"fancy-girl", long antedating 1892-- (OED2)

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Wed Oct 8 00:05:43 UTC 2014

In his review of "The Half Has Never Been Told,' by Edward E. Baptist 
(2014), Erich Foner writes "In the 1830s, the term 'fancy girl' began 
to appear in slave-trade notices to describe young women who fetched 
high prices because of their physical attractiveness."

The OED2 has "fancy-girl" only from 1892.  So I thought looking for a 
60-year antedating might be profitable.  Also, the OED's definition 
may need some extension.  It is given as "= fancy-woman", whose 
definition is "a kept mistress".  Although no doubt most 
"fancy-girls" became sexual partners, I suspect many did not rise to 
the status of "mistresses", particularly among those who were slaves.

RHDAS, on the other hand, has "fancy-girl" for its sense 1 ("a man's 
sweetheart or mistress") from 1822 and 1821--1826 (that is, perhaps 
written in 1821 but published in 1826).

[The RHDAS 1824 citation for its sense 2 ("a demimondaine, esp. a 
prostitute") is spurious; it should be dated 1853--55.  The quotation 
comes from Robert Everest, _A Journey Through the United States and 
Part of Canada_ (London, 1855), p. 104 (GBooks).  Everest's journey 
was in 1853.  See pp. 39--40: Fillmore was not an ex-president until 
that year. There is other internal evidence for a date at least two 
decades later than 1824 on pp. 2--5).]

All of the following antedate OED2  1892--.  The 1821 below 
(Burrowes) antedates RHDAS, whether it fits sense 1. or 2.  I leave 
it to my betters to decide if any others antedate RHDAS sense 2, 
whose earliest citation should become 1852--55 (C. G. Parsons, 
_Inside View of Slavery_).


A.  "Fancy girl" in the OED's sense, "= fancy-woman", whose 
definition is "a kept mistress".  The early quotations (here and in 
the OED) generally attach the fancy girls to sailors or tramps.

1821 J. Burrowes _Life in St. George's Fields ..._  p. [25].

"Blowing, a fancy girl".  (This is within what Burrowes presents as 
"A Slang Dictionary" to interpret his character's speech.)

Imprint London: 1821.  GBooks, full view.  [I have not tried to trace 
"blowing" as a British "slang" term.]

1834 Frederick Marryat  _Jacob Faithful_  p. 182.

"I killed the seal, and my fancy girl made the pouch for me."

"an old shipmate o'mine, Ben Leader, had a wife named Poll, a pretty 
sort of craft in her way, neat in her rigging, swelling bows, taking 
sort of figure-head, and devilish well-rounded in the counter; 
altogether, she was a very fancy girl, and the men were a'ter her. 
She'd a roguish eye, and liked to be stared at, as most pretty women 
do, because it flatters their vanities."   [Perhaps this should be 
bracketed (or omitted), as adj.--noun but not yet compound noun.]

Both quotations vol 1, p. 212.

Imprint London: Saunders and Otley, 1834.  GBooks, full view.

1839 _The Law Magazine; or Quarterly Review of Jurisprudence, For 
February, 1839; and May, 1839_.  Vol. XXI,  p. 276.

"Every tramper is accompanied by his fancy girl or his wife."

Imprint London: Saunders and Benning, 1839.  Utterance of "an 
experienced vagrant" (p. 275).  Within the Law Magazine's Article II, 
"Rural Police.  First Report of the Commissioners appointed to 
Inquire as to the best Means of Establishing an efficient 
Constabulary Force in the Counties of England and Wales.  Presented 
to both Houses of Parliament by command of Her 
Majesty.  London.  1839."  Reprinted in other journals.

The above three appear to be the only GBooks instances before 1840.


B.  Referring to a sexually desirable slave.  [All newspaper 
citations from EAN. These are the earliest I found; citation of other 
newspapers within some quotations suggest places to look for earlier 
instances.]  I have included the later of these quotations and their 
context for the light they cast on what was meant by a "fancy-girl" 
who was a slave.

