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Origins: John Henry

DigiTrad:
HENRY THE ACCOUNTANT
JOHN HENRY
JOHN HENRY 2


Related threads:
John Henry: A Folklore Study- Chappell (9)
Lyr Req: John Henry (from Dave Van Ronk) (6)
(origins) JOHN HENRY solved???? (38)
(origins) Origin Of John Henry--part TWO (239)
Lyr/Chords Req: John Henry - Sheet Music Anyone? (5)
Lyr Add: John Henry (14)
Lyr Req: John Henry Jr (Merle Travis) (13)
John Henry's Wife (7)
Lyr Req: Little John Henry (from Lomax, McCurdy) (7)
John Henry Painting (5)
Lyr Req: John Henry Blues (Two Poor Boys) (6)
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Chord Req: John Henry (from Hoyt Axton) (2)
Modern Day John Henry (14)
Why did John Henry hammer till he died? (59)
(origins) What did John Henry mean? (27)
Lyr Add: Death of John Henry (8)


Peter Turner 12 Feb 98 - 02:09 AM
Bert 12 Feb 98 - 09:39 AM
Barry Finn 12 Feb 98 - 10:16 AM
Bill in Alabama 12 Feb 98 - 02:11 PM
Bruce O. 12 Feb 98 - 02:28 PM
Norm Cohen 13 Feb 98 - 01:43 AM
Peter 13 Feb 98 - 03:32 AM
Earl 13 Feb 98 - 08:23 AM
chet w 15 Feb 98 - 11:33 AM
Bruce O. 15 Feb 98 - 11:57 AM
Bruce O. 15 Feb 98 - 12:51 PM
Art Thieme 17 Feb 98 - 08:57 PM
Barry Finn 17 Feb 98 - 09:44 PM
Peter 18 Feb 98 - 03:22 AM
Bruce O. 18 Feb 98 - 10:31 AM
Cary Ginell 28 Feb 99 - 11:03 AM
28 Feb 99 - 12:43 PM
daviddd@pacbell.net 05 Mar 99 - 09:19 AM
Steve Parkes 05 Mar 99 - 10:05 AM
DaviD 05 Mar 99 - 10:26 AM
GUEST,darren haggar 08 Aug 00 - 10:50 AM
GUEST,Matthew 08 Aug 00 - 11:53 AM
voyager 08 Aug 00 - 12:14 PM
Mrrzy 09 Aug 00 - 12:02 PM
GUEST,frosty 13 Aug 00 - 06:06 PM
GUEST,Tim Pridemore 13 Aug 00 - 06:50 PM
IanC 14 Aug 00 - 08:44 AM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 14 Aug 00 - 09:59 AM
GUEST,Jennifer 15 Aug 00 - 02:23 AM
Jacob B 15 Aug 00 - 11:24 AM
GUEST,Barry Finn 15 Aug 00 - 11:46 PM
GUEST,Hope Danie 21 Jun 01 - 01:02 PM
GUEST,John Garst 02 Aug 01 - 06:23 PM
Dicho 02 Aug 01 - 08:39 PM
Dicho 02 Aug 01 - 08:47 PM
GUEST,toadfrog 02 Aug 01 - 11:23 PM
IanC 03 Aug 01 - 04:50 AM
GUEST,djh 03 Aug 01 - 09:23 AM
GUEST 03 Aug 01 - 09:42 AM
IanC 03 Aug 01 - 09:47 AM
GUEST,djh 03 Aug 01 - 10:41 AM
GUEST,John Garst 03 Aug 01 - 10:55 AM
GUEST,John Garst 03 Aug 01 - 11:03 AM
GUEST 03 Aug 01 - 11:24 AM
GUEST,John Garst 03 Aug 01 - 03:57 PM
Dicho 03 Aug 01 - 04:47 PM
IanC 04 Aug 01 - 01:33 PM
GUEST,voyager 05 Aug 01 - 11:08 AM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 26 Aug 01 - 08:16 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 01 Sep 01 - 11:49 AM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 04 Sep 01 - 03:28 PM
GUEST 04 Sep 01 - 05:11 PM
Luke 04 Sep 01 - 05:11 PM
Dicho 04 Sep 01 - 07:41 PM
GUEST,BigDaddy 05 Sep 01 - 01:35 AM
Mark Clark 05 Sep 01 - 01:29 PM
IanC 06 Sep 01 - 05:26 AM
Mark Clark 06 Sep 01 - 10:57 AM
Dicho 06 Sep 01 - 02:01 PM
GUEST,wlb@vaix.net 09 Sep 01 - 02:14 PM
GUEST,TalcottMan 18 Sep 01 - 02:46 AM
Dicho 18 Sep 01 - 11:26 AM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 20 Sep 01 - 05:45 PM
GUEST,Crystal 28 Sep 01 - 09:59 PM
GUEST,CRYSTAL 28 Sep 01 - 10:09 PM
Andrew S 29 Sep 01 - 03:07 AM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 29 Sep 01 - 05:17 PM
GUEST,John Garst 27 Nov 01 - 08:47 PM
BanjoRay 28 Nov 01 - 05:26 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 29 Nov 01 - 05:37 PM
GUEST,djc-mmc@prodigy.net 23 Dec 01 - 05:59 AM
Dicho 23 Dec 01 - 01:43 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 24 Dec 01 - 02:06 PM
Dicho 24 Dec 01 - 02:57 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 24 Dec 01 - 03:21 PM
Dicho 24 Dec 01 - 04:21 PM
GUEST 24 Dec 01 - 10:38 PM
Dicho 25 Dec 01 - 01:18 AM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 25 Dec 01 - 09:03 PM
Luke 26 Dec 01 - 08:46 AM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 26 Dec 01 - 05:36 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 08 Jan 02 - 01:53 PM
NicoleC 08 Jan 02 - 04:12 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 09 Jan 02 - 10:40 AM
GUEST 10 Jan 02 - 11:24 AM
NicoleC 10 Jan 02 - 01:58 PM
garst@chem.uga.edu 10 Jan 02 - 03:21 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 17 Jan 02 - 05:14 PM
NicoleC 17 Jan 02 - 06:38 PM
GUEST 21 Jan 02 - 02:27 PM
NicoleC 21 Jan 02 - 04:42 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 22 Jan 02 - 04:41 PM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 18 Mar 02 - 05:54 AM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 11 Apr 02 - 05:27 PM
Dicho 11 Apr 02 - 05:54 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 22 Apr 02 - 06:12 PM
Dicho 22 Apr 02 - 07:21 PM
Lonesome EJ 22 Apr 02 - 07:52 PM
Art Thieme 22 Apr 02 - 11:49 PM
Lonesome EJ 23 Apr 02 - 01:57 AM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 23 Apr 02 - 01:53 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 24 Jun 02 - 11:27 AM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 15 Jul 02 - 04:30 PM
Art Thieme 16 Jul 02 - 12:51 AM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 11 Aug 02 - 01:57 PM
Blues=Life 12 Aug 02 - 08:14 AM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 14 Aug 02 - 03:56 PM
NicoleC 14 Aug 02 - 05:21 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 15 Aug 02 - 03:31 PM
GUEST,RBH, sapengro@onebox.com 18 Aug 02 - 11:31 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 19 Aug 02 - 10:38 AM
RB Haynes 19 Aug 02 - 02:34 PM
NicoleC 19 Aug 02 - 03:21 PM
RB Haynes 19 Aug 02 - 03:58 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 20 Aug 02 - 02:05 PM
GUEST 21 Aug 02 - 03:08 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 21 Aug 02 - 05:08 PM
GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu 23 Aug 02 - 01:37 PM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 24 Aug 02 - 10:49 AM
GUEST,Rebecca 02 Apr 03 - 08:29 PM
GUEST,coosa tunnel 01 Sep 05 - 02:10 PM
Q 01 Sep 05 - 03:21 PM
GUEST,Don C resident of Leeds, Alabama 10 Sep 06 - 04:26 AM
Q 10 Sep 06 - 01:45 PM
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Subject: The origins of John Henry
From: Peter Turner
Date: 12 Feb 98 - 02:09 AM

