Early instances of irregardless in Google Books search results
As noted in the posted question, irregardless appears several dozen times in Google Books search results for the the period from 1859 to 1890. Here, in ascending order by date, are the earliest twelve matches for the term.
From "A Story of Our Family: Told by Master Ralph Fisher's Own Man, Twenty-two Years and Seven Months in This Country," in Harper's Weekly (February 5, 1859):
My name is Willis, James Willis. I came from the town of Chatham, in the County of Kent, Great Britain. ...
I had several times noticed Master Ralph [Fisher] walking and riding with a quite pretty genteel girl. To speak the truth without prejudice, she was more than pretty; but it always struck me when I saw her that there was a knowing look about her which some would call cunning. At first I thought the young lady was the squire's daughter where Master Ralph was visiting; but when he came to stay at Chatham, and I was more with him, I found that she was the daughter of a tradesman of the town, and her name was Brown; and then I knew that Master Ralph had no business with her, and I felt it my stern duty, irregardless of all results, to break off this acquaintance.
Although Harper's Weekly was published in New York City, it was and—in its current monthly form—still is a periodical with nationwide readership.
From "Ephraim Denver's Ward," in Harper's Weekly (September 3, 1859):
Among the suitors of the olden time who came to Ella when Joshua Howard was the rich merchant, and Ella the heiress, was Robert Hilton Ives. She thought of him as few would think of a discarded suitor; she knew him as a proud, haughty man of the world, who was sufficiently wealthy himself to have sought her, irregardless of her own. He was not young, and had not in his wife-seeking ventured on any love-making. He fancied Ella, thought she would make an excellent mistress for his fine house, and thinking so, made a bid for her, was refused, and withdrew very respectfully with a sound heart, telling her that if ever she wanted a friend in any thing let her come to him.
From "Notes on Current Events: Foreign and Domestic: The War Policy and the Constitution," in The Knickerbocker Monthly (April 1863):
After instructing Generals Fremont and Hunter to abrogate their indefensible and unconstitutional proclamations o freedom to the slave, so boldly announced, and emphatically refusing to comply with the demands of the radicals of the East, who importuned and harassed the President [Lincoln] to annihilate slavery with one dash of his pen, to crush instantaneously the rebellion by an emancipation missile, an edict of liberty which would demolish the walls that environed the slaveholding fortress, characterizing it as 'the Pope's Bull against the Comet,' in a few short days, however, by a series of political somersaults, he repented, and was admitted to communion with his abolition counsellors. Goaded on, solicited, threatened, implored, to appease the fanatical representatives of abolitionism, irregardless of that conservatism which recent elections demonstrate so incontestably preponderates at the North, lays this offering at the feet of those who can see nothing higher, nothing better or nobler in this grand struggle of a superior race for the maintenance of the triumphs of a consummate political philosophy and an expressive governmental structure, than the insignificant condition of the African race.
The Knickerbocker Monthly, as its name suggests, was also published in New York City.
From Frederick Cushman, History of the 58th Regt. Massachusetts Vols.: From the 15th Day of September, 1863, to the Close of the Rebellion (1865):
Among the officers captured [by Confederate troops] was Major Horton, commander of the regiment, and Asst. Surg. F. Whitman. It is the privilege of a Surgeon to remain in the rear in time of battle, and some Surgeons regard it, I believe, as a regulation ; but our Surgeon, irregardless alike of either privilege or regulation, in his desire to aid in beating the enemy, allowed his enthusiasm to get mastery over his prudence, and a sojourn of some four months in the Libby was the consequence.
Cushman was a private in Company E of the 58th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and was almost certainly a native of Massachusetts. His book was published in Washington, D.C.
From a letter from telegraph operators in Cleveland, Ohio, dated April 14, 1869, to the editor of The Telegrapher, published ten days later (April 24, 1869):
As we remarked, our higher officials have given us no cause for complaint; but this remark, we regret, cannot be applied to our sub-official, who has charge of the office during the day. He evinces no disposition to lighten our toil ; per contrary, he seems to study to impose upon us petty annoyances, which, of course, add to the cares of our labors. In fact, he is "irregardless" of our comfort. Of late, he considers it derogatory to the character of the office to allow operators to stand at the window for a moment to inhale a breath of fresh air, and enjoy the genial rays of the sun; consequently, he informs us that standing at the window will not be allowed, not even when within sound of our instruments, and business cleared up.
