Word Origin & History
short for raccoon
, 1742, Amer.Eng. It was the nickname of Whig Party members in U.S. c.1848-60, as the raccoon was the party's symbol, and also had associations with frontiersmen (who stereotypically wore raccoon-skin caps), which probably was ultimately the source of the
Whig Party association (the party's 1840 campaign was built on a false image of wealthy William Henry Harrison as a rustic frontiersman). The insulting U.S. meaning "black person" was in use by 1837, no doubt boosted by the enormously popular blackface minstrel act "Zip Coon" (George Washington Dixon) which debuted in New York City in 1834, and is said ult. to be from Port. barracoos "building constructed to hold slaves for sale." It is perhaps much older (one of the lead characters in the 1767 colonial comic opera "The Disappointment" is a black man named Raccoon). Coon's age is 1843, Amer.Eng., probably an alteration of British a crow's age.