Surname Saturday: (Say) Cheese

CheeseCrestThe Cheese surname, like the Cakebread and Whitebread surnames (see recent articles here and here), is among one of the oldest, dating back to pre-seventh century Olde English.  Both the Olde English word “cese” and the Saxon word “cyse” mean cheese and refer to someone who makes cheese, making it an occupational surname.

Like the “bread” occupational surnames, a cheesemaker was one of the oldest recorded trades, and therefore the Cheese surname was prominent.  As the Internet Surname Database suggests, the Cheese coat of arms featured a golden lion on a blue field which may have suggested nobility or close royal association.

The first record of the name was Ailwin Chese as a member of the St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London in 1150.  Other early records show John Chese on the 1279 Hundreds Rolls in Huntingdon, the name Walter Le Cheser was recorded in Hereford in 1376 and Mary Chese was christened in Canterbury in 1572.

Phebe Cheese married Nicholas Moleny on October 11, 1646, perhaps the first time that spelling variation was seen in records.  Spellings variations include Cheese, Chese, Chuse, Chouse, Cheser, Chesse and more.  According to the Internet Surname Database, “the more usual surname form is Cheeseman, although strictly speaking Cheeseman refers to the servant or manager of the cheese making, whilst ‘Cheese’ is the big cheese himself!”

Early American records show that members of the Cheese family served during the Revolutionary War.  A 1783 Continental Congress record shows a Negro woman named Ann Cheese on an Inspection Roll of Negroes, also called the “Book of Negroes”.

The book consisted of over two hundred pages which listed black Loyalists, and in some cases included short descriptions (country of origin, slave owner, indentures, age, and even appearance).  For instance, the record for Ann Cheese lists her as a thirty year-old “stout wench” along with William Cheese, a “stout fellow”, age forty-five.  Just above the Cheese record appeared Violet Snowball, also a thirty year-old “stout wench” with two children, Nathaniel, a twelve year-old “fine boy” and a three-month old “healthy child.”

Not all of them were slaves apparently since according to BlackPast.org about 3,500 free black Loyalists left New York City with a total group of 35,000 bound for New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.  There were also approximately 1,500 enslaved individuals who belonged to slaveholding Loyalists.  Approximately fifteen percent of all Loyalists who went to Canada were of African ancestry.

At that time if a slave had a last name it was often the same as the person who owned them.  However, I located a couple of women, presumed to have been Negroes, buried in the Amos Lockwood cemetery in Kent County, Rhode Island.  These two women, mother and daughter (Bethana and Violette Cheese), were perhaps owned by the Lockwood family.  While buried at the back of the cemetery, their headstones had been carefully carved and likely indicated they were much beloved by the Lockwood family.

Sgt. Thomas S. Cheese

A Civil War veteran named Thomas S. Cheese is buried in Chalmette National Cemetery in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.  He was deployed to Louisiana as part Company A of the United States Colored Troops, 11th Regiment Heavy Artillery, organized from the 14th Rhode Island Colored Heavy Artillery.

Thomas died of sunstroke (or “coup de soleil” as the surgeon in charge noted) at the Colored Artillery Hospital in New Orleans on July 11, 1864.  His wife Eliza filed for a Widows and Other Dependents Pension in May of 1865.  Thomas and Eliza had been married since May 15, 1838 and had two younger children, Eliza (11) and Thomas (14) at the time of Thomas’ death.  Another daughter named Sarah Maria was listed but her name struck through because she was presumably over the age of sixteen.

Thomas had served “honestly and faithfully” and Eliza was granted a monthly pension of $8.  The last pension payment of $12 was recorded on June 4, 1900 shortly before her death.  Of interest, daughter Eliza’s birth record indicates she was mulatto, so either her mother was Caucasian or one or both of her parents were of mixed race.

In case you missed it, be sure and read this week’s Tombstone Tuesday article about Charles H. Cheese here.  In researching the Cheese surname I ran across an interesting tidbit.  The family name of actor and comedian John Cleese (Monty Python) was Cheese.  His father, embarrassed by the name, is said to have changed it prior to enlisting for service in World War I.  Believe me, there are plenty of “unfortunate” surnames – stay tuned for future articles :).