1835 March 6.  _Farmer's Gazette_ (Barre, Mass.), 2/2.

"New Fancy Article.  A Gentleman advertises, that among other slaves, 
he wishes to purchase 'several likely small _fancy girls_ for nurses'. "

1845 Jan. 18, _Maine Cultivator_, 2/3.

" 'Fancy Girls' [title]. The following advertisement is from the 
Baltimore Clipper. If we are rightly informed for what purpose the 
class designated as '_Fancy Girls_,' are wanted, the undisguised 
wickedness of such advertisements exceeds all that we had supposed 
even slave-traders would be guilty of, or any community would 
countenance, pretending to possess that small share of respectable 
morality and decency, which is generally found in Southern cities: 
... [Quotation from the advertisement follows.] 'N.B. I wish 
particularly to purchase several Seamstresses and likely FANCY GIRLS 
for nurses.' "

1846 Jan. 2, _Richmond [VA] Whig and Public Advertiser_, 3/6.

" Fancy Girl_ [title].  I will sell on Thursday, 8th January, a 
handsome Mulatto Girl 14 years. ... Thos. H. Taliaferro, Auctr."

1847 May 13, _The Boston Recorder_, 4/3.

"An Auction [title].  While travelling at the South ... as I was 
passing through a noted city, my attention was arrested by a 
concourse of people upon the public square. ...
      "In stature she was of the middle size; slim and delicately 
built. Her skin was lighter than many a northern _brunette_, and her 
features were round, with thin lips. Indeed, many thought no black 
blood coursed in her veins. ...
      "Then fell upon my ear the auctioneer's cry, 'How much is said 
for this beautiful healthy slave girl---a real albino---a fancy girl 
for any gentleman? (!) ... 'one thousand,' [was] soon bid. ... At 
first, no one seemed disposed to raise the bid. The crier then read 
from a paper in his hand, 'She is intelligent, well-informed, easy to 
communicate, a first rate instructress.' ... 'Twelve 
hundred'---'fourteen'---'sixteen,' quickly followed. He read 
again---'she is a devoted christian, sustains the best of morals, and 
is perfectly trusty.' This raised the bids to two thousand dollars, 
at which she was struck off. ...
      "This was a southern auction---an auction at which the bones, 
muscles, sinews, blood and nerves of a young lady of nineteen, sold 
for one thousand dollars; her improved intellect for six hundred 
more; and her christianity---the person of Christ in his follower, 
four hundred more.---Liberty Press."

[This article was reprinted at lest three times in the North through 1849.]

1849 Sept. 1, _The Salem Gazette_, 2/4.

"Outrage on Humanity and Decency [title].  A Norfolk paper contains 
the following advertisement:
      "Notice. For sale, a Colored Girl, of very superior 
qualifications ... She is what speculators call a Fancy Girl---a 
bright Mulatto, fine figure, straight black hair and very black 
eyes---remarkably neat and cleanly in her dress and person. I venture 
to say, that there is not a better seamstress, cutter and fitter of 
ladies and children's Dresses in Norfolk or elsewhere ...
      "Any Lady or Gentleman, in Norfolk or Portsmouth, who may wish 
to purchase a Girl of this description (whom I consider the most 
valuable in Virginia,) may take her and try her a month or more at my 
risk, and if she does not suit and answer the description here given, 
may return her to Mr. Hall."

1849 William Ingersoll Bowditch _Slavery and the Constitution_ 85.

[Same advertisement as _The Salem Gazette_ of 1849 Sept. 1.]

Imprint Boston: Robert F. Wallcut, 1849.  GBooks, full 
view.  Bowditch writes that he took this advertisement from the 
Boston Daily Republican of Aug. 30, 1849; that it appears previously 
in the Providence Journal; and also that it was taken from the Norfolk Herald.

This appears to be the earliest instance in GBooks of the use of 
"fancy-girl" in reference to a slave.


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