Echoes of Slavery Through Language

What is a coffle?

It’s an obsolete (I hope) word that means a group of  enslaved people chained together in a line.  It was commonly used by slavers in the 18th and 19th centuries when they moved  slaves long distances.

Coffle, like slavepen and overseer (person on a plantation paid a wage to organize the work of the enslaved people), are English words that aren’t needed today.  I ran across this subject while reading  “Slavery’s Trail of Tears” in the November 2015 issue of Smithsonian magazine.  This article retraces the journey of a million slaves that were marched overland from the East Coast, the “Tobacco South”, to the Deep or “Cotton South”.  It was purely for commercial purposes, making some rich, and is another part of American history I’m sure few people know about.

A glossery of slave terms can be found at

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