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2015.
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Feisty Females: Sarah Campbell a.k.a. “Aunt Sally”

AuntSally_GraveI ran across an article published in the January 13, 1878 issue of the Chicago Tribune entitled “The Women of the Hills” and written by a correspondent for the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. The correspondent wrote his thoughts on some of the more “colorful” women of the wild and woolly South Dakota Black Hills.  He was particularly enamored with Martha Canary, a.k.a. Calamity Jane, calling her “an original in herself” and someone who despised hypocrisy, imitated no one and was “easily melted to tears.”

His list included Belle Siddons, a.k.a. Monte Verde, Kitty LeRoy, known as the queen of just about everything and a young woman known only as Nellie of Central City.  His list of colorful characters ended with a paragraph on a “large negro woman, almost as broad as she is long” by the name of “Aunt Sally”.

Sarah Campbell was born on July 10, 1823 in Kentucky to an African American slave named Marianne.  It’s possible that the slave owner was Sally’s father because it had been stipulated that Marianne and her children were to be set free upon his death.  Marianne instead remained enslaved until her death in 1834.

Six days following her mother’s death, Sally was sold to Henry Choteau, cousin to St. Louis fur trader Pierre Choteau, Jr., who had founded Fort Pierre Choteau in 1832 as a trading post in what would later be called Dakota Territory.  Sally, just eleven years old at the time, objected and filed an unlawful detainment lawsuit against Choteau in 1835.  With the help of an attorney she won the lawsuit in 1837, and her freedom, and received one penny in damages.

Before her freedom was granted, Sally had been hired out as a cook on steamboats which plied the waters of the upper Missouri River in support of the lucrative fur trade business.  After winning her lawsuit, she continued to work on the steamboats and married another steamboat worker from Illinois.

Together they had one son named St. Clair (or Sinclair).  Little is known about her life during that time since African American history was sketchy at best during the nineteenth century.  St. Clair’s name first appears on the 1870 census at Fort Randall in Dakota Territory where he operated a ferry service until his death in 1885.

According to BlackPast.org, Sally moved to Bismarck, Dakota Territory as a widow.  She owned and operated a private club and was a laundress and midwife, affectionately known as “Aunt Sally”.  The following year she made history, becoming the first non-native woman to enter the Black Hills when she joined George Custer’s Black Hills Expedition.

Aunt Sally, the expedition’s cook, served over a thousand men.  Some have claimed she cooked for Custer, but he had written a letter to his wife and mentioned a cook named Johnson.  According to an 1880 Black Hills Daily Times article, she cooked for John Smith, a sutler who sold provisions to the army.  She was said to have been handy with a frying pan, not only for cooking purposes, but in fending off anyone who got fresh with her.

During the expedition Sally joined twenty other residents of Bismarck and formed the Custer Park Mining Company.  According to True West Magazine, it was the expedition’s intentions all along to not only find a suitable site for a military post to address the Indian problem, but to check out rumors of gold in the Black Hills.  After reaching French Creek, two miners began panning for gold and on July 30 found “gold in them thar hills.”  Everyone wanted to try their hand, including Aunt Sally.

She called her claim “No. 7 below Discovery”, listed on an official notice posted on August 5, 1874 as belonging to Sarah Campbell.  To this day, Custer County still show her claim in their records.  One of the soldiers recorded in his diary that “Claim No. 7 below Discovery belonged to ‘Aunt Sally,’ sutler John W. Smith’s Negro cook.  Sally’s real name was Sarah Campbell, a woman Curtis [the correspondent] described as a ‘huge mountain of dusky flesh.’”

William Curtis was a young reporter for the Chicago Inter-Ocean and the New York World.  His interview with Sally was published on August 27 just before she returned to Fort Lincoln with the expedition, describing her as “the most excited contestant in this chase after fortune. . . She is an old frontiersman, as it were, having been up and down the Missouri ever since its muddy water was broken by a paddle wheel, and having accumulated quite a little property, had settled down in Bismarck to ease and luxury.”

She had anticipated the expedition, saying she “wanted to see dese Black Hills – an’ dey ain’t no blacker dan I am and I’m no African, now you just bet I ain’t; I’m one of your common herd.”  One of the things she was known to tell everyone was “I’se the first white woman as ever entered the Hills.”  As one correspondent who interviewed her put it, “of course it would be impolite in the presence of a lady to deny the soft impeachment, so I simply accepted the statement as in every sense true.”

Seth Galvin, who as a young boy was acquainted with Sally, claimed she called herself a white woman because “she was not very literate, and the term ‘white’ was the only word she knew.  She meant ‘civilized.’” Whether she was literate or not the St. Paul Pioneer-Press correspondent claimed she was a “walking encyclopedia of matters and facts connected with this country.”

After returning from the expedition Sally vowed to return to the hills and continue prospecting, which she did, walking back into the Hills alongside an ox-drawn wagon.  She filed a claim at Elk Creek and lived in Crook City and Galena, prospecting, cooking and serving as a midwife.  Sally tried her hand at both gold and silver mining, filing a total of five claims, although only one, the Alice Lode silver mine was profitable.  Fifteen months before her death she sold the Alice Lode for five hundred dollars.

When the silver boom came to an end, she moved to a ranch and adopted a son, planning to run a camp for miners and railroad workers.  Aunt Sally died on April 10, 1888 according to her gravestone in Galena’s Vinegar Hill Cemetery, although a grave marker erected in 1934 marking the expedition’s sixtieth anniversary indicated she died in 1887.

She was quite a character, a beloved one at that, who participated in annual parades in her later years and enjoyed telling stories, while puffing on her pipe, about the Custer Expedition.  The 1934 marker noted that she with her participation in that expedition she had “ventured with the vanguard of civilization.”

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2015.
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Book Review Thursday: The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II

TrainToCrystalCityAs one reviewer wrote, all enthusiastic supporters of everything the government does should read this book.  It’s a true story about one of the saddest pieces of our country’s history when young children, born as American citizens to immigrant parents, were forced into American internment camps throughout the country following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

It started with President Franklin Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066, an action which placed him at odds with his wife Eleanor.  Within a short period of time, immigrant families across the country were split apart as their parents (mostly fathers) were sent to male only internment camps, sometimes in places far from their homes, just because they were Japanese, German or Italian.

Author Jan Jarobe Russell took on the task of exposing the never-before-told story of the only American family internment camp located in Crystal City, Texas, not far from the Mexican border.  Ms. Russell interviewed many survivors of the camp, the unfortunate American-born children of immigrant parents, and tells the story from their perspective.

The book goes beyond the internment camp experience and delves into the lives of those who had been sent at Crystal City ostensibly to later be used for prisoner exchanges and other victims of the war.  Some of those who were sent back to their country of origin chose to return, mistakenly it turned out, because they believed they would be better off.  The Japanese were so sure that Japan would never surrender and had indeed won the war, yet upon their return were met with devastation, poverty and food shortages – same for Germany.

This well-researched book was an Amazon Best Book of January 2015.  It’s obvious that Ms. Russell did her homework, combing through government files and seeking out actual witnesses to shed light on the truth.  History is ugly sometimes, unfortunately, but it’s still important to know as much about the good and the bad – lest we make the same mistakes.  As the saying goes “those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

It’s an interesting book about World War II, American and Texas history that most people probably have never heard of.  For that reason alone, it’s worth your time to pick up a copy, or check it out at your local library.

Rating:  ★★★★

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2015.
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Ghost Town Wednesday: Eastonville, Colorado

GhostTownWednesdayWhile many of Colorado’s ghost towns were formerly booming mining towns, this one east of the Black Forest near Colorado Springs was an agricultural community.  The area began to be settled in 1872 and was first called Easton when a post office was established at Weir’s Sawmill.

In 1881 the Denver and New Orleans Railroad, later the Colorado and Southern Railroad, began to lay track in the area.  A train stop named McConnellsville was established a few miles northeast of Easton in 1882.  The residents of Easton decided to move their town there in a “relocate or perish” action (Colorado Ghost Towns: Past and Present by Robert L. Brown, p. 93).

The area around Easton was found to be most suitable for potato farming, and for a time residents self-proclaimed it the Potato Capital of the World.  Access to the railroad would have been essential for shipping their prized potatoes, so in 1883 the townspeople voted to move.

Not long after relocating another issue arose, this time over the name of the town.  Postal officials requested a name change to avoid confusion with the town of Eaton in Weld County.  On May 17, 1884 the town’s name was officially changed to Eastonville.  With direct railroad access and agricultural development, Eastonville was poised to grow.

