Monday, December 12, 2016

Humor: Ellicott - - a la cote

In a story from a NY ladies magazine in 1837, a visiting Frenchman forgot the name Ellicott's mills, but remembered that it sounded like the English word for jacket (cote/coat); so in broken English he asked a sailor what his jacket was called. Unfortunately he was at the Ellicott wharf in Baltimore, not the mills - which is why he could not see the mills with the whur, whur, whur of the wheel to grind the floo (flour).  The Frenchman was more than thirteen miles away from the mills.  The arrow shows the location of the early Ellicott wharf at the end of Light Street (north-south) and Pratt Street (west-east) Baltimore.

From the source - The Ladies' Companion, Volume 7  NY: August 1837   H. P.


BALTIMORE, MARYLAND. My early recollections of Baltimore attach me to that city deeply, unalterably. What a society I recollect on my first visit there, in boyhood! What an endearing welcome! What exciting associations are connected with reminiscences of Alexander Contee Hanson, Edward J. Coale, Jonathan Meredith, William Gwynn, indeed a larger list of valued names than strangers to them would spare time to read. I hope it may be in my power some day to give a picture of what was surely the Augustan age of Baltimore; when all its hearts seemed to me so warm, and all its minds so

The survivors of the society of the time I speak of in Baltimore, will all remember a very eccentric and entertaining person there by the name of Sam Poe. He had a brother, who, at one time, was on the stage. Sam was a sea captain, but a better actor than his brother, though never on the stage himself. Sam was the best mimic our country has produced, and perhaps the best off-hand conversational caricaturist of the people and the incidents of the hour. He was a theatre within himself—author, actor, scene-painter and dress-maker; he could even be the music between the acts; and "all extempore, all from his mother-wit." Besides, Sam was certainly better off than most authors or actors, for he never wanted an audience. He was lost, I understand, soon after I knew him; lost overboard, on a voyage to the West Indies.

I hope there are persons in Baltimore who can bring to mind some of Sam Poe's stories. I have a faint recollection of one of them. It relates to Ellicott's Mills, some thirteen miles from the city. Sam acted all the parts—mills and all; and the story, as nearly as I can recall it, runs as follows:

A Frenchman, looking for these mills which are in the country, blundered to Ellicott's wharf in the city. The poor fellow, getting to the head of the wharf, stared round, and seeing no mills, wished to inquire for them, but could not remember Ellicott's name. He recollected, indeed, that it sounded like the English word for habit, coat, but what that English was, he could not, with all the scratchings of his pate, bring to mind. In this state of perplexity, he skipped up to a sailor, and, after bowing and scraping, with that extravagant civility which never forsakes a Frenchman, especially when in a puzzle, the following dialogue took place between them: -

Frenchman.  Hoos you do, sair.
Sailor. How are you, my hearty.
Frenchman, (taking hold of the Sailor's roundabout jacket.) Is you do me do complemong for tell me vot is daht?
Sailor. Why, what the dickens should it be ?— That's a jacket, to be sure.
Frenchman. Vill you honnair me for tell me is he note de plays vot he live dat have von name dat hees no jahkayte, but hees lyke von jahkayte?
Sailor. My eyes, what d'ye mean by your no jacky, Munchec? Hey?

Frenchman. Pardong—I moan—Ha! ha! Pardong—I mean whe is he vot keepee de playce fo maykee dee floo? Vous no de playce fo de floo? Vot go whurr, whurr, whurr, whurr, whurr?—(making rapid cireles with his hand.)

Sailor. Sink me, if I know any thing at all of what you'd be at, with your floo. What the dickens is the floo, hey?

Frenchman, (irritated.) Quel bete! You not know de playce of de floo? De playce of de floo be de playce vot for makee de plahsh, plahsh, plahsh,—(the Sailor shakes his head.) Mille tonneres! Vous not no? Vous not no notting! Vot de vortaires com and he whurr, whurr, whurr—den he go plahsh, plahsh, plahsh. Vot you col heem (grasping the jacket again, and impatiently ) ven hee von grahnd jahkayte?

Sailor. Do you mean a monkey jacket?
Frenchman. Monkey Diablo! (with great vehemence and rapidity.) Nong, nong, ah nong, Monsieur. No monkey jahkayte—von jahkayte long—jahkayte grande—vot you col daht?

Sailor. I'll be blow'd if I know what you'd be atter; for I never seed a jacket that went whurr, whurr,— plahsh, plahsh,—No, nor a coat neither!—

Frenchman, (with a grin of delight.) Aha! ha! ha! ha !—Oui, oui, oui!—Cote—la cote—a la cote !— Is he note do playce vot leeve Mcestair—Meestair—

(here the Frenchman's countenance became again disturbed; he had forgotten the name once more, and extremely discomposed, asked,) Vot you say den?

Sailor. Why, confound the fellow, he's been talking about Ellicott's all this while !—(comprehending the Frenchman's blunder, he added.) Go to that store. There you'll find Mr. Ellicott.

Frenchman, (bowing.) Oui, Monsieur, bien obligee. Mille remereiemens. Je shawl note foregait.

(and away he goes into the neighboring store, exclaiming all the way, so as not to lose the hardly gained name)

Meestrahlaheote, ahlaheotc—Mees-trahlaheote!

(leaving the Sailor in a roar of laughter at the scene which had just taken place, and the confusion which must soon arise from the Frenchman's discovery that he is yet more than thirteen miles from the Mills of his friend " Mees-trahlacote."

©2016 Patricia Bixler Reber
Forgotten history of Ellicott City & Howard County MD

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