I have just discovered that the Spanish expression fila india translates word by word to a valid English expression: Indian file. And seemingly it is also valid at least in French (file indienne) and Portuguese and Italian (fila indiana).

The linked question discusses the reason why it is called Indian file, but I would like to know which language came up with the expression first, so what are the first texts registered in English that use this expression? So far I have found a text in Spanish from 1799 that uses the Spanish version of the expression. But I have also found this English text from 1760 in the American English corpus of Ngram:

You will march your Party in an Indian File along the River side, opposite the Battoes, keeping the men at 5 or 6 yds distance from each other [...].

If I select the British English corpus, the first result is also from 1760.

Are there any other previous English texts that used this expression?

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    @FumbleFingers I am not asking for the reason why it is called "Indian file", but for the specific year the first texts using this expression appeared. That is not answered in the other question. – Charlie May 28 '19 at 13:23
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    Even if "date of earliest attested usage" isn't given by any answers to that earlier question, I suggest that's where this detail should be. It's ridiculous to have separate questions+answers for Why? and When? in respect of the same usage. – FumbleFingers May 28 '19 at 13:28
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    ...actually, it's in a comment on the earlier question: The OED’s first citation for Indian file is from 1758, which by simple temporal arithmetic by definition makes it British. – FumbleFingers May 28 '19 at 13:34
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    @FumbleFingers I must say I missed that comment. I don't mind marking this question as a duplicate, but if that comment weren't there, what would be the proper way to proceed? Should I leave a comment to Jez in the other question asking them to ask also for the first attested usage? – Charlie May 28 '19 at 13:46
  • I'm not actually sure what's the best approach in this particular case. I know the mods can "merge" questions+answers, so perhaps it would be reasonable for you to "flag" your own question and ask them to do this (we ordinary users can only vote to close as a dup, as I'm sure you know). You could ask that previous OP (Jez) to edit his question and ask for the extra info - but noting that he hasn't been here for a few weeks, I might be inclined to post a comment under @Peter Shor's answer asking him to include it there. – FumbleFingers May 28 '19 at 14:22

The earliest text I can find using the expression dates to 1758, in "Extract of a Letter from Albany, August 14, 1758" in the August 21, 1758 edition of the New-York Gazette, or the Weekly Post-Boy, as accessed through the database America's Historical Newspapers:

Our people were discovered by some of the Provincials firing at Pigeons : Rogers's Party was then in an Indian File, which took up a long while before the Rear came up. (p. 3)

enter image description here

The whole letter describes a military engagement between Major Robert Rogers's forces (a provincial unit with a Wikipedia article) and a mixed unit of "150 Indians and 300 Canadians" near Fort Anne in New York. The details mentioning the "Indian file" come with an addendum note after the letter complete with adjusted troop numbers.

A similar letter of the same title printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette (August 24, 1758), though it is trimmed of some colorful details like the pigeon shooting:

Rogers's Party was then in an Indian File, which took up a long while before the Rear came up. (p.3)

enter image description here

This 1758 occurrence of "Indian File" is interesting for a number of reasons. The military action of the "Indian File" is one initiated by a British officer; the letter writer doesn't need to explain the action in detail but does provide a contextual clue for understanding it ("which took up a long while"); this is occurring during a war (The French and Indian War [1754-1763], often treated as the American theater of the Seven Years' War) where both French Canadian and British American forces served alongside indigenous forces from several tribes and adapted many of their tactics.

For these reasons, even if the letter writer didn't create the term, the term most likely came out of the French and Indian War.


As noted by user FumbleFingers, user tchrist left a comment in the other, related question with a valid answer to this one:

The OED’s first citation for Indian file is from 1758, which by simple temporal arithmetic by definition makes it British.

It probably refers to this text from The London Chronicle, from that year:

Rogers's party was then in an Indian file [...].


According to Wiktionary and Google, it has been attested since the 1700s, because Native Americans traversed woods in this way.

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