Major Antedating of "Concentration Camp"

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at MST.EDU
Tue Feb 5 01:53:38 UTC 2013

Fred's example of  "concentration camp" (July 17, 1897) remains the earliest attestation thus far noticed in which "concentration" is combined with "camp."  However, an article in _The World_ (NYC newspaper) from a few months earlier (April 26, 1897; p. 7/3) reports on "Capt.-Gen. Weyler's Barbarous Policy of 'Concentration'."

Here are a few sentences from the article: "The effect of concentrating the country people in fortified towns is seen in all its awfulness in Las Villas, as the Cubans call Santa Clara Province. It means 'the towns,' Santa Clara having many cities.
"...Under Weyler's policy of concentration the whole 350,000 persons are suffering, and 150,000 are doomed to die for lack of food, which they could easily obtain if allowed to work."

On May 23, 1897 (p.2/1) _The World_ had another article on the situation. Quoting a letter dated May 12, 1897, the article says "Since Weyler's first order of concentration a good many people have prepared to gather around the sugar estates rather than to go into the towns."

On the same day (May 23, 1897 p.3/1-2) _The World_ carried an item titled "World's News of Weyler's Starvation War Confirmed", which then quotes a report from a World Staff Correspondent dated April 15, 1897. But the correspondent begins the report with a date of five days earlier:
"HAVANA, Cuba, April 10. -- The condition of the people here is so desperately wretched it will hardly be believed in the United States.  Gen. Weyler's order concentrating the rural population in small towns and cities is the most inhuman decree ever issued.  It is a sentence to death by hunger of a whole people."

Gerald Cohen
Fred Shapiro wrote, February 04, 2013 12:30 PM


Are there any earlier English-language citations in the COE article?

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Cohen, Gerald Leonard [gcohen at MST.EDU]
Sent: Sunday, February 03, 2013 9:47 PM
Subject: Re: Major Antedating of "Concentration Camp"

For a bibliographic reference on this topic, see:
Gerald Cohen: "Concentration Camp -- Its Precursor in the Spanish-American War". Comments on Etymology, vol. 23 #4 (Jan. 1994), pp. 12-18.

G. Cohen

Original message from Fred Shapiro, Sunday, February 03, 2013 9:57 AM:

It is not often that an antedating removes a significant stain from the history of a major nation, but this one does that (not that it improves the British record in the Boer War, but at least it can no longer be said that the British invented the "concentration camp").

concentration camp (OED 1901)

1897 _Louisville Courier-Journal_ 17 July 9 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)  "If the United States does not come to the help of this people more than 100,000 of them will perish in a month."  This is from a letter written by an American citizen living in the province of Santa Clara, Cuba.  The horrors of Weyler's concentration policy have been pictured in strong colors, but it seems as if the worst has not yet been realized.  "In the beginning of the concentration," this American writes, "the people driven into the; towns were occasionally allowed to go to the country on passes and search for food to bring back to camp.   Having such passes, they sometimes escaped the notice of the scouting parties.  Now, however, the Spanish columns have received orders from Weyler to shoot any one, whether furnished with a pass  or not, wherever found outside of the concentration camp.

[NOTE: This article appears to be reprinted from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat]

Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society -

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