Happy birthday, Charles!
Charles Cunningham Boycott was born on March 12, 1832. It’s a long story from there, but I will give you the short version with my twist.
Charles Boycott was a British Protestant, and at about 40 years of age he landed a job in largely Catholic Ireland as a rent collector — from tenant farmers — who rented land annually — from an absentee landowner — who lived in a castle. (Well, that sounds like there could be trouble ahead.)
That arrangement seemed OK until just a few years later when harvests were poor. Enter the process server with papers to evict the farmers who could not pay their annual rent. Evictions followed, and tempers rose. In 1880 after three eviction papers had been served, the wife in the family of the 4th tenant about to be served, gathered a few of her friends and pelted the process server (and constables) with stones, mud, and manure. The process server took his welts, gathered his papers, called it a day, and headed back to join Charles Boycott for a spot of tea.
Now all of this was not taking place in a political vacuum. Political bodies supporting tenant farmers had formed 30 years earlier during the Irish potato famine (1845-1852). By 1880 the political units had some influence, including one called the Land League. Now keep in mind that once a tenant farmer was evicted, other tenant farmers could bid for the right to farm that vacated land. On September 19, 1880 speaking to a group of tenant farmers Charles Stewart Parnell (Land League leader) asked what should be done with someone who bid on and then took over the land vacated by the evicted tenant. Rejecting the ideas put forth by the gathered farmers (shooting ‘em, killing ‘em), Parnell suggested what he thought of as a more Christian approach to the person taking over the land of the evicted farmer. Parnell suggested a social isolation including shunning him on the roadside, in the shop, in church, on the green, in the marketplace. He suggested not speaking to him, treating him as a “leper of old.” Of course the term “boycott” had not yet been coined, but I’ll bet you can guess who was the victim of the first boycott!
Poor Charley. Charles Boycott was a farmer too, renting land from the guy in the castle, but part of Boycott’s rent collector pay was leased land, a large home and enough commission to staff it. Well, staffing it with servants, day laborers, field hands, grooms, blacksmith, cooks, and maids became a problem for Boycott within days of the first eviction notices. Under pressure from the tenant farmers, all of Boycott’s employees left, he couldn’t get food from the local shops, and communication (mail) was cut off. Boycott’s crops were going to rot in the fields, but that is another long part of the story, and you can read it elsewhere.
There was still no word for this action of shunning/ostracism/isolation, and by now Charles Boycott’s plight was national and international news. Being a good Catholic, local priest Father John O’Malley supported his people – the working tenant farmers. He joined them in their right for survival through political action. He was in the thick of it, and it was Father O’Malley who first suggested the term Boycott. The world press picked it up. Within two months the Boycott family left their home.
After that Charles Cunningham Boycott often traveled under an assumed name. The rest is history.
I didn’t know any of this earlier today, so I had to read. Below are the two sources from which I took all of this information. If you want to read many more details, here they are the two best I found:
Leslie Ward [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons