I have a case of an 18th century white man referring to his nationality as native American, meaning he was born in America. This is on his census form. Was this usage common?

For clarity: I'm asking because I was able to uncover a lot of material that seems to suggest that the usage became quite common later in the 19th century, although this seems unusual to me for the 18th century. I am interested obviously how a term with a long history of usage by white Americans could be transferred to American Indians, that's not part of this of question.

  • Is this pre- or post-independence? I just had a brief look at Benjamin Franklin's autobiography. He is not using the term, but I get the impression that he would have leaned more towards referring to New England or a specific colony (then state).
    – Drux
    Mar 2, 2014 at 5:46
  • @Drux It's pre-independence. Census of 1760. The family is a transplant from New England to the Southern states. I feel like I've heard George Washington use the term, but I don't know where.
    – Razie Mah
    Mar 2, 2014 at 6:47
  • A "native" of a place is one who was born there. That's the basic meaning of the word, even though in its use in a longer phrase it may mean something else. Dec 13, 2017 at 5:51

1 Answer 1


Of course that was the common usage; it still is the normal and traditional English language usage of the word native; not to be confused with modern political correctness-ese usage:

Definition of Native:

1. a person born in a specified place or associated with a place by birth, whether subsequently resident there or not.
"a native of Montreal"

1. associated with the country, region, or circumstances of a person's birth.
"he's a native New Yorker"

Distinguish between a native American, being one born in America, and a Native American or Amerindian, a member of one of the continent's indigenous peoples, through the use of capitialization.

  • 2
    Hmmmm, yes of course grammatically its correct. I've just never seen anyone write this before as their nationality. They always enter "American." Maybe I haven't seen enough forms or the usage changed over time?
    – Razie Mah
    Mar 1, 2014 at 19:30
  • 2
    You should elaborate on the "of course" bit and provide some references, for otherwise this answer reads like "Of course ... (now let me answer a different question of my own choosing)" :)
    – Drux
    Mar 2, 2014 at 5:37
  • 3
    the whole "Native American" thing is AFAIK a quite recent invention, trying to get white people to feel like intruders on someone else's land. That's NOT an 18th century attitude, it's a late 20th century attitude. And it's of course wrong, as those people didn't evolve in the Americas, they migrated there like everyone else, depending on who you believe to be correct as early as 10.000 or as late as about 600 years ago.
    – jwenting
    Apr 1, 2014 at 7:09

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