A “Jan Kees” Fan Speaks Out

Note: MyMac writer Chris Siebold inspired the following blog

A recent blog by Chris Siebold, Rating the Debates, blasted the NY Yankees baseball team as something akin to the cult of [insert bad cult of choice here]. A team to be “abolished,” he said. I cannot speak to that (ignorance is bliss), but many people in Pittsburgh and parts west thereof have it wrong about my home team.

The NY Yankees have earned their position as one of the greatest professional sports teams of all time. Money has not hurt them, to be sure, and some of us know that “New York has the ways and means” (with thanks to the Grateful Dead and the song, “Truckin'”), but chemistry is so essential to any team. The Yankees seemed to have had it alot in the past.

Some Yankee Etymology

Yankee, n. [prob. from D. Jan Kees, (taken as pl.) ; Jan, John, and Kees, dial. form of kaas, cheese; orig. (John Kaas) used as disparaging nickname for a Hollander, later for Dutch freebooter; applied by colonial Dutch in New York to English settlers in Connecticut.] …-Websters Unabridged Dictionary, 1979

The oral history passed down to me was that Jan Kees was an actual person, who was some sort of merchant operating back in old New Amsterdam. His name became common to describe Dutch-Americans; later, the name was transformed, folk-style, to yankees and used to describe all New Englanders fighting in the American Revolution. The Jan Kees version spoken to me was not one of enmity between American colonists of English or Dutch descent, but of two peoples who found common cause against British injustice.

One theory now more widely accepted is that in New Amsterdam, currently New York City, certain Dutch people are alleged to have called certain British subjects “John Bull,” a nickname which may have originated in Holland. It was not considered a compliment. It was sort of like saying, “You are a John Doe,” or a less than distinguished person. Again, there may be further info that suggests there was actually a notorious British subject named John Bull, who was ill-received by the locals in the Colonies for his errant ideas and ways.

The British responded by changing the John Bull slur to “John Cheese,” after a major Dutch product, to deride the Dutch. The Dutch transformed the nickname into Jan Kees (or Jan Kaas) and eventually it became yankees.

To a Dutch settler, to be called a “yankee” in New Amsterdam by a Redcoat was an insult. “Yankee” was eventually used by the British to describe all New England colonists. However, any implied negative connotation ceased among leaders in the Colonies long before the USA emerged.

There’s a book The History of John Bull (1712) that I would love to see. It’s a mystery to me, but it may contain key clues. I recall a connection to Jonathan Swift, somewhere, though he’s apparently not the author.

Yankee became a term used to describe all pro-Revolutionary War types thoughout New England and eventually all parts in the USA north of the Mason Dixon Line.

It was yankees in the Union army that fought the Confederates in the Civil War. “Yankee” was used as an insult by Confederate troops and sympathizers of secession. Some Confederate descendants are frequently known as Southerners today.

African-American soldiers of the Union army were yankees. Aside from the movie Glory, their story has not been adequately shared with the public.

I am a descendant of an original yankee, a captain, a Civil War veteran from Massachusetts. The family story is that he lead an African-American regiment and was shot in the leg by a Confederate soldier. He lived a fairly long life, with a limp. I hope for further details.

So I correctly carry the yankee label when it’s applied to me. (To be honest, as a kid it was probably Yankee magazine that drove the point home as much as the Yankees baseball team, but then I learned some actual history over time.)

A Southern gentleman once said to me years ago on a streetcar in New Orleans, after a brief friendly discussion, “You’re a yankee.” He seemed to be good willed and it made me feel sort of “alive,” in that he knew who I was and seemed to respect it. Caught off guard, my response was, “Yes. I’m a Yankee fan.” I should have said, with my Yankee cap on and all, “That’s true. I am a yankee.” The fact is, I had forgotten my Civil War roots in a place where it is still an issue (at least to some)..

(Some people have told me that I look like a Minnesotan. I have never known why. I don’t say, “Eh?” Well, Chris Seibold felt a need to post my picture here in a recent blog. Judge for yourself. The pic is on my personal MyMac page anyway. Minnesotan, eh? You tell me.)

Wikipedia includes the folowing
To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
To Americans, a Yankee is an Easterner.
To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander.
To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.
(an old definition)

I will add that American Southerners prefer to be called “Southerners.” Call them yankees at your own risk. 😉 Midwesterners, Southwesterners, Northwesterners: You know who you are. (Some of you might even be descended from some yankees or Confederates.)

But we US citizens all like to be considered Americans: North, South, East and West. Rich or poor. It’s the unifying factor. We know that Amerigo Vespucci, the great explorer for whom these Western-most continents were named, was Italian. The adopted version of his name, America, is very much revered as we have become one nation out of many peoples and States: “America, God shed His grace on thee.” Most of us believe that, but one not need be of actual yankee stock to support the view.

OK, enough of that historical sentimentality. Back to the post-post-modern times: The fact is, the current NY Yankees play great baseball, but tonight they got whipped.

I really do not confuse history with the present reality. What happened in New Amsterdam is a far cry from what happened tonight in the Bronx.

It just so happpens that the Yankees can be beaten by a team with better chemistry (and I am not talking about steroids!). The Yankees losing does not often happen, but it happens. A Yankee defeat is most always a victory well earned for the opposing team, certainly no cake-walk. The Red Sox deserve all the credit. May the Curse of the Bambino be no more.

The NY Yankees are my team and I wanted them to win. I’ve been in awe of the Yankees’s baseball accomplishments since before I can remember. Now the Yankees lost to a hot Boston Red Sox team tonight; the score was 10-3. The Yankees were ahead in games over the Red Sox 3-0 at first. Now the Red Sox won four straight and beat the Yankees 4-3. It hurts.

NY Yankees crushed by the Red Sox!

(An occasional headline may appear from time to time.)

My hopes and best wishes are with the NY Yankees team and all involved with their activities. They represent much of what is fine about the New York City area.

May the gentlemen in the pinstripes always be the standard in professional baseball.

But I hope the Red Sox win the prize this year now. Go Red Sox!

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