We do not intend to find fault unnecessarily, but whenever such a spiteful and petty spirit is shown by a sub-official, we shall consider it our duty to inform the fraternity generally, "irregardless" of the result.
These same correspondents wrote a second letter to the editor of The Telegrapher on May 12, 1869, which was again published ten days later (May 22, 1869):
The impotent rage indulged in by our day chief, when discovering himself reflected so life-like in the mirror of truth, THE TELEGRAPHER, was a continual source of amusement to us for several days. ... Notwithstanding his puerile threats to haunt said correspondent in flesh and spirit forevermore, we shall continue to keep the operators who read THE TELEGRAPHER well posted on the affairs of the Cleveland office. We promise this "irregardless"—we quote from the vocabulary of our noble chief—of the terrible wrath and earthquaking invectives launched upon us by him.
It thus appears that the Cleveland operators were using the term mockingly, as an indicator of the uncouthness of their "noble chief." Unfortunately, it is unclear whether he was a native of Cleveland or came there from somewhere else. The Telegrapher itself was published in New York City by the National Telegraphic Union.
From Joseph Simms, Nature's Revelations of Character; Or, The Mental, Moral and Volitive Dispositions of Mankind, as Manifested in the Human Form and Countenance (1873):
Demolitiousness: The Propensity to Mar, Deface, or Destroy
The low flat nose, which is particularly wide where the wings of the nostrils join the face ; the wide short ear, broad foot, deep chest, large neck, heavy jaw, and low forehead, are signs which point out large destructiveness as unerringly as the shadow on the dial indicates the direction of the sun.
[Caption accompanying a drawing:] Demolitiousness small. B. Gosse, Esq., of London, who gave indiscriminately to every object irregardless of its worthiness, and could not bear to destroy anything.
Simms was a British doctor. His book seems to have been published in both Britain and the U.S. The caption containing irregardless appears in versions of his book at least as late as the third edition (1887).
From T.D. Crothers, "American Contributions to Military Hygiene and Surgery," in The Medical and Surgical Reporter (August 14, 1875):
In the Prussian service all hygienic responsibility ended when a warm hospital building was secured, irregardless of bad air. Ventilation has always been considered of secondary importance on the continent. In Paris the general distribution of the wounded among private families, and the many public buildings devoted to hospital purposes, lessened this evil to a great extent. From the Prussian front, to Berlin, hospitals of all kinds were crowded and wanting in ventilation. As a result pyæmia, typhus, etc., were always present.
Crothers was a doctor who lived in Albany, New York. The Medical and Surgical Reporter was a periodical published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
From a letter by T. N. Bennie, of Liverpool, dated September 18, 1875, to the editor of Capital and Labour (September 22, 1875), a London periodical:
Labour, again, is entitled to seek the best wages possible; but to try and obtain that by coercion, by strikes, is not legitimate. Employers know well what they can afford to give; and in the sight of Heaven they are not guiltless unless they deal liberally and justly with their poorer brethren. Will strikes ever obtain an unjust thing? Never. God's laws are above human laws or wisdom, and as the spire built irregardless of line and plumb cannot stand long, so any temporary good we obtain will as certainly come to an end if our demand has been unjust.
From "Grand Excursion to New Orleans [of] Reed Commandery, No. 6, Knights Templar, Stationed at Dayton, Ohio, on Board the Steamer Thoma Sherlock" (1875):
The train arrived at the depot in Dayton at 6:30 P. M. ... When the train stopped there was a general rush for relatives and friends, and a person could have used a dozen hands to good advantage just at that time. The march to the hall did not take place! How could it? Dear loved ones were unceremoniously hurried off home, irregardless to any previous arrangement, where they could sit down and recount the incidents of the trip to those who had been left behind, and where they were welcomed with the heart greeting "Home again."
From testimony of J. G. Taylor, taken in New Orleans, Louisiana (December 28, 1876), published in Louisiana in 1876: Report of the Sub-Committee of the Committee on Privileges and Elections of the United States Senate(1877):
Q. You think they [Black citizens of Louisiana] would not be willing [to attend racially integrated schools]?—A. No sir. I don't know about the [Democratic] party [of Louisiana]; I don't know as there has been any expression about that. As far as my knowledge extends among the intelligent colored people they do not desire their children and the white children to go to school together. They want schools and are willing for the whites to have schools, and the democratic party is in favor of educating the children irregardless of race, color, or previous condition.