Does anyone know what "John Henry" is really about? It's first impression is of the power of the human spirit and the often inspiring nature of tragedy. This interpretation makes us take the song at its word. But I've heard it argued that we should be more skeptical in interpreting the lyrics, that the song actually works in favor of the railroad bosses and against the men who work for them. In this view, it justifies the torturous labor the men are asked to do, and it creates a situation in which a man being worked to death is a hero. It is, in fact, not a song that many politically conscious rail workers would enjoy. There are all sorts of possibilities it never allows, like John Henry resenting being overburdened, or John Henry refusing to work himself to death. Especially helpful would be if someone can trace the history of the song for me, but any thoughts at all would be appreciated, enjoyed. Thank you.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Bert
Date: 12 Feb 98 - 09:39 AM

I have always assumed it to be about a song against the mechanization of industry. Here's another song about a guy whose job was taken over bt "Mechanical Power".

manura


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Barry Finn
Date: 12 Feb 98 - 10:16 AM

2 books are dedicated to John "John Henry: Tracking Down A Negro Ledgend" by Guy B Johnson (Chapel Hill, 1929) 7 "John Henry: A Folklore Study" by Chappell (Jena, 1933). Lomax credits Chappell with the tracking of the major folk hero's roots & any facts that have survived as the best that'll ever happen with John Henry. "He (Chappell) pinpointed the scene of the ballard to the Big Bend Tunnel on the C & O, R.R. in the West Virginna Mnts. about 1870. 1 1/4 mile long, the Big Bend was the biggest tunnel job attempted by man up to that date". It appears John started out as a mere 6' & 200 lbs, who could out sing & work any other man (sounds like Leadbelly & John L) on the job, swinging a 20lb hammer, when 10lb was the norm, drilling 2 holes 7' deep beating the staem drill which drove only 1 hole, 9', not dying from the race but probaly later from the frequent cave-ins, when his hammer made the mnt shake (sexual), again giving rise to belief that he died not from being overworked but from love making.. Lomax belives that John Henry is a decendant of Old John the trickster slave & that the origins of the song springs from the old Hammer song & Lass Of Roch Royal, giving it sexual & magical powers. Just a brief run down from mostly Lomax, but if you read Jackson's 'Wake Up Dead Man' & Lomax's 'Land Where The Blues Began', it gives many reasons for the rise of folk heros within an oppressed community & the relationships developed between worker & worksong & how the labor is seen by themselves & others. Good Luck, Barry


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Bill in Alabama
Date: 12 Feb 98 - 02:11 PM

Archie Green at one time had some information which placed the actual John Henry in Alabama. He asked me to work on the search with him, but we never came up with anything other than an attributive reference which, by the nature of folk music, is more likely to be wrong than right. Bert's information is most likely correct. Alabama will just have to be content with Railroad Bill as a ballad hero.

I suspect that you're better off not trying to stuff the piece with a lot of symbolism, or to read anything much into it other than what the words suggest: a kind of American Luddite ballad about a man whose pride in his work and whose ego caused him to challenge the advent of mechanization.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Bruce O.
Date: 12 Feb 98 - 02:28 PM

Bill above is along the right track. Norm Cohen in 'The Long Steel Rail', p. 574-6, 1981, discusses the various theories, and says he can't be confident of the answers. He cites many early song copies including recordings and the work of all those mentioned above. (It may or may not have grown out of some version of "Nine Pound Hammer").


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Norm Cohen
Date: 13 Feb 98 - 01:43 AM

I don't know of anything on the origins of the "John Henry" ballads beyond what I wrote in Long Steel Rail, but there is a more recent bibliography for those inclined to check it out on their own: Brett Williams: "John Henry: A Bio-Bibliography (Greenwood Press, 1983). It's easy to attach all sorts of psycho-sociological theories to the ballad--including Marxist and Freudian interpretations; but as for hard facts about the origins of the story, we'll never get any closer than Guy Johnson and Louis Chappel did in the 1920s when they tried to interview anyone who claimed to remember anything about the building of the Big Bend (actually "Great Bend") tunnel to which the legend was most frequently attached. Which was not very close.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Peter
Date: 13 Feb 98 - 03:32 AM

Barry, I really appreciate your post; it's exactly the sort of trail I wanted to be put on. I want to disagree (politely, I hope) with those who resist any folkloric reading of what is, after all, a folk song. John Henry may very well have been an actual historical figure, and the song may very well take it's plot from an actual historical event. And, further, any pursuit of the song down that track may be futile, giving us only phantoms and vague, unfounded suppositions. But a folk-hero's nature stands halfway between history and myth, and there are other, profitable ways to ask questions about the song. Invariably, these stories incorporate traditional, generic elements (one example is the trickster figure, mentioned by Barry) which are added to the story. These elements constitute much of the meaning of the song (perhaps the primary meaning?), and recognizing them does not depend on being able to identify a certain Alabaman. "John Henry" is interesting as a song -- and it's great fun to sing -- but I think it is most interesting as a window to a culture that, for me anyway, is hard to know. In asking the question I did, I was really asking less about John Henry, whoever he may be, than about the culture that produced the song. So I'm not sure it's wrong to stuff it with symbolism (which I hope isn't a dirty word): symbols are what a culture uses to communicate with itself. I myself mistrust Marxist and Freudian readings of songs from cultures which had never read Marx or Freud, but (with respect to Marxist readings, anyway) people did resent oppression, and try to resist it through song, before Das Kapital. I appreciate the help some of you brought to this post. I am inded very interested in when people started singing about "John Henry" and what the specific circumstances of that version of what I suspect is a very old song were. It is unfortunate that those hard facts are lost to us (though I'm not surprised to learn it). But I don't know why the ways in common a culture has of telling a story and what elements constitute that story and what tradition that story is embedded in, just because they are more abstract, need be any "softer".


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Earl
Date: 13 Feb 98 - 08:23 AM

A man ain't nuthin but a man.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: chet w
Date: 15 Feb 98 - 11:33 AM

When John Henry was a little baby boy Sittin' on his daddy's knee His daddy picked him up and he threw him on the floor And he said, "This baby's wet all over me" Lord, Lord, said "This baby'w wet all over me"

Irreverently, Chet W.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Bruce O.
Date: 15 Feb 98 - 11:57 AM

All well and good Bert. But lets make clear where facts end and speculation begins. As to old songs the oldest known is still the broadside printed in the early 1900 obtained by Guy Johnson. This is the first item in the 'A' section of references to song copies given by Norm Cohen. In all Norm gave about 13 pages of reference to other copies in 'The Long Steel Rail', pp 76-89, and many pages of references to "Nine Pound Hammer".

I asked Norm Cohen to take a look at this thread, in order to see if he had turned up anything new in the line of information since his book was published in 1981.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Bruce O.
Date: 15 Feb 98 - 12:51 PM

Sorry, that should have been Peter, not Bert that I was addressing on that last posting.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Art Thieme
Date: 17 Feb 98 - 08:57 PM

If the Big Bend tunnel was 1870 J.H. was obviously born a slave with ALL that that entails. He was making a wage of some kind for the first time in his life. He was getting to keep the money for the first time in his life also. (So were the other guys.) Within that frame he had become the BEST at doing his job and he was the one apparently chosen by the others to go up against the steam drill/automation that threatened the few bits of free life that Afro-Americans were allowed to hold onto as their own. When the drill broke his tremendous effort beat the machine BUT he died in that effort. So it was a hollow victory----just like all the other hollow victories Black folk have seemingly won only to find frustration after the win proves to be less than expcted.

Also, I'm reminded of a short and favorite tale of mine. Afellow walking home in mud. Every time he takes one step he falls back two steps. Eventually he turned around, went the other way, and finally got where he wanted to be!!! (Art Thieme)


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Barry Finn
Date: 17 Feb 98 - 09:44 PM

Art, could've been born a slave, prior to the war between the states many blacks were born free men & worked at different trades, the best of them being a sailor or waterman of some kind. In many ways life could be easier than after the war when Jim Crow settled in, & they were free but with out any/many means of earning a living. Working trains or rails after the war was one of the few trades along with building the levees that allowed them the means of survival while offering some sense of independence & self worth, although in many cases & areas it was another form of slavery & conditions were not only dangerous but deadly. The hollow victory is the tragic side of the legend/tale, but I often wonder if JH was the first black folk hero to be sung about because prior to that time, the living heros ( Boston Massacre, Dartmore Prison {sp?}, New York's most honorable Boarding House Master), would not have survived if sung about much less have their stories told/sung in the climate of the times. Peter, I feel the same way about your window into a culture, as you mention above, giving more understanding into the roots of the songs & people, otherwise do we trace songs to their origins just for the exercise? Sorry for the ramble. Barry


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Peter
Date: 18 Feb 98 - 03:22 AM

Bruce, I wonder if we can't use somewhat more precise language than "facts" and "speculation", or at least less loaded terms. There ought not be any doubt that it is a "fact" that folk-tales incorporate generic elements -- motifs -- that link them to a specific tradition within the greater genre. It is, for example, a "fact" that stories about King Arthur, Charlemagne, Tsar Alexander I, and Nero all employ two related motifs: 1. the culture hero or divinity who has not died but is still alive and 2. the culture hero or divinity who is expected to return at the proper time (Thompson, 1953, motifs A570 and A580). It is an act of interpretation (the connotations of which I prefer to "speculation") to say that these motifs transcend (a bad word) the particular story in which they are present to establish a relationship with other stories of the same typology. I don't see why it is not also interpretation (or, if you prefer, "speculation") to determine which songs of a collection are forged.

I am trying to find a fundamental difference between my speculation and other, more legitimate kinds of interpretation. The only distinction I can come up with is that the units/objects of analysis are, in my case, more abstract than in other cases. But -- I plead with you! -- heuristical tools like the notion of "genre" reflect reality. These terms I am throwing around exist in the real world. We ought to recognize their import and incorporate considerations of them into how we talk about the music. What I do with them in particular is another matter -- that's where my interpretation might be flawed.

I apologize if I am being overbearing (and it is awful if I am being rude -- I confess ignorance of forum etiquette), but this is one my most desperately ground axes. There is so much to learn about the music if we can think about it in these terms. Alan Dundes, someone I've seen you cite in the past, is a proponent of the "symbolic" reading of such tales as these, and it seems to me that he provides very satisfying (and believable) readings that profoundly deepen our understandings of the tales by placing them in a cultural (read:symbolic) context.

But, on a lighter note: Art, I very much enjoyed your reading of "John Henry". It shows what we can do without resorting to the sort of sorcery I tend to employ. (Although, I am afraid that I cannot allow either that you have left the drawbridge of speculation for the castle of facts.) And, Barry, I am 100 pages into "The Land Where the Blues Began." Thank you, and consider your good deed for the day accomplished.

Peter


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Bruce O.
Date: 18 Feb 98 - 10:31 AM

I take facts to be texts of known provinance, and what can be proved directly by them. Interpretations (or speculation based on them) of the even the same set of facts often vary widely. Admittedly, subconsciously perhaps, no one is totally objective, even sometimes when it comes to deciding what the facts really are. But some try much harder than others to get as close as possible to 'truth'.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Cary Ginell
Date: 28 Feb 99 - 11:03 AM

Was wondering if anyone had seen an article by Linda Wheeler of the Washington Post. It appeared in the Los Angeles Times issue of 12/26/98. Wheeler reported that a William & Mary researcher discovered evidence that a prisoner, buried at Virginia Penitentiary, could have been the "real" John Henry. References in the variants of the ballad to "the White House" do not refer to the President's home in the nation's capital, but to the prison hospital, which was commonly known as such. I don't have the article handy, but it can be downloaded from the LA Times archive website for $1.50.

Cary Ginell Sound Thinking Music Research cginell@gte.net


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From:
Date: 28 Feb 99 - 12:43 PM

In the 1870's, if I read Land Where the Blues Began correctly, the African-American railroad worker held a prestigious position within his culture.
"Babe when you marry, marry a railroad man.
Everyday a Sunday dollar in your hand."

If we take this, then John Henry would already be somewhat of a hero in his community. And John's job would be the source of his standing. In that sense, John would be loyal to his employer, no matter how oppressive, because the employer was the source of John's status and perhaps his self-definition. If I remember my sociology correctly this is a common situation for both slave and worker. In this manner, the song is reflective of the culture from which it has arisen.

I think it is more significant that this song is beloved by African- and European- Americans for the overcoming of the mechanical drill (read industrialism, progress, etc.). It endures as a folk song, because the folk identify with the oppression of modernization and the belittlement of the work of a man or woman.

Roger in Baltimore


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: daviddd@pacbell.net
Date: 05 Mar 99 - 09:19 AM

Good morning to you all. I'm takeing a stupid Afram Eng31 (jr.college) course which gives me less one hour to discuss, digest, and disgust this item. Here are some websites. The White House prison archeological dig reference from above is: (click)


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 05 Mar 99 - 10:05 AM

The story of the man who beats the machine that's replacing him seems to be fairly common in Britain in this century. It's usually the "little" man, rather than the hero; postmen seem to be a particular favourite, for some reason - out-sorting the expensive new sorting machine. I've no idea whether there's a conscious awareness of the John Henry story on the part of the authors, but I suspect it's a motif that goes back a lot further in history and culture. (Not that I'm any expert!)

