A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 25, 2016
Kentucky: Corn-cracker (nickname)

Kentuckians were called “Corn-crackers” is the 19th century, and Kentucky was known as the “Corn-cracker State.” “In Kentucky they’re call’d Corn-Crackers” was cited in an 1834 newspaper. An 1838 book described “corn-crackers of Virginia,” but the Virginia use was not common. The term “‘corn-cracker’ State” was used in 1842 (but no name of a state was mentioned).

A “corn-cracker” usually refers to a poor, rural white person, but the origin of the term is uncertain. An 1839 book (in German) seems to indicate that the term comes from corn farmers. An 1898 dictionary entry had a different explanation—“The Corn-cracker State (from corn-crake, a species of rail, common, and valued as a game bird).” The Encyclopedia of Kentucky (1999) also discussed a possible “corn crake” etymology. However, the corn crake is known mostly in Europe—not Kentucky or Virginia.

Another 1830s nickname for a Kentuckian was “Red Horse.”

(Oxford English Dictionary)
corn-cracker, n.
U.S. A contemptuous name for a ‘poor white’ in the Southern States (? from his subsisting on corn or maize); a ‘cracker’. Also, a native of Kentucky.
1835 Western Rev. June 342 There is neither wit nor meaning in the terms Hoosier, Sucker, Corncracker, and Buckeye, which have become so current.
1837–40 T. C. Haliburton Clockmaker (1862) 318 There’s the hoosier of Indiana, the suckers of Illinois..and the corn~crackers of Virginia.
1845 in R. H. Thornton Amer. Gloss. (1912) II.  Corn-crackers, Potsoppers, Hard Heads, Hawk Eyes, Rackensacks, etc.

19 August 1834, New York (NY) American, pg. 2, col. 2:
NAMES. A writer in the Illinois Pioneer says: that, the following nick-names have been adopted to distinguish the citizens of the following states: --

In Kentucky they’re call’d Corn-Crackers,
Ohio, ....................Buckeyes,
Indiana .................Hoosiers,
Illinois ..................Suckers,
Missouri, ...............Pukes,
Michigan, T. ..........Woolverines.
The Yankees are called Eels.

Google Books
Trip to the West and Texas
By Amos Andrew Parker
Concord, NH: Printed and Published by White & Fisher
Pp. 86-87:
Those of Michigan are called wolverines; of Indiana, hooshers; of Illinois, suckers; of Ohio, buckeyes; of Kentucky, corn-crackers; of Missouri, pukes; &c.

6 November 1835, Western Constellation, “Nick Names,” pg. 2, col. 6:
Thus, the people of Indiana are called Hoosiers; of Illinois, Suckers; of Missouri, Pukes; of Ohio, Buckeyes; of Kentucky, Red Horses; of Tennessee, Medheads; of Michigan, Wolverines—Yankees are called Eels, and Virginians Corncrackers. (...)—New Yorker.

Google Books
April 1836, The Family Magazine (Cincinnati, OH) , pg. 265, col. 1:
A native of Ohio is called a “Buckeye;” of Michigan, “ Wolverine;” of Indiana, “Hoosier;” of Kentucky, “Com-cracker;” and of Missouri, “Pewk.”

Google Books
The Clockmaker; or The Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick, of Slickville
By Thomas Chandler Haliburton
London: Richard Bentley
Pg. 289:
These last have all nicknames. There’s the hoosiers of Indiana, the suckers of Illinoy, the pukes of Missuri, the buckeys of Ohio, the red horses of Kentucky, the mud- heads of Tenessee, the wolverines of Michigan, the eels of New England, and the corn-crackers of Virginia.

Google Books
Nordamerikas sittliche Zustände,
nach eigenen Anschauungen in den Jahren 1834, 1835 und 1836
Volume 1

By Nicolaus Heinrich Julius
Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus
Pg. 399:
Die Kentuckyer werden Crackers oder Corncrackers genannt, vermuthlich weil sie zuerst kein Getraide, sondern bloß den von den Amerikanern allein Korn (Corn) genannten Mais hatten.

Google Books
1841, Merry’s Museum, “Origin of Words and Phrases,” pg. 44:
“Corn-crackers,” is the nickname of the Kentuckians, for what reason I cannot tell—but perhaps as a compliment to the soil and climate, which furnishes the people with abundance of corn, and a good appetite.

Chronicling America
24 September 1842, Southern Pioneer (Carrollton, MS), pg. 3, col. 1:
Woolly-headed Dicke has lately given a thunderous roar in the “corn-cracker” State.

Google Books
Life in the New World,
Or, Sketches of American Society

By Charles Seatsfield
New York, NY: J. WInchester
Pg. 55:
They would begin the struggle rather to-day than to-morrow; the Hooskiers from Indiana, the Suckers from Illinois, the Pukes from Missouri, the Red-horses from Kentucky, the Buckeyes from Ohio, the Wolverines from Michigan, the Eels from New England, the Mudheads from Gennessee, the Corncrackers from Virginia, they are all ready.

