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Posts Tagged ‘1816’

Back Forty

Posted by Admin on January 31, 2014

Every once in a while you’ll hear someone talk about the back forty. When you do, what they’re talking about is a remote and uncultivated or undeveloped piece of land of indefinite size, and not necessarily forty acres in size.

Malaysian born and University of Wisconsin educated Ken Chew is the mayor of Moraga in California, with this term being his second go at being Moraga’s mayor. He has a reputation for saying what he thinks and not mincing his words according to an article published in the January 1, 2014 edition of the Lamorinda Weekly newspaper. Among many subjects discussed in the article by journalist, Sophie Braccini, was a certain section of land leased to a local country club.

The preliminary list includes what is always the first goal in Moraga: fiscal sustainability and a balanced budget. Chew would like to see refinement of the capital improvement plan for all of the town’s assets. “We are doing very well with our roads, but the town owns other properties and we need to be very clear on the maintenance and/or future of these assets,” he said, including the land known as the “Back 40” that the town leases to the Moraga Country Club.

The book “A History Of Appalachia” by Richard Drake, professor emeritus of history at Berea College, published in 2001, discusses Appalachia, from the 1800s onwards, and in great detail, with numerous sources. In this book, the author included this passage:

Most sociologists and anthropologists who have looked into small Appalachian rural communities have found that the local community, apparently fairly democratic, is actually divided by family reputation, income differentials, and the degree of uban sophistication. Other useful analyses trace the distance from urban ways, placing the person closest to the city as “superior” with the rural “back forty” places next, and the remote “holler” as the poorest and least powerful.

In the book “A Stretch On The River: A Novel of Adventures on a Mississippi River Towboat” written by Richard Pike Bissell (1913 – 1977) and published in 1950, the idiom back forty was also used. The story is about the son of a wealthy family who, rather than being drafted to fight in the war, chose to work on a Mississippi River towboat.  The author weaves his tale of a typical trip up the river in such a way that reader is left with an accurate picture of the era when towboating on the Mississippi was an exciting and viable employment for eager, young men. On page 56 of the book, the following is found:

“I seen him. A forty-miler if I ever seen one. By the time we get to Rock Island lock he’ll decide he’s got to go home to help get the hay in or breed the bull or plow the back forty. I seen his brand a many times before.”

A newsletter out of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin known as “Our Boys” was published quarterly by the Wisconsin Home and Farm School Association. In Volume 10 published in January of 1916, under the keen eye of Editor and Business Manager, W.J.C. Ralph, and Associate Editor, R.M. Bradford, the following was announced:

Early in the winter a couple of acres of land was cleared up on the backforty.” The trees were cut into logs, posts and firewood.

Back in 1832, it was determined that 40 acres was the right amount of land that should be made available to settlers in the US Midwest as the population expanded westward. Forty acres was agreed by the government to be small enough and at a low threshold price to advance the frontier. This was in place until 1862 when the Homestead Act of 1862 (which was officially repealed in 1976) determined that 160 acres should be made available at no charge to anyone who would was willing to live on the land and cultivate it for at least five years. In other words, settlers were provided sweat equity in exchange for their land.

Shortly after the Homestead Act of 1862, during the spring and summer of 1865, in South Carolina, there was also a push to provide freed slaves with forty acres and a mule under Sherman’s Special Field Order, No. 15. As can be imagined, it was a highly successful program that provided freed slaves with the opportunity to own property. The concept began to take shape in 1816 when the American Colonization Society was formed and the issue of resettlement for freed African Americans was discussed.

A quarter section was half a mile by half a mile — 160 acres — and was made up of four quarters, each being 40 acres in size. The back forty was usually the forty acres furthest away from the homestead, and was definitely the last to be cultivated since it was the least likely to provide a bountiful crop if cultivated.

Forty acres was accepted by the mid-1750s as a sufficient amount of land with which a farmer’s needs could be reasonably supported. It was determined that forty acres of good land was all a farmer needed for a herd of two hundred sheep, or one of twenty cows, and that forty acres would result in a sufficient number of lambs and calves, wool, butter, cheese and other commodities, to make the land profitable for a farmer.

That being said, the back forty meaning an uncultivated or undeveloped piece of land is pegged to 1862 at the time of the Homestead Act.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

That’s A Sack Of Cold Chestnuts

Posted by Admin on December 1, 2010

One of two sayings Bea Arthur’s character, Dorothy, used often in the television series from “The Golden Girls” was “That’s a sack of cold chestnuts!”  What she meant was that what was supposed to be a hot-button topic was going to be a lot of work resulting in a the realization the topic was a non-issue that had already been discussed or repeated so many times that it was neither interesting nor amusing.

The 1816 English melodrama The Broken Sword — also known as The Torrent of the Valley — written by William Dimond was described as “a Melo-Drama in 2 Acts, adapted from the French” and “a grand melo-drama: interspersed with songs, choruses, and company.” One of the characters in the play is a boor, and at one point he is retelling a tale that makes mention of a cork tree.  The character named Pablo corrects the storyteller immediately by stating:

A chestnut. I have heard you tell the tale these 27 times.

With the addition of the word sack and the word cold to further emphasize that one did not want to revisit certain issues or discussion topics, the phrase “That’s a sack of cold chestnuts!” became popular in the Northeast and Midwest states during the 1880’s.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Apple Of My Eye

Posted by Admin on September 15, 2010

The phrase “apple of my eye” is best remembered for its inclusion in Sir Walter Scott‘s popular novel Old Mortality published in 1816 where he wrote:

Poor Richard was to me as an eldest son, the apple of my eye.

Shakespeare used the phrase in his play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in Act III, Scene 2 where Oberon says:

Flower of this purple dye,
Hit with Cupid’s archery,
Sink in apple of his eye.
When his love he doth espy,
Let her shine as gloriously
As the Venus of the sky.
When thou wakest, if she be by,
Beg of her for remedy.

But before Scott and Shakespeare, the phrase appeared in a work published in 885 entitled Gregory’s Pastoral Care which is attributed to King Aelfred the Great of Wessex.   During this era, the pupil of the eye was thought to be a solid object and because an apple was the most common round object around, the pupil was referred to as an apple.

Because one’s eyesight was particularly important, the phrase also took on a figurative sense when speaking of someone the speaker considered as precious to him or her as his or her own eyesight.  That the phrase was used in this way implies that the phrase had been in use for quite some time before it was included in King Aelfred the Great‘s book.

In the end, the phrase “apple of my eye” shows up time and again in the Old Testament of the Bible.

He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.  (Deuteronomy 32:10)

Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings.  (Book of Psalms 17:8)

Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye.  (Proverbs 7:2)

Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease.   (Lamentations 2: 18)

For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.  (Zechariah 2:8)

Posted in Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 10th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Jewish, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »