Green’s Dictionary of Slang

abram-man n.

also abram-cove, abram-mort
[var. on abraham-man n. + cove n. (1)/mort n.]

1. a wandering beggar, adopting tattered clothing and posing as a mad person.

[UK]Dekker O per se O M: The Abram Cove, is a lustie strong Roague, who walketh with a Slade [sic] about his Quarrons (a sheete about his body) Trining, hanging to his hammes, bandeliere-wise, for all the world as Cut-purses and Thieues weare their sheetes to the Gallows.
[UK]Beaumont & Fletcher Beggar’s Bush II i: Jarkman, or Patrico, Cranke, or Clapper-dudgeon, / Frater, or Abram-man; I speak to all / That stand in fair election for the title / Of king of beggars.
[UK]Massinger New Way to Pay Old Debts II i: Are they Padders? or Abram-men, that are your consorts?
[UK]Dekker Canters Dict. Eng. Villainies (9th edn).
[UK]Head Eng. Rogue I 47: Abram Cove, A Tatter demallion.
[UK] ‘A Wenches complaint for . . . her lusty Rogue’ Head Canting Academy (1674) 17: And like an Abram-cove couldst pray, / Yet pass with gybes well jerk’d away.
[UK]Head Canting Academy (2nd edn) 54: Abram Men are otherwise called Tom of Bedlams; they are very strangely and antickly garb’d, with several coloured ribbons or tape in their hat, it may be; instead of a feather, a fox-tail hanging down a long stick with ribbons streaming and the like. Yet for all their seeming madness they have wit enough to steal as they go.
[UK] E. Coles Dict. n.p.: Abram-Cove, c. Naked or poor man.
[UK]R. Holme Academy of Armory Ch. iii 68b: Give me leave to give you the names (as in their Canting Language they call themselves) of all (or most of such) as follow the Vagabond Trade, according to their Regiments or Divisions, as [...] Abram Coves, lusty strong Rogues, Bedlams. [Ibid.] Abram Cove, a lusty Rogue.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew.
[UK] ‘Rum-Mort’s Praise of Her Faithless Maunder’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 36: [as cit. a.1674].
[UK]A. Smith Lives of Most Notorious Highway-men, etc. (1926) 201: Abram-cove, a naked or poor man; also a lusty strong rogue. [...] Abram men, beggars, anticks, tricked up with ribbands, red tape, fox-tails, rags and the like, pretending madness to palliate thefts of poultry and linen.
[UK]New Canting Dict. n.p.: abram-cove, a lusty strong rogue, with hardly any Cloaths on his Back; a Tatterdemallion.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict n.p.: abram cove, a lusty Rogue, with hardly any Cloaths on his Back; a Tatterdemallion. [...] abram-men, otherwise called Toms of Bedlam, shabby beggars, patched and trick’d up with Ribbons, Red-Tape, Rags of various Colours; pretending to be besides themselves, to palliate their thefts of Poultry, Linnen, &c. A sort of itinerant Hedge-Robbers, and Strippers of Children, &c.
[UK]Canting Academy, or the Pedlar’s-French Dict. 113: A mad Man An abram Cove / A mad Woman An abram Mort.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]G. Andrewes Dict. Sl. and Cant.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc.
[UK]W. Scott St Ronan’s Well (1833) 233: There is a trick for you to find an Abramman, and save sixpence out when he begs of you as a disbanded seaman.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict. 3: Abram Cove, a naked or poor man. [...] Abram men, fellows dressing themselves in various rags, old ribbons, fox tails, begging in the streets, pretending to be mad.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]W. Besant Orange Girl I 199: Your Cousin Mathew is as mad as an Abram-man.

2. a ‘sturdy beggar’, i.e. one who could, but rarely does, work for a living.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]H.T. Potter New Dict. Cant (1795).
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]B.M. Carew Life and Adventures.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict. 3: Abram Cove, a naked or poor man, a sturdy beggar in rags.
[UK]Duncombe New and Improved Flash Dict.
[UK]Town Talk 128: ‘Wet your whistle, Tom,’ said Snapper; who, having called for a tankard, poured out a glass, and handed it to the Abram man.

3. a thief specializing in pocket-books.

[UK]H.T. Potter New Dict. Cant (1795).
[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.