Google Books
April 1845, Cincinnati Miscellany (Cincinnati, OH), pg. 240, col. 1:
Kentucky, Corn-crackers.

Chronicling America
23 August 1845, Ripley (MS) Advertiser, pg. 1, cols. 4-5:
NATIONAL NICKNAMES.—It will be seen by the following from an exchange paper that the people of every state have nicknames, and some very curious and ludicrous ones:

The inhabitants of Maine, are called Foxes; New Hampshire, Granite Boys; Massachusetts, Bay Staters; Vermont, Green Mountain Boys; Rhode Island, Gun Flints; Connecticut, Wooden Nutmegs; New York, Knickerbockers; New Jersey, Clamcatchers; Pennsylvania, Leatherheads; Delaware, Muskrats; Maryland, Craw-Thumpers; Virginia, Beagles; North Carolina, Weasels; Georgia, Buzzards; Louisiana, Creowls; Alabama, Lizzards; Kentucky, Corn crackers; Tennessee, Cottonmanics; Ohio, Buckeyes; Indiana, Hoosiers; Illinois, Suckers; Missouri, Pewks; Mississippi, Tadpoles; Arkansas, Gophers; Michigan, Wolverines; Florida, Fly-up-the-Creeks; Wisconsin, Badgers; Iowa, Hawkeyes; N. W. Territory, Prairie Dogs; Oregon, Hard Cases.

Chronicling America
4 July 1860, The Spirit of Democracy (Woodsfield, OH), “National Nicknames,” pg. 1, col. 7:
The inhabitants of Maine are called Foxes; New Hampshire, Granite Boys; Massachusetts, Bay Staters; Vermont, Green Mountain Boys; Rhode Island, Gun Flints; Connecticut, Wooden Nutmegs; New York, Knickerbockers; New Jersey, Clam Catchers; Pennsylvania, Leather Heads; Delaware, Muskrats; Maryland, Claw Thumpers; Virginia, Beagles; North Carolina, Tar Boilers; South Carolina, Weasels; Georgia, Buzzards; Louisiana, Creowls; Alabama, Lizards; Kentucky, Corn Crackers; Ohio, Buckeyes; Michigan, Wolverines; Indiana, Hoosiers; illinois, Suckers; Missouri, Pukes: Mississippi, Tad-Poles; Florida, Fly up the Creeks; Wisconsin, Badgers; Iowa, Hawkeyes; Oregon, Hard Cases.

Chronicling America
11 August 1868, National Republican (Washington, DC), pg. 2, col. 2:
He took with him many young men from Kentucky, and now they have returned to rule in the corn-cracker State.

Google Books
June 1865, The Wisconsin Journal of Education, pg. 328:
The following are the “nicknames” of the native inhabitants of the different States:
... Kentucky, Corn Crackers: ...

Google Books
A Dictionary of the Noted Names of Fiction
By William A. Wheeler
London: Bell & Daldy
Pg. 84:
Corn-cracker, The. A popular nickname or designation for the State of Kentucky. The inhabitants of the State are often called Corn-crackers.

Google Books
U. S.
An Index to the United States of America

Compiled by Malcolm Townsend
Boston, MA: D. Lothrop Company
Pg. 68:
Kentucky...Corn-Cracker...A corruption of “corn-crake” [krage, Dutch for crow], a species of Rallus or rall [R. Rex.] found to a great extent in this state, its local name applied from its singular cry; brought into prominence on account of its being specially sought for as game.

Google Books
Universal Dictionary of the English Language
Edited by Robert Hunter and Charles Morris
New York, NY: Peter Fenelon Collier, Publisher
Pg. 5343:
Kentucky. The Blue-grass State. The Corn-cracker State (from corn-crake, a species of rall, common, and valued as a game bird).

Google Books
The Rainbow Book of American Folk Tales and Legends
By Maria Leach
Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Company
Pg. 92:
The Corn-crackers are the Kentucky mountain-whites.

Google Books
Encyclopedia of Kentucky
By Nancy Capace
St. Clair SHores, MI: Somerset Publishers, Inc.
Pg. 3:
The nickname, the Corn-cracker State, was given in allusion to the poorer class of white people living in the mountainous regions of this and other southern States. Another authority says that the name is a corruption of corncrake, which is a species of crane found frequently in Kentucky. The peculiar craking sound uttered by this fowl caused it to be called the corn-crake.
Corn-crackers, applied to Kentuckians, has been explained in connection with the origin of the nickname, Corn-cracker State.

Posted by Barry Popik
Other ExpressionsOther States • Monday, January 25, 2016 • Permalink