Several months ago, friend Dan came across the word coffle and wondered if I was familiar with it; I was not. Somewhat appropriately, it rhymes with awful and lawful. It is derived from the Arabic qāfila, meaning caravan, and its first Known Use was in 1799.
He found the word in the article The Forgotten Supervillian of Antebellum Tennessee by Betsy Phillips. It is subtitled, “In a brutal business defined by cruelty, Isaac Franklin was perhaps the worst slave trader in all of cotton country—and the richest man in the south. Yet today his heinous crimes are long forgotten.”
The story begins:
The people of Nashville hear slave trader Isaac Franklin’s great annual parade of misery long before they see it. The rhythmic thud of 400 trudging feet carries quite a way. Then comes the sound of men singing, “Cut him down, cut him down, catch him if you can.”
There’s a river and a field and a few scattered houses between Nashville and Franklin’s coffle coming down Gallatin Pike, but once it crests the hill at what will one day be known as Eastland Avenue, everyone up on the bluff can see it. A great centipede of 200 men chained together at the waist, their hands locked behind their backs, marching toward Nashville. A hundred women and children follow behind in wagons, destined for sale. A man with a fiddle walks alongside the chained men, playing to keep them moving at the same speed.
The time is late August 1833.
Merriam-Webster defines coffle as “a train of slaves or animals fastened together.
The Wiktionary says: “A line of people or animals fastened together, especially a chain of prisoners or slaves.”
The Free Dictionary notes that the word takes the forms coffled and coffling.
The obvious observation is that slaves were no better than animals.
Scientific Racism: “Fictitious diseases that the medical community used to keep blacks enslaved.”