Steve


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Subject: Doin' web thing (the ballad of John Henry)
From: DaviD
Date: 05 Mar 99 - 10:26 AM

Here's the web meta search page: askjeeves.com Or, if you're typing by hand (rather than cut and paste) http://www.phillynews.com/inquirer/98/Dec/13/national/HNRY13.htm

Computerist's version: (going down the listings) http://the-brother-of.cyrus.org/jhenry.htm Another parody: http://apk.net/~drushel/jhenry.html

Lyrics:http://www.usscouts.scouter.com/songs/songbk1c.html children's songbook: http://www.umcs.maine.edu/~orono/collaborative/sing.html

1995 nat'l Public Radio backround piece http://www.droop.com/JohnHenry/jhIndex.html subsites:looks like a nice record album cover picture and sociological note on popularity http://www.droop.com/JohnHenry/Text/Legend.html discography: http://www.droop.com/JohnHenry/Text/Music.html

Here's the primary site (and a clue as to a good search engine!) if anyone wnats to do more digging. http://www.askjeeves.com/AskJeeves.asp?ask=Sing+me+the+ballad+of+John+Henry&site_name=Jeeves&scope=web&metasearch=yes&frames=yes&qSource=0&origin=0&r=x&AskJeeves.x=15&AskJeeves.y=13

I'm still looking the lyrics per se (on-line text form but have run out of tiem (how typical! :( )


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,darren haggar
Date: 08 Aug 00 - 10:50 AM

I'm in the process of designing a cover on a book about the myth of John Henry. Apparently there was an american postage stamp featuring a portrait or something ...? Does anybody know where I can get my hands any images that might be cover materail ...for instance, pictures of railworkers from that era?


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,Matthew
Date: 08 Aug 00 - 11:53 AM

Darren,

I can't help you with your quest, but I did want to mention something to you. Just as an FYI.

Disney's next release will be a short (8-minutes, I think) animated film of John Henry. Not to imply that anything done by the mouse comes anywhere close to historical accuracy, or even accepted fictional accuracy. But there you go.

Matthew. (knew the "Animation Tour" at Disney/MGM last month would pay off)


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: voyager
Date: 08 Aug 00 - 12:14 PM

The Origins of John Henry (Cub Scout Version) --------------------------------------------- A few years back, while playing CUB SCOUT JEOPARDY with our local pack, I created the Category TALL TALES.

Q1 - This Lumberjack rode a blue ox and levelled a forest with one swing of the ax. A - (Paul Bunyon) - kids didn't know

Q2 - This railroad engineer stayed in the locomotive and warned passengers of the impending train wreck. A - (Casey Jones) - kids didn't know

Q3 - This steel-driver won a contest against a steam engine carving a tunnel thru the side of a mountain.

A - HARRIET TUBMAN!! (kids knew this answer)

voyager fsgw ghetto east silver spring, maryland


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Mrrzy
Date: 09 Aug 00 - 12:02 PM

Excellent thread, just what I really enjoy.

I would quibble with the interpretation raised in the original posting that this song symbolizes the overseer's inhumanity to the common worker. This song, at least the versions I grew up with, all seemed to indicate that the boss wanted to automate something that the worker thought he could do better, so he tried, won, and died - a Pyrrhic (sp?) victory. But it was always the common worker's choice - not imposed from above. In fact, the overseer could quite properly have prevented John Henry from even attempting the contest - but he didn't.

Also, since I had so many different versions, even some with different names (Henry Clay is one) - I always figured this was one of those based-on-a-true-incident-that-grew-larger-than-life-in-the-telling. I figured there really was some poor soul who tried to outdo a steam drill back when they were first being invented; whether he won or not, died or not, or was named John Henry or not, I wouldn't even hazard a guess.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,frosty
Date: 13 Aug 00 - 06:06 PM

Hi Was just floating about the neighbourhood, looking for info on John Henry and ended up here. I only wanted to know who he was and have spent 2 hours on this damn machine(mild technophobe)anyway a few things occured to me 1: Song used to be a way of passing on news as a lot of people couldn't read, and an event like this was newsworthy. 2: I think it endures as a popular song as it is as relevant today as it was then and every one loves the underdog, at least they do around here. 3: Finaly if Mr Finn is right and JH died of love making it's nice to know that not only did he die a Legend but also happy. frosty


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,Tim Pridemore
Date: 13 Aug 00 - 06:50 PM

How about a picture of the statue of the real John Henry at Talcot WV...location of the Big Bend Tunnle on the C&O Railroad. For more information dial 1-800-CALL-WVA.

As an old mountain boy from that area I didn't realize until I was in my 20s that there were people who DIDN'T know the story was true


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: IanC
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 08:44 AM

I've got the info somewhere, but the statue is based on the legend, not the other way round. It was set up in the 1970s.

I've read both Chappell and Johnson and from the descriptions of people who claimed they had come across him, collected in the 1920s, he was more than one person anyway (very big, very black; small and light skinned etc.). Using the hammer with both hands appears to be a description of ambidextrosity in the earlier sources. Apparently, some of the better hammer men could do this.

The postage stamp portrait is a picture of the statue and, for anyone who wants it, an internet search on "John Henry Days" brings up the Talcott site (which is becoming increasingly more commercial and less informative).

I have a copy of the Blenkinsop broadside copied from Johnson (it's a photographic plate in his book). It scans well if anyone wants it.

Cheers!
Ian


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 09:59 AM

Ian, please scan it and make it available.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,Jennifer
Date: 15 Aug 00 - 02:23 AM

Being a musicologist with the maiden name of Henry, this is a subject which has interested me for years. I know for a fact the origins of my cousin Johnny Henry who is a rock musician & D J in Tulsa, OK. However, facts about the John Henry of song fame continue to be elusive and probably will be for another 100 years. While often confused with John Hardy the murder, I have found the John henry of the song fame in dozens of versions. They have him driving steel on the Air Line, the K. C., the Frisco, (on which my grandfather worked in Okla-he knew of no such John Henry), the C. & O. Railroads; they call his woman Lucy, Delia Ann, Polly Ann, Sally Ann; he can be found "sittin' on his pappy's knee" or holding his little son "in de palm of his han'." Either a 7 or 9 pound hammer is the death of him. The songs all seem to agree that John Henry battled with the steam drill which threatened to "beat him down"; he toiled mighitly from dawn to sunset; beat the machine as the sun went down, and "died wid a hammer in his han'." I believe there may have been a John Henry who was a railroad worker, however I believe most of the song is fiction and a true folk song ballad-about the life & times of the black railroad worker circa late 1800's.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Jacob B
Date: 15 Aug 00 - 11:24 AM

I suspect that, at the time it was written, John Henry was not considered "a song against the mechanization of industry." John Henry would not have minded giving up his job swinging a hammer for a better-paying job operating a steam drill - but there wasn't the faintest possibility that he would get that job. By trying to prove to his boss that he could do a better job than the machine that the steam drill salesman was selling, John Henry was trying to prevent an entire community of black men from losing their jobs to a few white men, operating machines.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,Barry Finn
Date: 15 Aug 00 - 11:46 PM

Hi Jacob, I couldn't agree with you more. Prior to railroading, cowboying was a place where black men could scratch out a living while giving themselves a sense of selfworth in less opressing enviorment. Here again they've left their fading mark in song, though Lomax states that some estimates site their numbers to be as high as 25% of cowboys were black (he doesn't say where & goverment census were quite a bit lower) & that their numbers were also well represented among the ranchers, herders& drovers. I haven't found anything that mentions that this type of livelyhood supported any type of Afro American community, though it would seem that railroading did, just as much as sea realated employment prior to the 1860's did. Where interestingly enough the gov. census do reflect their numbers to be as high in certain yrs. & places as high as 25%, here again we find their fading mark in song. I'd say that they're are many different reasons that John Henry & other folk heros were so important to the culture that spawned them. Barry


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,Hope Danie
Date: 21 Jun 01 - 01:02 PM

I have a little boy in my summerschool class by the name of John Henry. He is disabled due to an accident when he was a young child of about two. He is african american and quite small and wirey. I got on the net and started looking about for some info on John Henry the legend I remembered singing about in elementary school. The sites I have located have been wonderful. There is one site with an animated movie that you can download. When John Henry wakes up from his nap he will be so excited to know he is named after an eight foot tall, strong steel driver from the 1800's. Thanks for all of the interesting stories!!


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 02 Aug 01 - 06:23 PM

The Alabama connection needs more work, and I have starting on that project. Here's what I've found so far.

Guy Johnson's "Cruzee/Cursey" Tunnel in Alabama, which he nor anyone else has located until now, is really the Coosa Tunnel, which was constructed 1886-88 by Columbus and Western Railway line, who were completing the rail connection between Columbus, GA, and Birmingham, AL. Note how close "C&W" is to "C&O." Some of Johnson's informants mentioned Oak Mountain Tunnel, which is on the same line just north (2 miles?) of the Coosa Mountain Tunnel, just as they said. These locations are east and a bit south of Birmingham.

Red Mountain, also mentioned by these informants, is nearby, too. It is just east of Birmingham, and I suspect that the C&W might have tunneled there, too, although I haven't confirmed this yet.

The Blankenship broadside was recovered in the mid-1920s from a woman living in Rome, GA. According to a white pages search, there are 26 Blankenships now living in Rome (with telephones). I don't yet know whether or not any of these are related to W. T. Blankenship, who produced the broadside of John Henry. Rome is less than 100 miles northeast of Coosa and Oak Mountain Tunnels.

One of the Alabama informants claimed that there was a crowd of about 500 standing around watching the competition. If that were so, then I believe that it would have been covered in local newspapers. I intend to launch a search soon of Birmingham and vicinity newspapers (and Rome newspapers).

As for Big Bend Tunnel in WV, I think it significant that that intensive searches for John Henry there failed. Those who still favor that location have to ignore a tremendous number of negative reports and inconsistencies among the second/third/fourth-hand positive ones. I think that the Big Bend possibility has been dead ever since the investigations of Johnson and Louis Chappell.

Alabama hasn't failed, at least yet, so I think that it should be considered the favorite possibility at this time.

John Garst garst@chem.uga.edu


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Dicho
Date: 02 Aug 01 - 08:39 PM

The original was "John Hardy." W. A. McCorkle, governor of West Virginia 1893-1897, wrote "He [John Hardy] was a steel-driver and was famous in the beginning of the building of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. He was also a steel-driver in the beginning of the extention of the N & W Railroad. It was about 1872 that he was in this section. This was before the day of steam drills...he was reported to be six feet two and weighed two hundred and twenty-five or thirty pounds...was one of the handsomest men in the country, and, as one informant told me, was as black as a kittle in hell." The story is carried on by John Knox Smith, a Negro lawyer who was present at the trial and execution of John Hardy. John had been working at the Shawnee Coal Co. after his steel-driving days. "...One payday night he killed a man in a crap game over a dispute of twenty-five cents. Before the game began, he laid his pistol on the table , saying to it "Now I want you to lay here; and the first nigger that steals money from me, I mean to kill him." This came to pass. ...Hardy was as black as a crow [the rest similar to McCorkle's description]. All this, and much more, in Cox, Folk Songs of the South (West Virginia almost exclusively, with many variants of Child songs). When this tale metamorphosed into John Henry I don't know. Nine versions of John Hardy are printed in entirety (earliest 1890s), only one, collected in 1924, named John Henry.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Dicho
Date: 02 Aug 01 - 08:47 PM

Now- was there another RR man with first name possibly John Henry and the song variants extended to him? Or was the story passed on to cover other strong men on the railroad and in the mines? This transfer has happened in songs before; John Hardy was transformed to cover different men, times and places.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,toadfrog
Date: 02 Aug 01 - 11:23 PM

When I first noticed this thread, I took it for a new one, and was rejoicing to see Bruce O back. To bad I was wrong. He's got a real good point there. Listening to folk songs sure beats hell out of reading some enthusiast's "interpretation" of said songs. Folk music understates what romanticism overstates.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: IanC
Date: 03 Aug 01 - 04:50 AM

Dicho

I think it might be worth spending a little time reading the corpus of research work on John Henry before you bring us back to this old "John Hardy/John Henry" red herring. It's been well covered in the literature and the prettywell universal agreement is that the transformation was the other way round - via common "floating verses".

This thread (and the others on the subject) isn't my favourite ... basically because I spent a great deal of time about 2-3 years ago in researching the question by reading the 3 main books written in the 20s on the subject and all the subsequent literature available in the libraries and on the net. The same notions which get well quashed by various good studies keep coming up here. I'm not meaning John Garst's well-intentioned and obviously well researched attempts at proving a Georgia provenance here.

For what it's worth, I have two pieces of advice for anyone wanting to make a serious contribution to this discussion. (1) Read what has already been written before you form your own conclusions. There is plenty on this subject, much of it well researched and helpful. (2) Never try to find confirmatory evidence for a view you hold ... you'll only find yourself stretching the evidence to suit your hypothesis. Logically, things can never be fully confirmed, only disproved.

Now I've had my 2d worth of grouch. I'm sorry if this causes anyone any offence ... it wasn't intended to.

:-)
Ian


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,djh
Date: 03 Aug 01 - 09:23 AM

John did really live.There is allegedly a real picture of the John in an old book about folks songs. I am sorry I don't remember the name, if I find it I will post it.
The Big bend tunnel was Wet rock ,had it been dry the steam drill probably would have won. The mud and clay clogged up the drill frequently.
Railraod work was as good as it got for a black man in the 1870's, So it is not propaganda for the boss man.The later Spike Driver Blues took the stance- (paraphrasing) "workin' to death like John was not what I had in mind , tell the captain I'm gone.",but, John Henry is simply about natural man vs the mechanistic age.
There is a book in my local library from the 20's simply titled "John Henry" in it the author points out that there were a few men named John Henry workin on the railroad. The author comes down on the side of there was a contest although I can't recall his arguments this morning. It may be one of the books others have spoken of in this thread.
The thing I found most interesting about the book was that one of the women interviewed was named Rosalee? Cannon and she spoke about learning the song from her uncle Gus who was a songster over in Memphis = Gus Cannon of Cannon's Jug Stompers. The author , of course, didn't realize that her uncle was an American music legend because he wasn't yet. I love that book , I am the only one who has checked it out in a decade , multiple times.
I love the tale and the many variants on the song so much I named my band "John Henry's Hammer".
Sorry I am all over the place this morn.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST
Date: 03 Aug 01 - 09:42 AM

If John Died of love making as has been suggested, wouldn't it have been a masterbatory act, after all "he died with his hammer in his hand". LAWD, LAWD


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: IanC
Date: 03 Aug 01 - 09:47 AM

GUEST

Thank god for some intelligent input.

DJH - the only picture of John Henry is the one of his statue (see above) erected in 1970. The picture on the stamp is also taken from this. As I said above, there were loads of men called John Henry, and different people seem to have remembered different ones!


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,djh
Date: 03 Aug 01 - 10:41 AM

No , Ian there is purportedly a photo. I haven't seen it and I am not sure about 1880's photography, but, I have been meaning to order the book.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 03 Aug 01 - 10:55 AM

Korey Stringer is another "John Henry." His death brings home the very real threat of heat exhaustion. As I heard a doctor on TV describe it, you stop sweating, your body temperature goes to around 108 degrees, your cells die (baked), and that means you die. Korey didn't want to appear weak, I suspect. He probably wanted to set a good example for rookies. It may be that he didn't drink enough water. It takes time to drink water. Maybe time was too important.

John Henry could easily have felt that way. He couldn't stop hammering for a drink of water because it was so important to him that he beat the steam drill. He beat it, and collapsed from heat exhaustion, just like Korey.

When you hear those old work songs, calling for the water boy, don't imagine some romantic fluff. Imagine a vitally important function - if the laborers don't get water, they die. Don't think that the water boy's job was easy, either. Try carrying significant amounts of water significant distances, over and over, for 8 hours or more. If that doesn't do it for you, try carrying it uphill.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 03 Aug 01 - 11:03 AM

A brief follow-up on heat exhaustion and water:

One informant said that John Henry raced the steam drill on September 20, 1882, at "Cruzee" Mountain Tunnel on the A. G. S. line. Coosa Mountain Tunnel, also known as Long Tunnel, was built by the C&W. Another informant said 1887, which is consistent with the actual construction dates. I wonder if an error in transcription of handwriting converted a "7" in the letter of the first informant to a "2." In any event, if the competition took place on September 20 (of any year), that is not so late in the year that it could not be very hot and humid in central Alabama, setting up the most favorable conditions for a death from heat exhaustion.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST
Date: 03 Aug 01 - 11:24 AM

Gimme a cool drink of water 'fore I die.
I Believe I read that John's death was greatly exagerated, he did beat the drill and did not die doing so.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 03 Aug 01 - 03:57 PM

>I Believe I read that John's death was greatly exagerated, >he did beat the drill and did not die doing so.

Possibly, but you can't believe what you read. The few reports that said he lived on are, as I recall, from Big Bend advocates. As I stated before, I think that the evidence gathered by Johnson and Chappell comes close to ruling out this location (by not solidly confirming it), so I consider it to be a very unlikely possibility and the Big Bend informants to be an unreliable bunch. There is disagreement on John Henry's death among them.

None of Johnson's three Alabama informants claimed that John Henry lived on. Two of them specifically said that he died on the spot, including the one who claimed to have been an eye-witness to the contest, among the "about three to four hundred people present."

Chappell cites Newton Redwine: "John Henry the steel driving champion was a native of Alabama and from near Bessemer or Blackton...For several years John Henry worked around the iron mining region of Alabama...." He goes on to put John Henry at many other places and has him dying in the construction of a tunnel at Kings Mountain (KY or TN). Redwine agrees with Johnson's Alabama informants only in placing John Henry in the Birminham area. Another Chappell informant, J. W. Washington, says that John Henry did most of his steel driving in Alabama.

Interestingly, a report to Chappell from Jamaica says "The following names are known:- Dabner, in charge of blasting operations. John Henry, checking up cuts and embankments. Shea, Engineer in charge. Tommy Walters, Assistant Pay Master."

Two of Johnson's Alabama informants mention Shea/Shay and Dabner/Dabney. Another Johnson informant, Leon R. Harris, says that he has "tried faithfully to get the story of John Henry...But I have failed. Anyone who tries will fail. I believe, however, that the following are facts: ('facts' 1-5 are listed) "These are probabilities: (1-3) "4. His 'captain's' name was Tommy Walters - probably an assistant foreman, however."

Certain names, Dabner/Dabney, Shea/Shay, Tommy Walters, seem to crop up from widely scattered sources. The first two of these are mentioned by Johnson's Alabama informants. These names might be keys to further understanding the possible historical background of the ballad.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Dicho
Date: 03 Aug 01 - 04:47 PM

What "literature" is IanC talking about? There was much interest in "John Henry" in the 1920s-early 1930s. Perhaps the best book of that time was Johnson's "John Henry." Several writers have referred to the Negro RR workmen of the late 19th century; one suggested that a prototype could be buried at a VA prison site where a number of railroad workers were buried (all without names attached). The Britannica indicates that there "could" be a factual basis to John Henry; the Big Bend tunnel in West Virginia dates are 1870-1873, near the end of the steel-drivers day since the steam drill was "introduced to the South in 1870.". Dr. J. H. Cox, one time archivist of the W. Va. Folklore Soc., wrote in 1925 that the version collected by Prof. Combs in Kentucky was wholly about the steel driving incident, thus may have been composed before John Hardy committed the murder, and could be the oldest.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: IanC
Date: 04 Aug 01 - 01:33 PM

Dicho

I've given 2 of the standard sources above, but there's quite a lot since. If you like I'll put it in under "People" in my Basic Folk Library.

Cheers!
Ian


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,voyager
Date: 05 Aug 01 - 11:08 AM

Folk Tale Anecdote Department..

During a round of "Boy Scout Jeopardy" - Category 'Tall Tales'

the answer read
"This steel driver beat a steam-powered drill in a contest
To carve out the side of a mountain"

Scout Shouted Out

I know....HARRIET TUBMAN

For more research see ...
http://discoverytheater.si.edu/jhenry/jhbg1.htm

voyager
FSGW Ghetto


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 26 Aug 01 - 08:16 PM

I have found a photograph of the drill that stood, in 1930 and perhaps now, in a rock just outside the east portal of Oak Mountain Tunnel, near Leeds, Alabama. This is supposed to have been the drill that John Henry was driving when he died, and it is supposed to have been left in position all these years since 1887-88, when he met the steam drill there. What else would account for a drill standing embedded in rock? Obviously there was no intention of blasting the rock away, or another hole would have been drilled, in the event that the first drill got stuck in its hole. On the other hand, if there were a contest held there, then there ought to be another hole in the rock somewhere nearby. I've not been there, so I can't comment on this point.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 01 Sep 01 - 11:49 AM

Peter Turner, asked, on 12-Feb-98, "Does anyone know what "John Henry" is really about? Its first impression is of the power of the human spirit and the often inspiring nature of tragedy. This interpretation makes us take the song at its word. But I've heard it argued that we should be more skeptical in interpreting the lyrics, that the song actually works in favor of the railroad bosses and against the men who work for them...."

Phillips Barry has argued that the John Henry text and tune show strong white influences - elements of the text may derive from old British ballads and the tune is identified with one used by mountain whites for the ballad "Earl Brand" (Child No. 7).