In 1886 there were around fifty residents, but by 1900 the town boasted a population of around five hundred.  Three mercantiles (Russell-Gates Mercantile Company, Eastonville Mercantile Company and Foster Brothers General Merchandise) had been established, along with a meat market, bakery, livery stable, three hotels, a school, a drugstore and, of course, saloons.

Three churches, Baptist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian, were established.  The Cheese family (highlighted in yesterday’s Tombstone Tuesday article here) were some of the first Episcopalians to settle in the area.  The local newspaper was called the Eastonville World and the town had a baseball club and race track.

According to Brown, the first two decades of the twentieth century were the most prosperous for Eastonville.  At least nine or ten passenger trains and the same number of freight trains passed through the town each day.  Potato farming had become a booming business.  The Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette reported in April of 1904 that Eastonville farmers and businessmen were arranging phone service for their homes and businesses.

One of the early settlers was interviewed in 1965 by Jean Evans of Monument.  Charles Hobbs described the area as a “splendid farming community, and huge crops of grain and potatoes were grown.  Two-pound spuds were common, and there was a great demand for seeds of these dry land potatoes from other growing centers.” Potato bakes were regularly held in Eastonville and Monument.

Trainloads of potatoes were shipped out of Eastonville and nearby Monument which meant there were plenty of jobs.  However, people began to leave Eastonville in the 1930s after crop failures and drought.  The quality of the potatoes dropped and with it the product market, and of course the Great Depression was also a factor.

Charles Hobbs believed that the automobile and truck led to the railroad’s demise, although the railroad was pretty much wiped out in May of 1935 when massive flood waters swept through the area.  The May 29 forecast called for fair weather and only occasional showers in the mountain areas.
It was raining Thursday morning, although not heavily, but intensified later in the day.  Storm cells had merged and the sky was black.  As Monument Creek began to rise flood waters swept through Colorado Springs and the surrounding area as other creeks crested.  Eighteen people lost their lives.

Without railroad taxes the town had little in the way of finances to support its existence.  The Gates Mercantile’s business was dwindling, although the Eastonville Mercantile held on for a few more years.  Residents continued to leave as houses were torn down and moved away.

EastonvilleHouseToday very few structures remain.  The Presbyterian church was used was a community center for years and is still standing.  The Eastonville Cemetery is still in use with over five hundred interments dating from the late 1800s to the present day.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2015.
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Tombstone Tuesday: Charles H. Cheese

CharlesCheese_smCharles H. Cheese was born on February 22, 1856 in Illinois to parents George and Elizabeth Cheese.  George, born in England around 1823, arrived in America on April 27, 1830 with his parents Edmund and Ann Cheese.  The Cheese family were farmers in Cook County, Illinois and in 1850 George and Elizabeth were living with his parents with a two-year old child named Ann.

Edmund died in 1855 and George and Elizabeth’s growing family was living in Chicago in 1860 with his mother Ann.  After George passed away in 1866 and was buried in Cook County, his family moved to Will County.  However, sometime between the 1870 and 1880 census, some members of the Cheese family decided to head west.

By 1880 Elizabeth had established herself in Colorado Springs, Colorado and married R.W. Mason.  Historical records indicate that she was one of the first Episcopalians in that area of Colorado and later worked as a cook at the historic Antlers Hotel.   The hotel, built in 1883 twelve years after the founding of Colorado Springs, was one of the most elegant hotels in the West at the time.

AntlersHotelThe seventy-five room hotel was furnished with gas lights, steam heat, hot and cold water and a hydraulic elevator, according to the hotel’s web site.  Amenities such as a music room, playrooms, barber shop and a Turkish bath were also featured.  Built and financed by William Jackson Palmer, the hotel was named Antlers for the large racks of elk and deer antlers displayed throughout the facility.

Following its opening in June of 1883, newspapers around the country described it as “mammoth”, situated “on the rise of the plateau a few hundred yards from the depot” in Colorado Springs, “one of the most tidy and pleasant towns to be found in Colorado.”  President Benjamin Harrison visited in 1891 and the hotel, a favorite destination for English tourists was nicknamed “Little London”.  The hotel, destroyed by fire during an eight-block-long, wind-driven fire on October 1, 1898, was rebuilt in 1901.

