The Oath Of The Canting Crew

Canting Crew is a loose term covering mendicants, thieves, beggars, gypsies, or any others who use the canting language. This verse appeared in the expanded edition of An Apology for the Life of Bampfylde Moore Carew, by Robert Goadby, first published in 1749[1]:

  • I, Crank Cuffin[2], swear to be
  • True to this fraternity;
  • That I will in all obey
  • Rule and order of the lay.
  • Never blow the gab or squeak;
  • Never snitch to bum or beak;
  • But religiously maintain
  • Authority of those who reign
  • Over Stop Hole Abbey[3] green,
  • Be their tawny king, or queen.
  • In their cause alone will fight;
  • Think what they think, wrong or right;
  • Serve them truly, and no other,
  • And be faithful to my brother;
  • Suffer none, from far or near,
  • With their rights to interfere;
  • No strange Abram[4], ruffler crack,
  • Hooker[5] of another pack,
  • Rogue or rascal, frater[6], maunderer,
  • Irish toyle[7], or other wanderer;
  • No dimber, dambler[8], angler, dancer,
  • Prig of cackler, prig of prancer;
  • No swigman[9], swaddler, clapper-dudgeon;
  • Cadge-gloak, curtal[10], or curmudgeon;
  • No whip-jack, palliard, patrico;
  • No jarkman[11], be he high or low;
  • No dummerar, or romany;
  • No member of the family;
  • No ballad-basket, bouncing buffer,
  • Nor any other, will I suffer;
  • But stall-off now and for ever
  • All outtiers whatsoever;
  • And as I keep to the foregone,
  • So may help me Salamon! [By the mass!]
The annotations and translations of the canting phrases are mostly taken from Musa Pedestris, Three Centuries of Canting Songs and Slang Rhymes [1536-1896], collected and annotated by John S. Farmer (1896). [return]
References cited in annotations:
[BE] : B.E.'s New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew (1696-98)
[Dict. Slang] : A Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English Slang and Its Analogues By John S. Farmer (1890-1904)
[Harman] : Thomas Harman's Caveat for Common Cursitors (1567)
2. Crank-cuffin
One of the Canting Crew whose speciality was to feign sickness [Dict. Slang]. It is used as a generic name in a mendicant's oath of allegiance to the gypsy code.
3. Stop-hole Abbey
The nick-name of the chief rendezvous of the Canting Crew [BE]. [return]
4. Abram
Formerly a mendicant lunatic of Bethlehem Hospital who on certain days was allowed to go out begging: hence a beggar feigning madness. [return]
5. Hooker
"peryllous and most wicked Knaves... for, as they walke a day times, from house to house, to demaund Charite... well noting what they see... that will they be sure to have... for they customably carry with them a staffe of V. of VI. foote long, in which within one ynch of the tope thereof, ys a lytle hole bored through, in which hole they putte an yron hoke, and with the same they wyll pluck unto them quickly anything that they may reche therewith." [Harman]. [return]
6. frater
Such as beg with a sham-patent or brief for Spitals, Prisons, Fires, etc. [BE] [return]
7. Irish toyle
A beggar-thief, working under pretence of peddling pins, lace, and such-like wares. [return]
8. dimber-damber
The chief of a gang; also an expert thief. [return]
9. swigman
A beggar peddling haberdashery to cover theft and roguery. [return]
10. curtal
"A curtall is much like to the upright man (that is, one in authority, who may 'call to account', 'command a share', chastise those under him, and 'force any of their women to serve his turn'), but hys authority is not fully so great. He useth commonly to go with a short cloke, like to grey Friers, and his woman with him in like livery, which he calleth his Altham if she be hys wyfe, and if she be his harlot, she is called hys Doxy." [Harman]. [return]
11. jarkman
"He that can write and reade, and sometime speake latin. He useth to make counterfaite licenses which they call gybes, and sets to seales, in their language called Jarkes." [Harman]. [return]