From Jean Chapman Snow's column:
"Baubles From the Céopman's Bag"
Chapman Family Association Newsletter,
July 1995


My freshman year German professor looked at my registration card."Ah," he said. "Fraülein Kaufman. Welcome." Seeing my puzzled look, he continued. "A Chapman is a Kaufman. A peddler."

"But—but my family comes from England."

And peddler? I pictured a wandering gypsy selling cheap baubles. I was only eighteen and my interest in genealogy was many years in the future. Still, through the next two years of German I was Fraülein Kaufman.

You erudite Chappies out there are way ahead of me, of course. You know that our name does come from the Old High German choufman or koufman which became the Old English céapman. Old High German chouph, Old Saxon cop and Old English céap meant barter, business, dealing, which, combined with mann or man, gave us our name.

But spelling bees and dictionaries were centuries away. Our name was also spelled cepeman, cypman, cypmann, chepmon, caepmon, even shapman! You know from your ancestor hunting how quirky spelling was, even in the 1800s. The further you go back in time, the more capricious it becomes.

My two volume Oxford English Dictionary supplies four meanings for chapman. A chapman was a man whose business was buying and selling—a merchant, trader or dealer. Second, he was an itinerant dealer who travelled about from place to place selling or buying; one who kept booths at markets etc; a hawker, a pedlar (English spelling).

The third meaning is that of an agent in a commercial transaction, a negotiator or broker. Cypemen are mentioned as early as c.890, but alas, I am unable to read and understand the Old English and Old Saxon examples. Fourth, a chapman was a purchaser or customer. A quote from 1642, in English that I can understand, says "It is not a meete thing that man should be both chapman and customer." Hmm?

There is a citation that appears to be a law handed down by Edward VI in 1553. A Petty chapman was a retail dealer. Edward said "No Tinker, Pedler, or petit Chapman shall wander about from the Towne but such as shall be licenced by two Justices of Peace." What would they think of today's monthly and quarterly forms and frequent law changes?

A 1592 example called us "Chapmen, able to spred more pamphlets...then (sic) all the bookesellers in London." That reminds us that chapbooks were the popular literature of the time—The Enquirer of the 1500s! Small pamphlets of popular tales, ballads, and tracts were circulated by itinerant dealers or chapmen.

Some of our ancestors were solid middle class merchants with shops. Others were much needed wandering dealers and peddlers. How much needed, I had forgotten by the time of my German class.

Much later I remembered my early childhood. During the Depression my father lost his business in New York City and we moved to our summer house at Lake Oscawana (Putnam Valley, NY). The nearest town, Peekskill, is about nine miles away. No supermarkets or mom and pop stores adorned every crossroads then.

My mother was grateful for the iceman who came twice a week in summer, and for the man who showed up several times a year in his truck to sharpen scissors and knives. My sister, Chappie Eleanor Lent, remembers weekly deliveries from a vegetable man, a butcher, a fish seller, and twice a week the bread man. And, oh yes, the Watkins man, with his vanilla and lemon extracts and spices.

We didn't call them chapmen, but they filled that niche for country folk. So despite jokes about travelling salesmen and peddlers, whatever the spelling, we can be proud to belong to the great family of Chapmans.

Note: Several accents may not come across....For Your Information:
1. There is a German umlaut (double dot) on the "u" in Fraulein.
2. What French calls an "accent aigu" is on the "e" in "Ceopman's Bag,"
    "Old English ceapman" as well as the e in Old English ceap."
3. Between the two "Buts" is an em dash.

© Jean Chapman Snow