On the Morphology of the Term “Coon”
The Adventures of High John the Conqueror
By Steve Sanfield (page 243)
When the slaves taking what they needed to survive, the overseers or foremen of the plantations began to miss things. One day the melon patch would be bursting with ripe fruit, but the next day much of it would be gone.
“What happened to the melons?” the overseers would ask.
The slaves would say, “ ’Coons, got ’em,” meaning raccoons.
Then half the ripe ears of corn would be missing from the garden.
The overseers would ask, “What happened to the corn?”
“ ’ Coons got it,” the slaves would say.
It didn’t take the overseers very long to figure out just who was making off with the melons and the corn, and they began to refer to the slaves as “coons.” Although the term later became a bitter racial slur, it was at first a begrudging recognition of cleverness and audacity.