Thursday, February 23, 2012

Another Possible Explanation for Pecco

In the last post, I laid out a possible explanation for the origin of the name "Pike Creek". Long story short (for the long version, read the original post here), we traced it back to an alias, or nickname, given to a particular Finn residing in what is now southern Mill Creek Hundred -- Pecco. Blog-reader (and aficionado of reading and interpreting old land records) Walt C suggested that Pecco's (who did own land along Pike Creek) name was the basis of the waterway's moniker. Over time, "Pecco's Creek" (which I don't believe we've actually found used), changed to Peck's Creek, then to Pike Creek.

After I wrote that post, Walt did some more digging and may have come up with an interesting possible origin and meaning of the alias Pecco. I am very far from an expert on the Swedish era of Delaware history, but from what I've gathered, the granting and use of aliases, or nicknames, was a common custom. These aliases seem to be pretty formal things, and taken seriously -- not like calling someone "Slick" or "Bubba" today. (Why the fist two names I came up with were Clinton nicknames is anyone's guess.) It was not unusual for a man's alias to be used in legal documents, and sometimes became almost interchangeable with his family name (which also could change from generation to generation -- such as Peter Thomasson was the son of Thomas Jacobson, whose father's name was surely Jacob).

Now, on to the good stuff. What Walt connected for us was Peter Pecco with an incident that occurred in 1671 near New Castle. As this page relates, in that year, Dutch Judge Hans Block decided he wanted a dike built to carry a road through the swampland between his estate and the capital at New Castle. (Although the English were officially in charge by that time, as Walt explained to me, "they had actually delegated much local authority to the Dutch, who had the infrastructure or "boots on the ground" to run things".) As Dr. Peter Stebbins Craig explains:
The Dutch judge, desiring better road access between his plantation north of Sand Hook and the capital at New Castle, per­suaded his fellow judges to issue an order requiring all freemen to contribute labor to build the road through swampland for Judge Block’s private benefit. Lieutenant Thomas Jacobson, by his mark (“T”) was the first name on the protest against doing this forced labor.

The English sheriff William Tom addressed Governor Andros claiming that “a number of the inhabitants in such a mutinous and tumultuous manner, being led by the priest Jacob Fabritius and others, including Thomas Jacobsson, some having swords, some pistols, others clubs with them,” insisted they would not work on Block’s dike. The end result was that Thom­as Jocobsson and his two adult sons (Olle and Peter Thomasson) were each fined 20 guilders for their refusal to work on Block’s dike and Thomas Jacobsson himself was fined 400 guilders for his leadership role in the rebellion.
Our Peter Pecco was actually Peter Oalson, son of Olle Thomasson and grandson of Thomas Jacobson. Whether or not Pecco himself participated in the dike rebellion, his family was certainly closely associated with it -- positively by the Swedes and Finns, and negatively by the Dutch and English. When I attempted to find a meaning for "Pecco", the best I came up with was that it was close to the Finnish word for "creek". It turns out that I might have been looking at the wrong language.

1685 Deed mentioning Peter Oalson, alias, Pecco -- Courtesy Walt C

As Walt found, it turns out that "pecco" also happens to be a word in Latin. (Don't worry, I won't betray anyone's age by asking you to conjugate anything.) It's a verb that means, generally, to offend, sin or transgress. If that's where the name came from, perhaps Peter was a bit of a troublemaker, or maybe it refers to his father, uncle, and grandfather. (Remember, the land Pecco owned came originally from his Uncle Peter, then through his father.)

If the Pecco name came because of his family, it probably was given him by his Finnish neighbors, and worn as a badge of honor. It actually might be somewhat like a positive connotation of calling him "The Troublemaker". With any luck, this theory might get us a step closer to finally answering the seemingly simple question of, "Where did the name Pike Creek come from?" If we all keep our eyes open, maybe someone will find another clue to nail everything into place.

Update (3/1/2012):

Walt C., who has been all over this story, has come up with another very plausible origin of "Pecco". After consulting with a few people much more familiar with Swedish history and the Scandinavian languages than we, he has determined that "Pecco" may have arisen from "Pekka". Pekka is a form of the name Peter in Finnish. The dike rebellion story is certainly an interesting one, but may have had nothing to do with the name. Pecco may have been nothing more than an English transcribing of Peter's name in his native tongue. Sometimes the best explanations are the simplest.

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