Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What Soldiers in the American Revolution Meant by "Depredations"--Like "Troublesome," a "Troublesome" Word

In the more than 20,000 pension applications transcribed by Will Graves and C. Leon Harris there are as of tonight 681 uses of the words depredation or depredations. It is occasionally used of raids on Indian towns but more often the terms are applied to an invasion and plundering of a home and carrying off booty. Because the men applying for pensions had been Whigs during the Revolution, it should not be surprising that Tories are recorded as those engaged in acts of depredation. It is just possible that some Whigs also engaged in such acts. There was, in truth, no Whig engaged in multiple horrific acts of depredation like Cunningham in South Carolina and Fanning in North Carolina.

My concern here is with the shift in meaning which has gone unrecorded in the several dictionaries I have checked. The dictionaries still record the meaning that the old soldiers used in 1832 and the years following.

noun: depredation; plural noun: depredations
  1. an act of attacking or plundering.

    "protecting grain from the depredations of rats and mice"

    synonyms:plundering, plunder, looting, pillaging, robbery; More
    ravages, raids

    "the depredation of the barbarian invasion"
late 15th century (in the sense ‘plundering, robbery,’ (plural) ‘ravages’): from French déprédation, from late Latin depraedatio(n-), from depraedari ‘plunder.’
Translate depredation to
Use over time for: depredation
Translations, word origin, and more definitions
depredation - (usually plural) a destructive action; "the ravages of time"; "the depredations of age and disease" ravage. plural, plural form - the form of a word that is used to denote more than one.

Depredation | Define Depredation at Dictionary.com

the act of preying upon or plundering; robbery; ravage. Origin of depredation. Expand. Late Latin. 1475-1485. 1475-85; < Late Latin dēpraedātiōn- (stem of ...

This is rough and ready statistical evidence, but here goes. I checked Newspapers.com for 2013 and got zero use of the word (in either singular or plural).
I checked 2000-2010 and got 168 hits. Most of them are about "depredation permits" to allow you to kill deer or coyotes or turkeys or mountain lions or other critters. Mixed in are a few comments from older time on Indian depredations (meaning by Indians on whites) and the other way around, and a few "witty" misuses of the word as this in the Indiana Gazette, 24 July 2002:


  • If you were not paying attention, you might no realize how horrible it was to have the Tories committing depredations upon your house and possessions, often involving harm to women and children. It's akin to the situation with "troublesome," for when the soldiers said the Tories were troublesome they meant much more than a nuisance. They meant something akin to "terroristic."  It takes some saturation in thousands of these pension applications to become aware, sometimes, that the old men don't mean by some of their words  what you understand by the same words. Old guy, pay attention now.

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