ElizabethEhleCheeseMasonElizabeth, one of the early pioneers of Colorado Springs, passed away on December 30, 1894, three weeks following the death of her grandson, Everette, son of Charles and Clara Cheese.

Charles had migrated to Colorado and settled in the Colorado Springs area as well.  He married Clara Belle Bristow around 1882 or 1883 and their first child George Willard, born on September 26, 1884, was named after his grandfather.  Records indicate that Charles and Clara had at least ten children: George (1884), Everette (1886), Maria (1887), Charles (1889), Clarence (1891), Naomi (1893), Marjorie (1895), Harlan (1897), Gladys 1899) and Alberta (1904).

Everette died on December 7, 1894 at the age of eight.  While it’s unclear the circumstances surrounding his death, it’s possible he died of either diphtheria or smallpox since both diseases had risen to epidemics that year.

George Willard Cheese died on June 26, 1902 at St. Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs, a victim of diphtheria according to his obituary.  Willard a “model son with a bright future” was three months short of his eighteenth birthday.

CheeseRanch_PeytonCOCharles was a farmer and a successful cattle rancher, but following the death of his oldest child George, decided lease his large and valuable ranch and move his family to Eastonville so that his children could have the advantage of the high school at that place, according to The Weekly Gazette (22 Oct 1903).

In the spring of 1903, Charles purchased fifty-four head of cattle.  The Weekly Gazette noted that he was “one of the oldest ranchmen in this county and he says that this is the most forward spring we have had in years.  He has over 100 acres ready to sow in oats, and he says that the grass is starting rapidly.”  By the end of 1903 Charles was about to build a saw mill on his ranch and “saw about 200,000 feet of lumber.”

Eastonville was about six miles way from Peyton where the family ranch was located.  Charles was elected president of the Peyton French Coach Horse Society in 1904 and his family visited the ranch while their children were on school vacation.  His family relocated to Colorado Springs by at least 1907 and most likely derived income from lease of the ranch land and saw mill operations, because it appears the family continued to reside in the city.

Some of their children later migrated to California – Myrtle (Maria), Marjorie and Harlan were living in Alameda in 1920 and Alberta married James Dodds there in 1933.

In 1914 Colorado Springs residents apparently believed Charles had died, but like Mark Twain, reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.  Word had spread that his son Charles, a college athlete, had dropped out of school due to the death of his father.  Charles Senior, however, was in the best of health – Charles Junior had just decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and take up farming.

Clara died on November 6, 1923 at the age of sixty-three and was laid to rest in the Peyton Cemetery.  On the day following his seventy-fourth birthday, February 23, 1930, Charles passed away and was also buried in the Peyton Cemetery.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2015.
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On This Day: It Was “Oll Korrect”

calendar-icon-Mar23_1839It is a word spoken millions of times a day around the world, but what are its origins?  A book by Allen Metcalf, entitled OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, states that the word can be traced back to a Boston Morning Post newsroom.  On March 23, 1839 these words appeared:

The “Chairman of the Committee on Charity Lecture Bells,” is one of the deputation, and perhaps if he should return to Boston, via Providence, he of the Journal, and his train-band, would have the “contribution box,” et ceteras, o.k. —all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward.

However, if it meant “all correct”, why wasn’t the abbreviation “a.c” instead of “o.k”?  Ah well, that would be due to a so-called “abbreviation fad” that occurred in the 1830’s.  We might think our modern-day texting is a way-cool method of communicating “shorthand” messages, but in that day it was all the rage especially among newspaper editors.  It was their version of our “LOLs” and “OMGs”.

In the 1940’s etymologist Allen Walker Read conducted some serious research and discovered that in many instances the abbreviations were sort of “tongue-in-cheek” and purposely misspelled.  For instance, “oll korrect” would render “o.k.”.  During that period of time, some newspapers used abbreviations so extensively that it made news almost unintelligible.  According to the Kansas City Times (20 May 1963):

This elliptical telegraphy became so exaggerated that newspapers were barely understandable.  “It shall be done” became “I.S.B.D.”  “O.K.K.B.W.P.” meant “one kind kiss before we part.”

