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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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Pronouncing on Printers

In 1767 Benjamin Franklin’s daughter Sally married Richard Bache (1737-1811, shown here), a Yorkshireman who had moved to Philadelphia two years before.

A note in the Papers of Benjamin Franklin states:
The family’s name was originally Bêche or de la Bêche, and one tradition traces the family back to the Norman Conquest. In England the name seems to have been pronounced Beech, but in America it is pronounced to rhyme with the eighth letter of the alphabet, “H.”
Even before I saw that note, that’s how I (an American) pronounced the Bache surname.

But it appears that Bache’s American contemporaries pronounced the family name “Beech” just as the English did—at least when referring to Richard’s son, the iconoclastic printer Benjamin Franklin Bache. Here’s Thomas Jefferson in 1788:
If young Mr. Beach has begun to exercise his destined calling of a printer, he would be the best correspondent for Pissot for many reasons…
And here’s President George Washington in 1793:
The publications in [Philip] Freneau’s and Beach’s Papers are outrages on common decency…
Most tellingly, here’s Franklin himself, writing to John Adams in 1787:
My Son Beach and my Grandson are much flatter’d by your remembrance of them, & join in presenting their Respects.
I found those references during a discussion on Twitter started by Jordan E. Taylor.

But that situation prompted me to wonder about the name of one of Boston’s leading printers, Benjamin Edes. Was I pronouncing that right? Even more important, was I correct years ago in assuring Gary Gregory of the Edes & Gill Print Shop in Faneuil Hall that we were pronouncing it right?

Fortunately, we have a phonetic spelling from Abigail Adams in 1775:
Poor Eads escaped out of town last night with one Ayers in a small boat, and was fired upon, but got safe and came up to Braintree to day.
Phew!

(And speaking of names, Richard Bache’s older brother, who came to Philadelphia before him, was named Theophylact Bache. Pronounced “beech.”)

1 comment:

Jim Padian said...

Don’t sweat the phonetic stuff. You’ve got bigger issues on your plate. Happy T-day.