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'Of Bayliffs, Serjeants and Goalers'
Gaoler or Goaler?

"To Shun the Clutches of Bayliffs, Serjeants and Goalers"

-The Vain Prodigal Life and Tragic Penitent Death of Thomas Hellier, 1678

English spelling and capitalization in the 17th century was a mess. From the copies I have been working from I have not been able to determine if the variant spellings of Gaolor, Gaoler and Goaler are modern text corruptions from the word processing programs or original inconsistencies. This afternoon, Lynn forwarded me a PDF of the photo-record of the copy of this rare gem of a book in which I found the spelling of the gaol keeper above as a goaler.

I will take up my theory that the various types of goals in our ball sports, from hockey, to soccer to lacrosse and football, where inspired by children playing gaol or goal, with the ball representative of an escaped servant. With roughly a third to half of all British islanders and early Americans being unfree people, there had to be a significant force of bounty hunters in the home country and the plantations, part timers and professionals. The netting, in particular evokes the theme of capture, which is the theme of ball sports. I personally favor football goal posts as a gallows motif.

After all, the first ball sports were played with the first balls—that is heads. Why be squeamish about our sports heritage?




1.(in lacrosse, football, soccer, rugby, hockey, and some other games) a pair of posts linked by a crossbar and often with a net attached behind it, forming a space into or over which the ball has to be sent in order to score.

-an instance of sending the ball into or over the goal, especially as a unit of scoring in a game:

-a cage or basket used as a goal in other sports.

2. the object of a person's ambition or effort; an aim or desired result:

synonyms: objective · aim · end · target · design · intention · intent · plan · purpose · (holy) grail · ambition · aspiration · wish · dream · brass ring · desire · hope · the destination of a journey:


-a point marking the end of a race.


Middle English (in the sense ‘limit, boundary’): of unknown origin.

With all due respect, when a gaoler locked his runaway in gaol or goal, it was the end of a race of sorts as well as the attainment of a goal.

Of course, I'm also willing to accept that the author of the book quoted above just made a mistake.

Stillbirth of a Nation: Caucasian Slavery in Plantation America: Part One

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