Not quite a Christ In Winter, but watching basketball is what we do UP here in winter…
With the Indiana Hoosiers atop the college basketball world again, broadcast interlude talk often turns to the derivation of the word “Hoosier.” Some think it was because early settlers in Indiana, using their pioneer patois, would call out “Who’s there?” when someone approached their cabin, but in the pioneer patois, it sounded like “Hoosier?” Others think it was because early Indiana pioneers were brawlers and the next morning after a bar fight, when the pub keeper was cleaning up, he would look at the littered floor and ask, “Who’s ear?” which, again, in the Indiana accent, sounded like “Hoosier?”
One of the most plausible but hardly ever mentioned derivations of Hoosier is that Indiana folk were called after the first and most famous African American Methodist circuit rider, Harry “Black Harry” Hoosier, 1750-1810.
Hoosier was born a slave in NC but obtained his freedom, converted to Methodism, and in 1781 became a preacher. He was a close friend of Francis Asbury, “The Father of American Methodism.” They often traveled together to preach. Asbury noted that he drew big crowds, but that Hoosier’s crowds were even bigger. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, said that Hoosier was “the greatest orator in America,” even though he was illiterate.
Hoosier preached a famous sermon, “The Barren Fig Tree,” which was the first ever recorded by an African American Methodist preacher.
People everywhere thronged to hear Hoosier. Except in the South. Methodists were, with some notable exceptions, strongly outspoken in their anti-slavery sentiments. Southern folks like Virginia Baptists used the word “Hoosier” as a term or derision, denoting a northern Methodist, anti-slavery socially and Arminian [Wesleyan, free will] theologically. Because of the circuit riders on what was then the frontier, Methodism was strong throughout the Midwest, including Indiana.
So, were Hoosiers named for Black Harry? Probably so. After all, the present-day basketball Hoosiers draw Harry Hoosier-sized crowds to hear the Good News of basketball salvation.