But things got even worse. The Boston papers of the day decided to use incorrect first letters to make their esoteric shorthand even less intelligible.  “O.W.” was used for “oll wright.”  “N.S.M.J.” was the symbol for “Nuff said ‘mong jentlemen.”  The innocent “O.K.” came in to outlast them all, standing for “oll korrect.”

The fad started in the summer of 1838 and was seen in New York in summer 1839 and New Orleans in the fall of 1839.  How did it spread?  There were no wire services at that time and many newspapers, especially small-town ones, would get their news from other newspapers.  I see it so much in researching various newspaper articles – word for word, the same article was printed across the country, right or wrong.

OKKBWPNineteenth century newspapers were known for the inclusion of not just news but humor, poetry, satire, fiction series and even Sunday School lessons and sermons.  As The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories points out, “[M]any American humorists from the 1820s on adopted as public personas uneducated bumpkins who communicated their observations in dialect made more dense by pointless misspelling.  It is this tradition that turns no go into know go and no use into know yuse.”

So, not only was it fashionable to use abbreviations it was also acceptable to create them with misspelled terminology.  “All Right” (A.R.) became “O.W.” or “oll wright” and “N.G.” for “no go” would have been rendered “K.G.” (“know go”).  Humorously, “K.K.K.” wasn’t the early rendition for “Ku Klux Klan”, but rather was a fanciful abbreviation for “commit no nuisance”.

Metcalf has a humorous example in his book (p. 37) from the June 12, 1838 edition of the Boston Morning Post.  The excerpt is extracted from Allen Read’s research (with Read’s abbreviation translations):

Melancholy — We understand that J. Eliot Brown, Esq., Secretary of the Boston Young Men’s Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Indians, F.H.H. (fell at Hoboken, N.J.) on Saturday last at 4 o’clock, P.M. in a duel with W.O.O.O.F.C. (with one of our first citizens).  What measures will be taken by the Society in consequence of this heart rending event, R.T.B.S. (remains to be seen).

Metcalf continued, citing Boston editor Charles Green’s propensity to vary between small and capital letters:  “S.P” (small potatoes); “N.G.” (no go); “G.C.” (gin cocktail); “M.J.” (mint julep) and “G.T.” (gone to Texas, presumably because Texas wasn’t yet a state, fleeing U.S. jurisdiction).

It was a craze, but how did the literary world respond?  Apparently, it wasn’t widely accepted, at least at first.  Mark Twain and Bret Harte did not use the new-fangled word; Louisa May Alcott used it once in Little Women, but in the next edition “OK” became “cozy” instead, perhaps signaling she was not comfortable with the term.

We all know fads eventually pass, so how did this one, especially the term “OK” manage to endure?  Etymologists and historians attribute the phenomenon to the 1840 presidential election.  That year Martin Van Buren was the Democratic candidate for re-election as president.  The political machine of New York City called themselves the Tammany Society and to support Van Buren they established a Democratic O.K. Club.  In this case, “O.K.” stood for “Old Kinderhook” since Martin Van Buren’s hometown was Kinderhook, New York.

That was a clever move on their part because they were able to use a word that was becoming increasingly more common, at least among everyday folks (and newspaper editors) – and perhaps they were hoping voters would assume that Van Buren was “oll korrect”.

Political machines of that day tended to be of the bullying sort, and these club members began to harass and disrupt Whig meetings, making headlines all over the country.  Apparently, those tactics weren’t “o.k.” with voters as they sent Van Buren packing back to “Old Kinderhook”.  Following the election, Whigs boasted that now “O.K.” meant “Off to Kinderhook.”  William Henry Harrison’s “Tippicanoe and Tyler Too” strategy had worked.

Some historians have speculated that contributing to Van Buren’s defeat was a story that Whig journalists started passing around in 1828, saying Andrew Jackson had used the term “OK” to stand for “Ole Korrek”, implying Jackson was a bad speller I suppose.  For years following the 1840 election, ordinary citizens came up with their own theories as to the origin of the phrase.  In letters to editors they would expound on the origins they believed came from Latin, Greek, French, and more.

One language theory stemmed from the Choctaw word “okeh”.  Apparently Woodrow Wilson bought that one, because he wrote “okeh” on documents he approved.  When asked why he didn’t use “O.K.” he stated he believed it was wrong.