The oldest known version of "John Henry, The Steel Driving Man," may be the one on the Blankenship broadside, believed by Guy Benton Johnson to date to 1900 or before. (However, MacEdward Leach suspects that it is "from the twenties.")

The Blankenship broadside contains language that is more literary than that usually recovered from singers. Although Leach suspects that it is the work of a "hack writer to capitalize on a growing popularity of John Henry," I think it could be the other way around - the folk versions could have sprung from a more literary source.

In any event, I think that the Blankenship broadside is relevant to the point Peter makes. I quote the first two verses below.

John Henry was a railroad man,
He worked from six 'til five,
"Raise 'em up bullies and let 'em drop down,
I'll beat you to the bottom or die."

John Henry said to his captain:
"You are nothing but a common man,
Before that steam drill shall beat me down,
I'll die with my hammer in my hand."

Here "Raise 'em up bullies and let 'em drop down" sounds much more British, to me, than American Negro speech.

Verse two is the killer. Where most collected versions have John Henry saying to his captain, "A man ain't nothing but a man, etc."; here he says "You are nothing but a common man, etc." In the first instance, John Henry is talking about himself - he means "I am nothing but a man," meaning "I'm not superhuman." In the Blankenship broadside, saying to the captain, "You are nothing but a common man, etc.," seems to mean "You're just a man, but even so, I'm so dedicated to you that I'm going to beat that steam drill for you."

This is the kind of attitude in blacks that whites admired, of course, so it can be seen as a natural effusion of a white author.

Of course, this whole discussion assumes that John Henry was black. There's nothing in the Blankenship broadside to indicate that, nor is there is most versions. A few of Johnson's informants insisted that he was, in fact, white. If he was white, that changes the whole thing a little.

Even so, the fact of the matter is that most blacks who sang the song thought of him as black. No wonder they changed "You are nothing but a common man" to "A man ain't nothin' but a man."


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 04 Sep 01 - 03:28 PM

Erratum:

I wrote

"A few of Johnson's informants insisted that he was, in fact, white."

Not so, as far as my perusal of Johnson's book indicates. It was Chappell, John Henry (1933), who turned up a number of informants who insisted that the historic John Henry was white.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST
Date: 04 Sep 01 - 05:11 PM


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Luke
Date: 04 Sep 01 - 05:11 PM

Not sure if it's of interest but I perform in a play about John Henry in which we perform the JH song at the very end of the play. Upon doing research and reading the books above mentioned, we figured theres alot more to know than anyone can figure. Not only did he really live, but did he really die in the contest. Since we could not find any recored of his death we decided to let him live in the end. there were no death certificates or headstones anywhere to prove otherwise.

Luke


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Dicho
Date: 04 Sep 01 - 07:41 PM

Luke, what are your authorities that he really did live?


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,BigDaddy
Date: 05 Sep 01 - 01:35 AM

...on a lighter note, somewhere I have a "Little Golden Record" with "Casey Jones" on one side and "John Henry" on the flip side. The illustration on the paper jacket depicts a fanciful image of Casey Jones waving out the window of his engine with John Henry standing by the track waving back. "Little Golden Records" were childrens' 78 RPMs prevalent in the 1950s. How's that for mixing your mythic archetypes?


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Mark Clark
Date: 05 Sep 01 - 01:29 PM

Please correct me if I'm wrong but John Henry wan't a spike driver, he was a steel (or drill) driver. The long steel star dril was held horizontally by another man, called the shaker, who held the drill point against the rock face and gave it a little twist with each blow so the drill would't bind in the hole.

John Henry said to his shaker,
He said shaker you'd better pray,
Cause if I miss the drill with this nine pound hammer,
Tomorrow'll be your buryin' day, Lord, Lord,
Tomorrow'll be your buryin' day.

The shaker, using both hands, held the drill over one shoulder so that if the driver (John Henry) missed the drill, the hammer would likely strike the back of the shaker's head. When enough holes had been drilled, they were packed with explosive charges and the rock was blasted away. When the rubble was cleared, the drill team would begin drilling new holes deeper into the developing tunnel.

If John Henry's drill is still there stuck in the rock, it would have to be hanging horizontally out of a hole at the end of an unfinished tunnel about fifteen feet deep.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: IanC
Date: 06 Sep 01 - 05:26 AM

Mark

I think you'll find, if you read the sources, that the Shaker often held the steel between his thighs.

Cheers!
Ian


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Mark Clark
Date: 06 Sep 01 - 10:57 AM

Well that would make sense. I doubt they wanted all the blasting holes to be five feet off the ground. At any rate, if the tunnel was ever finished, John Henry's drill can't still be stuck in the last hole he made.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Dicho
Date: 06 Sep 01 - 02:01 PM

From the description, the drill could be only an exhibit.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,wlb@vaix.net
Date: 09 Sep 01 - 02:14 PM

To those who continue to search for "The Real John Henry" I think I know more about him than what is now published or suspected.

I live in a wood frame farm house (in Virginia) that I think that he built. This was long after his famous race with the steam drill. Though many parts of the puzzle that was his life, remain unknown, what I do know is a glorious extention of the origional folklore. It reflects the true strength of this man and his race. Not only should he be celebrated for his victory in that tunnel the day he beat the steam drill, but his victory over the tyranny to which he was origionally subjected.

Please contact me by email if any of you want to know more about this truly great black man. By the way, he was knowned to be very "light-skinned" this may have lead to the questions about his race by "witnesses" of the origional events.

wlb


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,TalcottMan
Date: 18 Sep 01 - 02:46 AM

Howdy, I was born and raised in Talcott, West Virginia. One mile from the big bend tunnels. My mothers people were there for generations. They all worked on the railroad.(Along with most men of the area). My grandfateher and uncles helped build Big Ben Tunnel and their father worked on Great Bend Tunnel(Later named that, it was the original big ben tunnel). Unlike some things I have read, Talcott was not a violent area at all. The crew often boxed and played baseball after working. And yes, John Henry was a real man. He didn't play the banjo, and he didn't sing baritone. He was a mute. No one knew his name, so he was called 'John Henry'. He was a large man and a strong worker. There were also two other black men on the crew. All three were worked to death building the tunnel. From what I was told, they were not treated in a very humane manner.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Dicho
Date: 18 Sep 01 - 11:26 AM

The myth goes on.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 20 Sep 01 - 05:45 PM

Mark Clark wrote:

"... At any rate, if the tunnel was ever finished, John Henry's drill can't still be stuck in the last hole he made."

(1) Sure it could, if the hole being drilled was for a contest held outside the construction area, which is where the drill was in 1930 (and may still be).

(2) Others have spoken of the horizontal angle at which the drill was held. My information is that it was held that way *sometimes*. Holes were drilled at all angles, from straight down to straight up and points in between. The early steam drills could only drill straight down. A contest between one of these and a hand driller would likely have involved straight down holes. The drill sticking in the rock outside the east portal of Oak Mountain Tunnel, Shelby County, AL, is in such a hole.


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Subject: John Henry
From: GUEST,Crystal
Date: 28 Sep 01 - 09:59 PM

When was john Henry Born? When Did he die? Where did he live? Do you know?


