J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Colonial Boston Vocabulary: "loar Garding"

Quincy Thaxter was born in Hingham in 1762, the son of a gentleman farmer. His older brother John went to Harvard and in August 1774 headed to Braintree to learn the law from John Adams. Since Adams soon set off for the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia and Patriot protests closed the Massachusetts court system, John Thaxter had no way to see the law in action. He ended up working as John Quincy Adams's tutor—a not insignificant contribution to American history.

Back home in Hingham, twelve-year-old Quincy Thaxter was spending most of his days going to school and working on the family farm. We know that because he was also keeping a diary, which the family seems to have saved simply because it included the fateful day of 19 Apr 1775 ("in the forenoon Civil War begun"). That document is now at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Quincy had, let's say, an unorthodox writing style. For a number of months after he started the diary he referred to himself as "my Self," not "I." He crossed out a lot of words halfway through. Nearly every entry is punctuated as a single sentence no matter how many subjects and verbs it has. And his spelling is often phonetic, though only in the sense that "the brown heffar carved" means that the brown heifer had a calf. (And compounding those oddities are the challenges of deciphering any handwritten document, so "heffar" might just as well be "hessan".)

I had particular difficulty deciphering something Quincy wrote on 16 June 1774:

myself Went to school all the day to Jacob weaded the loar Garding in the forenoon and in the aftenoon Cato and Jacob hoed behind the house after Sch School was done Fathe Fa FATHER and my self went dowon to the Worldend to see the cattle an get some strawberries.
What was this "loar" that Quincy was "Garding"? Or was the "loar" something that Jacob "weaded" while Quincy did something called "Garding" that morning? No, Quincy was at school all day until he went with his father to "Worldend," a term that shows up repeatedly in the diary as part of the family farm. Perhaps "loar" and "Garding" are archaic agricultural terms, I thought; but, not being a farmer or even a gardener, I'd never recognize them.

Finally I decided to assume Quincy Thaxter was the worst speller in the world, but was doing his best to spell out a common phrase...
loar Garding
lo-ar Gardin'
lower garden!


Anonymous said...

Any idea why he was named Quincy? Related to the family in some way? Thanks, KLR

J. L. Bell said...

This genealogy page says his mother was Anna Quincy of Braintree.

J. L. Bell said...

Another comment on Quincy Thaxter's genealogy: He was the baby of the family and, once his older brother John went off to college, the only son at home.

The men he named in his diary, Cato and Jacob, were therefore probably hired or (especially the former, given his name) kept enslaved to keep the farm going.