Q. You think the colored people are opposed to having the white children go to the same school as they do?—A. I will repeat again. I tried to make it so you would understand. My observation and experience from talking with the most sensible people of the country is that they do not desire mixed schools; neither do white people desire mixed schools; they want schools of their own. Individually, at least, I am in favor of the education of the whole country, irregardless of race, color, or previous condition.
Taylor resided in Ouachita Parish in northern Louisiana and was a Democratic candidate for the state legislature. Before moving to Ouachita Parish in 1872 he had lived since 1837 in the adjacent Union Parish.
From an item from a correspondent in South Carolina in Forest and Stream (February 1, 1877):
Mr. E.B. Wanmaker, who is now in South Carolina breaking a large kennel of dogs, writes to us from Millett, Barnwell county, under date of Jan. 18th, as follows:—
"The weather has been hot here for the past ten days—about 85°—and a fellow can't stand, much less the dogs, the great and sudden heat. ... The prevailing, aye, the only mode by which they [quail] are hunted by the natives, is from horse or mule back. Every one goes mounted and spurred. The dogs are half bred, mangy pointers, who go racing about irregardless of master or game, but who, nevertheless, when winding game, draw up carefully, and point staunchly, giving the sportsman ample time to ride up, dismount, and get his shot.
Forest and Stream was a New York City periodical. Wanmaker's remarks about how "the natives" hunt and his emphasis on the "great and sudden heat" in mid-January, when the temperature stands at 85°F (by no means an extraordinary midwinter temperature in many parts of the South) suggest that he is from the North.
From a letter from Kent County, Maryland, dated November 1, 1877, to the editor of Fruit Recorder and Cottage Gardener (December 1, 1877):
The life and thrift of a tree in after years, greatly depends upon the way it was planted. Depth of soil is absolutely necessary. It is no wonder to me, that so many planters fail in fruit-growing; the majority of them plant irregardless of the sub-soil. The way we plant is this, we remove about eighteen inches of sub-soil from every hole, and fill with surface soil.
Fruit Recorder and Cottage Gardener was published in Rochester, New York.
Early instances of irregardless in Elephind newspaper database search results
Matches for irregardless in Elephind newspaper database searches begin slightly later than the earliest Google Books matches, and the sources of the matches are more widely distributed geographically. Here are the earliest nine unique matches that Elephind searches turn up for the period from 1864 through 1877.
From "Positions of the Two Armies—Speculations—The Great Battle Not Yet Fought," datelined Washington, D.C., in the [Indianapolis, Indiana] Daily State Sentinel (June 3, 1864):
A private letter from Gen. Grant to a relative in this city speaks of the unparalleled obstinacy of the rebels, and the difficulty he has to learn their position and attack them understandingly. He says Lee is the greatest captain of the world, and if he succeeds in whipping him he will ask no higher honor in this world! The people in this city are beginning to awake from the lethargy superinduced by the long-winded bulletins of the War Department announcing victory, and they now discus this case irregardless of what Secretary Stanton writes or says, and make their own conclusions. The verdict of intelligent men is that the enemy are giving us a trial that requires every nerve, every man and every dollar the country can spare to meet the impending crash of battle.
From "The Virginia Convention Ordered by Congress to Frame a State Constitution: Ninety-sixth Day," in the Richmond [Virginia] Dispatch (April 8, 1868):
Mr. GIBSON, in the course of his remarks, also alluded to the boasted ideas of equality on the part of the Radicals. "And yet," said he, "when their friends, those good men of the North, come here to visit the Convention. where do they put them? Look on this side of the House or that." (Mr. GIBSON pointed first to the Conservative side, where all the privileged seats were filled with whites, and then on the other side, where it was almost without exception to the contrary.)
LEWIS LINDSAY: "I beg leave to call the gentleman's attention to one absarvation. Where are the Radical members' wives put when they come here? Mostly on that side; although I brings mine on this side, irregardless of how white she is." [Laughter.]
