Americanisms; and Trinity NYC

Carl S Zimmerman csz_stl at s...
Thu Dec 26 19:45:31 GMT 2002

This message follows on from parts of various chat threads but also 
touches on some history, and so goes to both lists. Other dual 
subscribers please bear with me.

Apropos of previous discussions about American spellings, word usages 
and other differences from [=to!] the Queen's English, my father gave 
me for Christmas a new book by Jill Lepore. Titled "A is for 
American" and subtitled "Letters and Other Characters in the Newly 
United States," it was just published this year (ISBN 0-375-40449-X). 
It is both an easy read (I finished it on Christmas evening) and a 
scholarly work (30 pages of footnotes supplying bibliographic 
references). Lepore tells the tales of seven unusual American 
characters (mostly well-known) and their efforts to use language 
(including, in some cases, new alphabetic characters) to define 
national character and shape national boundaries.

What I found most relevant to the R-C discussion was Lepore's 
elucidation of how Noah Webster (of dictionary fame) and other early 
American philologists consciously attempted to produce an American 
language which was distinct from the English language that was the 
ancestral tongue of most American citizens. This is probably the 
origin of most of the differences between British English and 
American English today (color/colour, etc.). We should be thankful 
that Webster's more extreme proposals for revisions in spelling and 
orthography were never accepted, otherwise Americans and Brits would 
have even more difficulty in communicating than we currently do!

In contrast to these forces of nativism (verging at times on 
xenophobia), there were also forces of globalism at work in America. 
Among the products of these forces were early attempts at 
international alphabets, supposedly suitable for recording all spoken 
languages. Another product was Morse code, which made the electrical 
telegraph a practical means of rapid communication, thereby 
obsoleting the various types of optical telegraphs which had been 
implemented in the preceding decades. Although Lepore does not make 
the point explicitly, it seems probable that the globalist tendencies 
which she describes served to mitigate the nativist tendencies in 

Now for the ringing connection, which provides an interesting 
parallel to the globalist-versus-nationalist tensions which Lepore 
identifies, and seems equally appropriate to the 
globalist-versus-nationalist tensions which sometimes appear on the 
R-C and C-R lists. Quoting from Lepore (pp.139-140):
"On September 1, 1858, the people of New York spilled out onto the 
streets of the city ... in commemoration of the successful laying of 
the [first] Atlantic cable connecting New York to London by 
telegraph. The festivities began early. At nine o'clock the bells 
at Trinity Church rang "Hail Columbia," "God Save the Queen," and 
"Yankee Doodle," filling the streets with sound. ...
"... [These festivities] celebrated the reunion of the United 
States with its mother country. ... Samuel F.B. Morse [was heralded] 
as a champion of peace."
No matter that the cable failed the same day, and that its 
replacement would not be laid until 1866--a new era of rapid 
communication had begun, and its importance was widely recognized. 
We who subscribe to these lists are inheritors of Morse's vision.

In 1797, Trinity Church in New York City had received the fourth 
octave of bells in North America. All four sets had been produced in 
England, the first by Rudhall and the rest by Whitechapel. All four 
had originally been hung for change ringing. In 1849, Trinity added 
a ninth bell (also from Whitechapel), which was the first semitone 
bell in North America. Although the records are scanty, it seems 
obvious that this was a significant step toward what soon became a 
distinctly American development in the art of tower bells. Certainly 
it was these nine bells that were heard chiming from Trinity's tower 
in the celebrations of Sep.1858.

Between 1850 and 1858, no fewer than three American bellfoundries had 
begun to manufacture chimes of 9 or more bells, many of them heavier 
than the original English imports. By the time American bellfounding 
effectively ceased a century later, more than 600 such chimes had 
been made, the great majority of which are still in existence.

Today, five of the six original octaves in North America have been 
restored for change ringing. Trinity's bells remain an 
electric-action chime (the early manual chime mechanism having long 
since disappeared, it seems). One wonders whether they will ever be 
restored to their original use or whether they will remain an 

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