[PW] ?"northern spy"
jhenderson at ithaca.edu
Thu Oct 14 10:35:25 PDT 2010
One explanation of the origin of the name of the Northern Spy apple
was that it came from an anonymously authored dime store novel that
either was titled "The Northern Spy" or at least featured a character
known as the "Northern Spy." The WPA New York: A Guide to Empire State
in 1940 only goes as far as saying "the name Northern Spy grew out of
the abolitionist movement rampant at the time: the apple was
considered an interloper, hence a spy." The apple was introduced
around 1840, but was locally known (East Bloomfield, south the
Rochester, NY) before that time, and may have been named as early as
A now deceased apple historian is credited with tracking down a letter
to the editor in a gardening magazine dated about 1853 (which he does
not name), and, alas, instead of quoting the letter, he only
To the Editor,
In reply to Mrs. B who inquired about the naming of the
Northern Spy apple, everybody around here knows that the Northern Spy
apple was named for the “hero” of that notorious dime store novel The
Northern Spy, but nobody will come out and admit it.
According to the OED, the first use of dime novel was 1859 and dime
store 1918, but since the text of the letter is a paraphrase, the
original 1853 wording may have been different.
A short summary of the book is provided on an apple blog:
"He went south, presented himself as a slave catcher, and asked the
plantation owners to permit him to talk with the slaves in order to
find out how they escaped. Instead, he told the slaves about his own
escape route. He advocated killing any Federal marshal who caught a
runaway slave. He and his abolitionist friends lured slave catchers
into an ambush, robbed and killed them."
To corroborate the story, I've been looking for any evidence of the
existence of the character or book The Northern Spy, but have struck
out in World Cat, JStor, and GoogleBooks.
Ithaca College Library
who has been to East Bloomfield, but hasn't seen the original Northern
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