In the second post of this blog, I asked if anyone had an insight into why my ancestor Isaac Dickerman, in 1756, wrote in his will that his wife was to receive a “scarf & vail [sic]”, in addition to various worldly goods. My first thought was that he was consigning her to a nunnery, but that seemed rather unlikely in colonial New Haven.
My Torontonian friend Sara T. has proposed that the scarf & vail might be garments of mourning that he is encouraging her to wear for a length of time and/or symbols of a request that she not remarry. These thoughts sound plausible to me, and I wonder if he is also signifying that he has provided for her so handsomely that she has no need to remarry.
In any case, Sara’s is the most sensible guess I have come across, and I thank her for conveying it.
More recently, I quoted an entry from my great great grandfather’s Civil War diary in which he refers to the “Secesh cavalry”. I had never heard the term “Secesh” and wondered if it might be an Indian tribe or a particular region of Mississippi. This time, the Internet came to the rescue, informing me that “secesh” was short for “secessionist” and could either describe a Southerner’s political leanings or serve as slang for Confederate soldiers.
A Random House “Word of the Day” website notes that the term was common during the Civil War—used more frequently in the North than in the South—but died out soon after, with the last citation the writer can find dating from 1892 (“Secesh is played out”).
In the same diary entry mentioned above, William Davies writes:
…a Bushwacker from across the River fired at our men around the fire the ball proved to be from a Skuirrel Rifle struck into some blankets on a stump
It turns out that a bushwacker (usually spelled “bushwhacker”) was a civilian guerilla, common in rural areas of the South but also found in the North. Bushwhackers conducted raids on opposing forces and on civilians in border states who sympathized with the opposition. Because a bushwhacker was not a uniformed soldier, it would not be surprising to discover that his weapon was a squirrel rifle.
The more I read, the more I discover worlds of hidden meaning in the words of my ancestors.