When James B. Ward published THE BEALE
PAPERS in 1885, first revealing the Beale codes to the world, he included copies
of three letters dated 1822, addressed to Robert Morriss and purported to be
signed by Thomas Jefferson Beale. These letters were provided in support of the
story of the Beale codes and the treasure that they would reveal. It is clear
that if the letters are a hoax, the codes are invalid also. The letter dated
January 4, 1822, addressed to Robert Morriss and signed Thos Jeffn Beale,
includes two passages of interest. The first reads as follows:
Keeping well together they followed their trail for two weeks or
more, securing many, and stampeding the rest.
The second passage
of interest reads as follows:
Every one was diligently at work with such tools and appliances as
they had improvised, and quite a little pile had already
Three words occur in these passages that do not
appear to have been in use in 1822 -- STAMPEDING, APPLIANCES, and IMPROVISED.
The English language is a growing language, and it acquires words (and new
meanings for words) by several processes, including adoption and adaptation of
words from foreign languages and redefining old words with new meanings. It is
difficult for someone who uses the language to remember acquiring a new word,
and he tends to use it as if it has always been his after he learns
For example, my well-worn everyday dictionary, WEBSTER'S NEW WORLD
DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, was published in 1957, just as I started
college. In it, only two definitions are given for the word CONDOMINIUM. They
are: 1. joint sovereignty; joint rule of a country or region by two or more
states, and 2. the territory so governed. CONDO is not defined at all. Who, less
than thirty years later would think of either of these meanings when asked about
the meaning of CONDOMINIUM? Yet, except for some specialized technical terms,
who would use a word in an everyday letter that cannot be found in an up-to-date
dictionary? Dictionaries fairly accurately reflect the state of the language as
of their dates of publication.
STAMPEDE does not appear in Noah Webster's
first dictionary published in 1806 and entitled A COMPENDIOUS DICTIONARY OF THE
ENGLISH LANGUAGE, nor does it appear in his second dictionary published in 1828
and entitled AN AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. The word was
derived from a Mexican Spanish word "estampida" or "estampido", meaning
literally "stamping" or "pounding", and hence meaning "stampede" in Mexican
Spanish. When the word was first brought over into English after contact between
Spanish-speaking and English-speaking cattlemen, it retained some of its Spanish
pronunciation and was first used as STAMPIDO, STAMPADO, STAMPEDO, STOMPADO, etc.
I have sought out early uses of this word in several volumes, including
THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY, John Russell Bartlett's DICTIONARY OF
AMERICANISMS -- A GLOSSARY OF WORDS AND PHRASES USUALLY REGARDED AS PECULIAR TO
THE UNITED STATES (1860), A DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN ENGLISH ON HISTORICAL
PRINCIPLES (1944), Thornton's AN AMERICAN GLOSSARY (1962), and Matthews' A
DICTIONARY OF AMERICANISMS (1951). The earliest cited uses are in the Spanish
form, with later uses in the current English form. The uses are cited
1826 Virginia Herald (Fredericksburg, Va.)
prodigious multitude, and there were thousands of them, took what the Spanish
call the "STOMPADO".
1828 Missouri Historical Review Vol VIII for
A little before daylight the mules made an abortive attempt to raise a
1834 23rd Congress 2nd Sess H.R. Doc No. 2, p 79
sentinel last night ... alarmed the camp, and sent off in a STAMPEDO the rest
of the horses.
1835 Washington Irving, Tour Prairies, XXVI, p
About two hours before day there was a STAMPEDO, or sudden rush of
1843 Marryat, M. Violet XXIX, p 29
The animals had
ESTAMPEDOED the whole distance at the utmost of their speed.
Gregg, Commerce of Prairies II p 167
Their horses had taken a STAMPEDE and
1844 ibid page 169
A party of Mexicans...STAMPEDED and
carried away, not only their own horses, but those of the
After this point, one may assume that the use of the
word STAMPEDE in its present form was common. But in the 1822 letter the word
was just tossed off as if a Virginia innkeeper would understand a word that
probably had not been invented yet. APPLIANCE does not appear in Webster's 1806
dictionary. It does appear in his 1828 dictionary defined as follows:
APPLIANCE, n. The act of applying or thing applied. Obs.
Thus it appears that Webster included an obsolete word in
his dictionary because it appeared in Shakespeare's writings.