Metcalf pointed out in an NPR interview that he believes “OK” owes its endurance to its embodiment as a symbol of “America’s can-do philosophy in just two letters.  If something’s OK, that’s OK, it’ll work, maybe it’s not perfect but it’ll work, and that’s an American attitude.”  As he concluded, “it may be the most important American word.”

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2015.
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Early American Faith: Reverend Ezra Stiles (Part Two)

Ezra_StilesThe study of the Hebrew language was a long-held tradition at Yale since its founding in 1701. It had, however, fallen out of favor with students and Ezra Stiles was determined to change that.  As noted in last week’s article (read it here) he wasn’t entirely successful in mandating the study of Hebrew since by 1790 it had become a voluntary course offering due to student protestations and a lack of interest.

Still, Ezra was a great admirer of the Semitic languages, Hebrew in particular.  He wrote his presidential inaugural address in Hebrew, translated it into English and then delivered it in English.  Three years later he gave an address entirely in Hebrew, and not just “casual” Hebrew.  He endeavored to deliver his Hebrew orations in the rabbinical tradition.

His skills as a Hebrew orator were not derived from merely studying language and grammar books.  Rather, he became a “participant observer” amongst the Jews of Newport.  He attended prayer services and spoke at least once to a Jewish congregation.  As Shalom Goldman pointed out in his book God’s Sacred Tongue: Hebrew and the American Imagination, Ezra “made the study of Hebrew and its cognate languages the focal point of his rich intellectual life.”

After receiving an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from The University of Edinburgh, upon the recommendation of his friend Benjamin Franklin, Ezra relearned the Hebrew alphabet at the age of forty, determined to become an “Hebrician”.  In 1773 he began a close relationship with Rabbi Haim Isaac Carigal who was in-residence in Newport for six months.  Through that relationship his Hebrew language skills improved and he and Carigal corresponded in Hebrew.

Ezra spoke highly of the rabbi in his personal diary, including long passages about Carigal’s mannerisms, dress and personality.  Carigal, the first rabbi to visit the colonies, was described by Stiles as “dressed in a red garment with the usual Phylacteries and habiliments, the white silk Surplice; he wore a high fur cap, had a long beard.  He has the appearance of an ingenious and sensible man.”

Ezra extended an invitation to his friend Aaron Lopez, a Jewish merchant, to meet Carigal and the two Jewish men met frequently thereafter until Carigal departed for his homeland.  Lopez was a Portuguese Jewish merchant and the wealthiest person in Newport at the time.  He was born Duarto Lopez in 1731 in Lisbon to a family of “conversos”, those who although professed Catholics practiced their Jewish faith in secret.

Lopez’s business interests were so diverse and successful that Stiles described his friend as “a merchant of the first eminence . . . the extent of [his] commerce probably [was] surpassed by no merchant in America.”  His business interests with the British began to decline, however, as tensions mounted in the mid-1770’s.

In 1761 Lopez had applied to become a naturalized citizen of Rhode Island under the auspices of the Naturalization Act of 1740 which stated anyone who had lived in the colonies for seven years could become a British citizen.   However, Catholics were excluded by the law, although special provisions allowed Quakers and Jews to bypass those rules.  His request was nevertheless denied.

When he and another Jewish man appealed to the Rhode Island General Assembly, the lower legislative body handed down a ruling that they would be allowed to become citizens but not be allowed to vote or serve in civic offices.  An appeal to the Superior Court for full citizenship was denied, citing that a 1663 Rhode Island law allowed only Christians to become citizens of the state.  To circumvent the Rhode Island law, Lopez moved to Massachusetts, became a citizen and returned to Newport.  He is believed to have been the first Jew to become a naturalized Massachusetts citizen.

Ezra Stiles was a man of many interests, known as one of the most intellectual men in America.  His friendships, many and varied, extended to those of other faith traditions as well as to the revered founders of America.  He shared a love of science with Benjamin Franklin.

Stiles began recording temperature readings after Franklin brought him a thermometer upon his return from London in 1762.  Stiles and Franklin had exchanged long letters back and forth discussing the elements of heat vs. cold – for instance, was cold merely an absence of fire or a separate element altogether.  From 1763 until his death in 1795, he made those recorded observations, amassing six volumes of data which included wind direction and general weather conditions.

