up for that
now. And the results are rather telling.

Looking backwards, the latest citation for "Guinea Negro" was from a
February 2009 Miami Herald column by Leonard Pitts which was reproduced
by a number of newspapers and websites nation-wide in the two weeks that
followed (last week of February and first week of March). The column was
in response to the NYPost cartoon that was widely derided as racist. But
the quote with "Guinea Negro" was picked up from an 1899 Atlanta

> "An original Guinea negro whose blood has not been crossed is as
> docile as a shepherd dog." --The Atlanta Constitution, June 4, 1899

The hits from 1920 forward all contain old quotes from the 1800s, except
one that refers to "British Guinea Negro". From 1900 to 1913, it is more

Pay-Per-View - Boston Daily Globe - ProQuest Archiver - Dec 19, 1903
... leader of the "New Guinea negro district, and chairman Boardman of
the school committee had a heated argument over the school committee s
edict. ...

Reading Eagle - Google News Archive - Aug 10, 1913
... the Guinea nigger was looked down on by members of su perior tribe?,
and one of a higher race often felt that a Guinea negro was fit only to
serve him. ...

NEGRO KNEW NAPOLEON.; John Francis Observed Fallen Conqueror's …
New York Times - Mar 17, 1912
To the Editor o[ The Ncw Yort; Timcs: Your article headed "lh at St.
Helella" brings to my mind *to fact that in 1860 a Guinea negro by the
name of John I; ...

Waifs of the Time A Pathetic Story of the Little Southern "Darky"
Pay-Per-View - Atlanta Constitution - ProQuest Archiver - Aug 10, 1902
... know that while they were jolly and un- complaining and had a
dialect that would make easy by comparison the Jargon of a South
Carolina Guinea negro, ...

In particular, note the first (Boston) hit that refers to the "New
Guinea district". The Atlanta Constitution gets a number of hits
post-1860, although all are behind PQ wall.

Pay-Per-View - Atlanta Constitution - ProQuest Archiver - Jun 19, 1899
The preacher is Is calle,. a "guinea" negro, one of those who live onl
the rice plantations. They have a dialect peculiar to themselves and the
intonation ...

This one is obviously useful, but clearly has OCR problems. In any case,
there is a mix of expressions meaning /literally/ a Guinea native (where
"Guinea" is vaguely the British colonial Equatorial Africa--the same
area whose gold gave name to the guinea coin--one 1897 reference is to
"Gulf of Guinea Negro") and more generally a subset of African slaves
and their descendants in the US. A couple of hits in 1884 and 1888 refer
to "New Guinea negro".

So it is quite clear that the usage stretches at least from the 1820s
(Cooper) to the early 1900s, and that goes for both "Guinea negro" and
"New Guinea district". I am not suggesting that there was no such usage
before the 1820s, but I simply did not search earlier papers or books.

I also did not bother looking for "Guinea nigger" although this was an
obvious evolutionary development:

Popular science monthly, Volume 81. November 1912
Negroes Who Owned Slaves. By Calvin D. Wilson. p. 484
> The black man in America has always been imitative, and his desire to
> do what the white man did doubtless also influenced him in this
> matter. Moreover, there were in his country tribal differences and
> antagonisms which continued to obtain in America; the " Guinea nigger
> " was looked down on by members of superior tribes, and one of a
> higher race often felt that a Guinea negro was fit only to serve him.


On 5/2/2010 9:19 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
> ...
> I think one can so infer for "Guinea", as the historians of Northern
> black post-bellum settlements apparently do   (I have not -- yet --
> gone to those secondary sources.)  But finding written evidence is a
> different matter.
> Thoreau's sentence -- "Some say that he was a Guinea Negro." -- seems
> unambiguous that "Guinea", at least as the place name, was used as an
> attributive with a noun referring to a person.  Google Books finds 6
> different instances of "he was a Guinea negro" (including Thoreau)
> between 1845 and 1890.
> And another for "he's a Guinea negro", additionally with "Guinea" =
> "African person" -- "Helvington: a dramatic story in five acts"
> (Memphis: Bulletin Pub. Co., 1867), page 10:
>        "NED W.  Oh, that is old Crow. He's a Guinea negro. MRS. S. How
> interesting! A Guinea? Do introduce me, I wish
> to converse with him."
> For "Guineas live", there is Joel Chandler Harris's "Daddy Jake the
> runaway: and short stories told after dark" N.Y: The Century Co.,
> 1896), in a story titled "Why the Guineas Stay Awake", page 120:
>        "Yit, soon er late , w'en he got ter whar de guineas live at,
> he foun' um all soun' asleep. ..."
> Joel

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list