Lindsey was evidently a Black delegate to the convention, representing a district in Richmond. The newspaper consistently frames his remarks in dialect ("de" in place of "the," "wid" in place of "with," etc.).
From "A Racy Sketch: Mollie, the Wickedest Woman in the West—She Is Married and Sent to Cheyenne," in the Evansville [Indiana] Journal (January 15, 1869), reprinted from the Kankakee [Illinois] Gazette:
They [Mollie and Jim] repaired to the office of the Police Court. The Police Magistrate has an original way of doing things. They said they wished to be married. The Magistrate, with uplifted hand, said:
"Jim, you do agree to take Mollie, and live with her, and go to Cheyenne with her, and stay with her regardless of law and consequences?" "Yes."
"Mollie, you do agree to take Jim, and live with him, and go to Cheyenne with him, and stay with him, irregardless of law and consequences?" "Yes."
"Then I give you these two railroad tickets, and order you to stay there until the vigilance committee doth hang you both. Amen."
From a letter attributed to Pump Howard of Coal Creek, Colorado, dated March 2, 1869in the Boulder [Colorad0] County Pioneer (March 3, 1869):
To the editor proprietor and Maniger the pioneer I accidentally picked up the first issue of your excilent paper and noticing in your leading article of your well filled coloms that you solicited corispondence from different parts of the county and irregardless to form or to being well punctuated I beleave you said that you could get them in some kind of readible shape and beleaving that I am perfictly capible of writing an article of that kind I here with send you the following on the signes of the times but before we into detail on the merits let me say that irregardless of your political principels I am a democrat nevertheless you folks in and aronnd Boulder that read Bricks paper probbaly think that he is a thorough Democrat ...
This item has all the earmarks of being a complete fabrication composed by someone at the newspaper office. Nevertheless, it is interesting because it shows that irregardless was not unknown in Colorado in 1869, and because it condescendingly associates irregardless with the uneducated speaker of a deprecated dialect.
From "Pastoral and Agricultural Intelligence—Stock Movements &c., &c." in the [Sydney, New South Wales] Town and Country Journal (February 11, 1871):
It would have paid many station owners years ago, to have culled the woody rubbish from their flocks-boiled them down or done anything with them, so long as they were got rid of. Quality should henceforth be the end and aim of both sheep and cattle owners. The experience of past years should teach sticklers for the old principle of quantity irregardless of quality, that it is an unprofitable principle-one which, in the long run, will bring its followers to grief.
This instance from Australia comes two years before the first confirmed instance of irregardless from Great Britain. Because I don't have free access to the British Newspaper Archive, I can't check to see whether there are earlier instances of irregardless in the popular press of Great Britain.
From "Local Matters," in the Perrysburg [Ohio] Journal (February 17, 1871):
The Auditor of the State of Ohio has revoked the authority of the Framers' & Mechanics' Life Insurance Company, of New York city, to do business in Ohio. There are other Companies doing business in the State that will probably share the same fate, if they continue to do business irregardless of the State law on this subject.
From an untitled item in the Perrysburg [Ohio] Journal (September 15, 1871):
Following the right of franchise, and the sacrifice made in the liberation from bondage of four million of slaves, there seems to be an over anxiety on the part of many of the colored people to push some or their own color forward for political honors, irregardless of qualifications or responsibility attending such honors. In this regard the Cincinnati Commercial fully expresses our sentiments in the following : ...
From an untitled article in the [Port Wallaroo, South Australia] Wallaroo Times and Mining Journal (February 24, 1877):
Then, again, the request of the Corporation for £6000 is refused, not because the government wish to expend it themselves, but because it is too much. How can we reconcile this with the statement made a short time ago by Mr Colton to the Mayor of Kadina, that the Government would not limit themselves to the expenditure of the £15,000 granted, but would construct proper tanks irregardless of the cost, and would in all probability expend considerably more on the whole than the £15,000.
From an untitled article in the Port Wallaroo, South Australia] Wallaroo Times and Mining Journal (April 28, 1877):
Russia has thrown down the gauntlet and the Porte can but accept it. And both are well prepared ; for months past each power has been getting quantities of military supplies, and the Turkish and Russian forces hare long been prepared. It is now evident that Russia has been determined from the commencement, irregardless of ought but a fierce hatred against the Porte, to bring matters to the bloody issue of which the plausible Imperial manifesto is but the forerunner.