Their shared intellectual pursuits were not the only matters of mutual interest.  Stiles was interested in how Benjamin Franklin concerned himself with spiritual matters as well.  He had inquired as to his friend’s religious beliefs in 1790 and Franklin responded:

Here is my Creed: I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe.  That He governs it by his Providence.  That he ought to be worshipped.  That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children.  That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this.  These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever Sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho’ it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble.

Having expressed his doubts, Franklin was nevertheless confident that the “Goodness of that Being, in conducting me prosperously thro’ a long Life, I have no doubt of its Continuance in the next, tho’ without the smallest Conceit of meriting such Goodness.”

The letter was written on March 9, 1790 and signed “With great and sincere Esteem and Affection, I am, Dear Sir, Your obliged old Friend and most obedient humble Servant.”  A month later on April 17, Benjamin Franklin died at the age of eighty-five.

Likewise, Ezra shared his love of science with Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson also corresponded openly of his diplomatic pursuits abroad.  In 1784 Jefferson visited Yale and met Stiles, offering his services both to his friend and the college.  Ezra remained a friend and admirer and in 1790 wrote a letter expressing his desire that Jefferson become the next president of the United States.

Ezra was a fan of George Washington as well.  In an Election Address given before the Connecticut Assembly on May 8, 1783, he lauded Washington:

[I]n 1776 and 1777, we sustained ourselves against the British army of sixty thousand troops, commanded by Howe, Burgoyne, and Clinton, and other the ablest generals Britain could procure throughout Europe, with a naval force of twenty-two thousand seamen in above eighty British men-of-war.  These generals we sent home, one after another, conquered, defeated, and convinced of the impossibility of subduing America.  While oppressed by the heavy weight of this combined force, Heaven inspired us with resolution to cut the gordian knot, when the die was cast irrevocable in the glorious act of Independence.  This was sealed and confirmed by God Almighty in the victory of General Washington at Trenton . . . Who but a Washington, inspired by Heaven, could have struck out the great movement and maneuver of Princeton – that Christmas eve when Washington and his army crossed the Delaware? . . . The United States are under peculiar obligations to become a holy people unto the Lord our God.

In April of 1781, about six months before Cornwallis’ surrender to General Washington at Yorktown, Ezra wrote a personal letter on behalf of Yale in which school officials had unanimously conferred upon his “Excellency the Degree of the Doctorate in Laws.”  He continued: “We cannot add to the Accumulation of Glory which shines around the Name of Washington, and of which none but himself think unmerited.  But we are ambitious of the Honor of enrolling his Name in our Register and Archives, among those whose literary Merits entitle them to the highest academical Dignities.”

A few weeks later George Washington replied, accepting Yale’s honorary degree and added: “That the college in which you preside may long continue a useful seminary of learning – and that you may be the happy instrument in the hands of Providence for raising the honor and dignity, and making it advancive of the happiness of mankind, is the sincere wish of, Sir, Y’r most obedt & most Hble Serv’t, Go. Washington.”

Ezra Stiles certainly lived an interesting life and obviously impacted American history not only with his spiritual legacy but his scientific and intellectual pursuits as well.  Even as Yale’s president he still regarded himself as a minister of the gospel, even after his official connection to the church at Newport had been severed.  He continued to perform baptisms, conduct communion and visited and prayed with the sick of New Haven.

His views toward other faiths like the Quakers also softened somewhat through the years, although he never quite overcame his earlier distrust of the Anglicans, according to Edmund Morgan (The Gentle Puritan: A Life of Ezra Stiles, 1727-1795).  His views regarding slavery shifted dramatically in the years before his death.  He had freed his slave Newport before moving to New Haven, and in 1790 he and other ministers and patriots of Connecticut formed a society “for the promotion of freedom and for the relief of persons unlawfully holden in bondage.”

Ezra Stiles had great hope that the practice of slavery would be abolished, but of course it would take several years and a rending of the country before that happened.  To the end of his life he remained engaged in broad intellectual pursuits, including an interest in the state of world affairs.

Ezra Stiles was a patriot, who although had once admired and revered the British monarchy, had evolved and grown into a champion of democracy with a great vision for the future of America.  As Morgan ended his book, he wrote that Ezra’s “mind never stopped grasping at the next idea until a bilious fever struck him on May 8, 1795.  Four days later he ceased to grow.”

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2015.
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