ENGLISH DICTIONARY gives three definitions of APPLIANCE, the first one being
listed as obsolete, as follows:
1. Compliance, willing service; subservience.
1601 Shaks, All's Well II. i. 116, I come to tender it, and my
APPLIANCE, With all bound humbleness
1603 Meas for M. III. i. 89, Too
noble, to conserue a life In base APPLIANCES
2. The action of
putting to, administering, using, putting into practice; application.
1561 T. Norton, Calvin's Inst., It remaineth that by APPLYANCE
all the same (benefits) may come to us.
1608 Shaks, Per. III. ii. 86,
An Egyptian, had nine hours lien dead, By good APPLIANCES was
1831 Carlyle, Sart.Res. II. iii., The human soul... could
be acted on through the muscular integument by the APPLIANCE of birchrods.
(remaining citations for 1851 and 1868 omitted here)
thing applied as means to an end; apparatus.
1597 Shaks, 2 Hen IV. III. i. 20., With all APPLIANCES and
meanes to boot.
1613 --- Hen VIII, I. i. 124., Aske God for
Temp'rance; that's the APPLIANCE only which your disease
1861 Stanley, East Ch. ii. Introd. 60., All the APPLIANCES
of antiquarian and artistic knowledge.
1876 Fawcett, Pol. Econ. II.
viii, 231., To avail themselves of improved mechanical
Only the third definition of the OXFORD
ENGLISH DICTIONARY applies to the word in the sense used in the Beale letter,
and it is seen that, after Shakespeare last used the word in 1613, the compilers
found no further use of the word in that sense until 1861.
In A STANDARD
DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, Vol I (1893), the first definition given is
the modern one, as follows:
1. Anything through or by which something is effected or
accomplished, or which appertains or is essential to the conduct, course or
operation of a particular thing; an instrumental means, aid apparatus, or
device; as, the appliances of a trade; medical appliances; the appliances of
This dictionary also includes a quotation from
Fitzedward Hall's MODERN ENGLISH, chapter 8, page 307 (l873), as
APPLIANCE, a word which our grandfathers would have regarded as
very quaint, certainly owes its reappearance to the increased study, during
later years, of old English literature. Few of the archaisms which have
recently been endowed with new life are more felicitous.
the word APPLIANCE, which was "endowed with new life" about 1861, was recognized
as a recently archaic word which had recently reappeared by a leading authority
in 1873. Of Mr. Hall's qualifications, George H. McKnight in THE EVOLUTION OF
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE stated "Much more trustworthy as a leader was Fitzedward
Hall, whose standards of judgment are today generally accepted." It is therefore
a reasonable deduction from the evidence that the word APPLIANCE was not
available to a letter writer in 1822.
IMPROVISE does not appear in either
the 1806 or 1828 Webster dictionary. The word is derived from the French
"improviser" or the Italian "improvisare", meaning "to sing or say
The OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY cites a use in 1826 in the
sense of "to compose (verse, music, etc.) on the spur of the moment; to utter or
perform extempore." This use was by Disraeli in his novel VIVIAN GREY, as
follows: "He possessed also the singular faculty of being able to IMPROVISE
quotations." Incidentally, Disraeli was of Italian ancestry, which may explain
his apparent introduction of an Italian word into English. However, when used in
the sense of "to bring about or get up on the spur of the moment; to provide for
the occasion", the first cited use in this dictionary was in 1854. There were
two uses cited in this category, as follows:
1854 E. Forbes, Lit. Papers viii (1855) 206, If a number of both
sexes happen to assemble at the same house a dance is IMPROVISED.
Dickens, Lett to Miss D., 13 June (1880) II. 95 A tent IMPROVISED this
In addition, there were some early definitions of
IMPROVISED which might apply, as follows:
1837 Carlyle, Fr. Rev. III. I. iv., What part might be
premeditated, what was IMPROVISED and accidental man will never
(remaining entries for 1863, 1873, and 1876 are omitted
It thus appears that the use of the word IMPROVISE in any
sense other than in connection with extemporaneous speech or musical performance
was unknown prior to about 1854. The word may have been totally unknown in this
country in 1828 when Webster published his second dictionary. It appears
unlikely that it would have been in the vocabulary of a literate frontiersman in