The Google Books and Elephind matches from the period 1859–1877 offer a number of surprises. One is simply how many instances there are: 22, if you count the two letters from the Cleveland telegraph operators to The Telegrapher as separate instances. All 22 come from a period 35 to 53 years before the earliest occurrence noted by Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary.
Another surprise is that the earliest occurrences are concentrated not in bucolic Indiana but in New York City and Massachusetts. Even more unexpectedly, the first instance appears in an autobiographical sketch attributed to a immigrant to the United States from England, although the next instance (just seven months later) involves an American setting and a character whose name ("Ephraim Denver") sounds very typical of New England.
A second instance related to Britain appears in a book published by an Englishman in London in 1873; and a third appears in a letter from a reader in Liverpool to a London periodical in 1875. Three other unique instances of irregardless appear in Australian newspapers during this period, from as early as 1871.
I was also surprised by how few of these early instances appear in a derisive context. The only clear cases where condescending or mocking use of the word appears are the ones involving the detested day chief at the Cleveland telegraph office, the transcribed remarks attributed to a Black delegate to Virginia's post–Civil War state constitutional convention in 1866, a burlesque of a semiliterate political foil in Colorado in 1869, and, arguably, in the speech attributed to a small-town magistrate (who seems to use regardless" and "irregardless" interchangeably) in Illinois in 1869. All of the other instances cited above involve un-self-conscious use of the term—with no hint of any out-of-the-mainstream use of dialect otherwise.
I see little support in the print record of 1859–1877 for the notion that irregardless originated as a backwoods dialect illiteracy. To the contrary, it seems to have arisen among people who were relatively well educated and well spoken. Still, at some point, irregardless did fall into disrepute, and we see disdainful treatment of it as early as 1868 (in Virginia) and 1869 (in Ohio and in Colorado).
The spread of irregardless in the U.S. is difficult to identify from the search results reported here, but newspaper stories containing the word appeared in a number of additional states by the turn of the century, including Louisiana (1869), California (1869), Minnesota (1878), Nebraska (1880), Kansas (1882), Washington, D.C. (1882), Utah (1882), Arizona (1886), Illinois (1888), Pennsylvania (1890), Michigan (1892), North Dakota (1896), and Oregon (1899). In most of these instances, the term appears without quotation marks or surrounding faux dialect.
Some people in the late 1800s may have considered irregardless a false genteelism—as some people today might view the use of orientate in place of orient, or preventative in place of preventive, or myself in place of me. Or the unintended reversal in the logical sense of regardless caused by appending the negating prefix ir- to the beginning of the word may have made irregardless objectionable to some people, even in the 1860s, at an entirely different level—as it did for many usage commentators in the 1900s and later.
Be that as it may, I had not expected to see so many instances during the 1800s where writers used the form irregardless in the context of sincere, nondialect narrative or argument. With that in mind, I propose these provisional answers to the three questions posted in my question above:
Where and in what context did the earliest published instance of irregardless occur? At least as early as 1859, when the word appeared in two issues of Harper's Weekly—those of February 5 and September 3. The entry for "irregardless" at Merriam-Webster Online asserts that "The first known use of 'irregardless' was in 1795," but it doesn't provide any information about this first instance, including whether it is a distant outlier or an instance with some temporal continuity to subsequent instances.
In what sense was early usage of the term "dialectal"? There is very little evidence that the word emerged as part of a broader set of dialectal, nonstandard pronunciations and variant words. In the 1800s, relatively few writers framed it as an element in a broader dialectal vocabulary. Of those that did, one associated it with the backwoods lingo of a semiliterate Westerner (in Colorado) and two with the overreaching vocabulary of a prominent Black person (in Virginia and in Indiana). Other instances in which the word was invoked deprecatingly involved the otherwise mainstream vocabularies of a disliked telegraph office manager in a big city in Ohio and a somewhat eccentric magistrate in a small town in Illinois. The strong association of "irregardless" with dialect seems to be primarily a creature of the twentieth century.
How widespread geographically was nineteenth-century usage of irregardless? It was very widespread indeed, covering areas of the Northeast, the Midwest, the West, and the seaboard South in the U.S., as well as parts of Great Britain and Australia.