Phoebe Earl Griffiths, an American writer in the 19th century, pointed out that the Sussex dialect had considerable similarities with the way New Englanders spoke at the time.
Some phrases common to Sussex were common in New England as well, such as “you hadn’t ought to” or “you shouldn’t ought”, the use of “be you?” for “are you?” and “I see him” for “I saw him.”
She also noticed significant links with the dialect of East Sussex and the dialect of African Americans in the southern United States. In particular, the use of “dem”, “dat”, and “dese” for “them”, “that”, and “these” were apparently common in the 19th century both in Sussex and in the Deep South.
Other terms that we may think of as Americanisms were actually first widely used in Sussex speak. Examples include the use of “the fall” for “autumn”, “mad” for “angry,” “I guess” and “I reckon”.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this. Significant numbers of Sussex people moved to the New World in the 18th and 19th centuries. Even earlier than that, the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, left the county for New England with around 200 Sussex Quakers. For several years before the voyage in 1681, Penn lived at Warminghurst Place, worshipping near Thakeham, south of Horsham. His first wife was Gulielma Maria Springett who was born and raised in Ringmer. Apparently there was also a major migration from Sussex to Ohio in 1822.
Now it may just be coincidence but there is a breed of dog called the Sussex Spaniel that is popular in Ohio. Indeed there exists a thriving “Heart of Ohio Sussex Spaniel Club”.
Though the Sussex Spaniel was one of the original nine breeds recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1884, it has actually existed as a pedigree for much longer. It originated around the year 1795 here in Sussex, where it was used as a hardy and efficient field dog. Wealthy landowner Augustus Elliott Fuller (1777-1857) of Rosehill, near Brightling, is credited with being the founder of the Sussex Spaniel line.
He bred them for 50 years and kept them as working dogs on his large estate. For sure, some of the animals would have accompanied settlers sailing to North America in search of a new life.
The Sussex Spaniel Association (www.sussexspaniels.org.uk) was founded in England in 1924. Despite best efforts, the Sussex Spaniel is today a numerically small breed in this country with around 60 being registered annually in the UK. There are around 1,200 of the dogs worldwide. In 2004, the Sussex Spaniel was identified by the Kennel Club as a Vulnerable Native Breed.
Incidentally, Augustus was the nephew of “Mad Jack” Fuller, he of folly building fame.
The Fuller family’s eccentric history will make a fine subject for a future “County Yarns” column.