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,CRYSTAL
Date: 28 Sep 01 - 10:09 PM

Where did he live? when did he die? when was he born?


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: Andrew S
Date: 29 Sep 01 - 03:07 AM

If you listen to the lyrics of John Hurt's "Spike Driver's moan"

"This is the hammer that kill John Henry, Lord it won't kill me"

You realize that Hurt knew that this "hero" died working for "the man" and John Hurt didn't want the same kind of fate.


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 29 Sep 01 - 05:17 PM

"Crystal" asked some questions. I can now give some ***speculative*** (but not totally unsupported) answers.

"When was john Henry Born?"

ca 1860

"When Did he die?"

September 20, 1887

"Where did he live?"

Crystal Springs, Mississippi

"Do you know?"

Now, what kind of question is that?!


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Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 27 Nov 01 - 08:47 PM

I suspect that:

John Henry, b 1847-63, was a slave owned by Thomas Dabney at Burleigh Plantation, Dry Grove, MS. Thomas' nephew, Frederick Yeamans Dabney, b 1834-35, studied engineering at Rensallear and went into the railroad construction business before the Civil War. At the end of the war, he left the Confederate Army as a Captain, settled in Crystal Springs, MS (12 mi sse of Dry Grove), where he was universally called "Captain Dabney," and resumed his railroad construction business. John Henry took the name of his owner's family, Dabney, and joined Captain Dabney's crew as a laborer. At some point he learned steel driving.

In early 1887 (or possibly late 1886), John Henry joined Captain Dabney in the construction of the Columbus and Western RR, from Goodwater, AL, to Birmingham. It was tunneled through Oak and Coosa Mountains, just south of Leeds, AL. Captain Dabney was Chief Engineer for the C & W. John Henry worked on the construction of the tunnels as a steel driver.

In mid-1887 the Coosa Tunnel ran into problems. They hit a peculiar hard granite layer that was very difficult to drill. On this account, the opening of the C & W would be delayed for months.

Captain Dabney considered the use of a steam drill. An agent from New York came down to pitch his machine. When Captain Dabney said that he had a man who could beat the steam drill, the agent offered a one-sided bet. He was very confident that this could not be, and he was also anxious to demonstrate his machine and make a sale. He offered to give Captain Dabney the steam drill if Dabney's man could beat it.

Arrangements were made over the course of a few weeks. On Tuesday, September 20, 1887, a hot muggy day with threatening rain, the contestants met outside the east portal of Oak Mountain Tunnel for their all-day match. At the end of the day, John Henry collapsed in a dead faint. He was revived by water thrown on him, but he was blind and he thought he was dying. He called for his wife, who was summoned and came. "Have I beat that old steam drill?" he asked, as his wife cradled the dying man's head.

Indeed he had. He had made 27 1/2', the steam drill 21'. The agent lost his steam drill and Captain Dabney lost John Henry, his best steel driver ("Champion of the world," one contemporary said). The steam drill was put to work on Coosa Mountain Tunnel, but it was nonetheless delayed by 6 months. The line finally opened on July 1, 1888.

John Henry's wife, who had cooked for some of the men in the railroad camp, stayed with some of the crew in that capacity when they went to West Virginia to work on the Elkhorn Tunnel, which was also completed in 1888.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: BanjoRay
Date: 28 Nov 01 - 05:26 PM

That's a lot of material for a suspicion, Guest John. That looks like the result of a lot of research - do you have or will you produce a paper that contains all your sources, facts, deductions etc so the world can make it's mind up about who John Henry was and where the various tunnels in various states fit in. I, for one, would really like to know - being a truth addict, as well as someone who loves the song.

Cheers
Ray


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 29 Nov 01 - 05:37 PM

I was asked if a publication were planned.

I think that Tributaries: Journal of the Alabama Folklife Association, will probably publish an article, "Chasing John Henry in Alabama and Mississippi," in the spring of 2002. The primary facts are:

(1) In about 1927 C. C. Spencer sent Guy Johnson a very detailed story about John Henry.

(2) I have confirmed a number of details of Spencer's story.

(3) Spencer's story is also supported by other informants, not only the two others who wrote Johnson, but also a long and strong local tradition in the vicinity of Leeds, AL. Citizens there can take you to the spot where "John Henry fell dead."

(4) The scenario I gave in my post is Spencer's story, corrected and augmented by a few facts and considerable speculation.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,djc-mmc@prodigy.net
Date: 23 Dec 01 - 05:59 AM

I must agree with BanjoRay (28 Nov. 01) as to the necessity of information sources, facts, deductions and etc. so the world can make it's mind up about who John Henry was and where the various tunnels in various states fit in, because I am somewhat of a truth addict myself.

In fact I live in Leeds, AL and have recently read in "only" the area Leeds News that a local movie mogul named Jerry Voyles plans to make a movie/docudrama about the life and times of John Henry based on the research of Dr. John Garst that "John Henry was a real man, and not a fable that worked and died on the Oak Mountain Tunnel in the Dunnavant area of Leeds" where he battled the steam driver. I thought than a docudrama was based on some degree of fact?

So far based on the limited information (which is normal) reported in the Leeds News, I noted nothing more than hearsay, speculation, supposition and conjecture woven together with convoluted logic as to the relationship between Leeds, AL and the legend of John Henry. Recently these gentlemen (Garst and Voyles) stated to the Leeds city council that their proposed movie would "help put Leeds on the map".

I would hope that before some definitive movie was made as an issue of fact that some form of academic proof would be offered as evidence of the supposed conclusions with an opportunity of academic and/or legal rebuttal. Otherwise this supposed factorial movie/docudrama appears to be nothing more than an attempt to promote a tourist attraction….$$$$. After all there are other areas in the country, for whatever reasons, that have claimed a John Henry connection first.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: Dicho
Date: 23 Dec 01 - 01:43 PM

Guest djc, every time I see the word "docudrama," I run the other way. Most are speculation and nonsense, dressed up to appeal to the lowest common denominator in the public. Garst has endulged in much speculation in this thread, but has failed to put forth evidence to support his theories.
"Informants" were mentioned in his last post. A parallel situation is outlined in "Folk Songs of the South" by J. H. Cox, 1925, a respected folklorist of his day. The governor of West Virginia from 1893-1897, in a letter, said John Hardy was a "steel-driver and was famous in the beginning of the C & O Railroad. It was about 1872 that he was in this section." The letter goes on to describe his prowess. A Mr. Walker reported a "current belief" about John Hardy, working for a railroad contractor named Langhorn, working on the Big Bend Tunnel. The contractor on the other side of the tunnel had a steam drill. A wager was made that Hardy could drill a hole in less time than the steam drill. Hardy won but died. Some of the ballads, however, go on to describe a John Hardy who later became a gambler and murdered a man.
Cox wrote a thesis (Harvard Univ.) and an article with material "showing" that John Hardy was the steel driving man of the ballads. I haven't seen the thesis, but the material in the book on folk songs contains only information from "informants." This is another good story but several scholars have thrown cold water on it, as well.
To quote one of the best advertisements on TV recently, "Where's the beef?" I prefer the John Hardy tale, and could make a "docudrama" out of it as well.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 24 Dec 01 - 02:06 PM

The early confusion of John Hardy with John Henry was recently brought up here again. There are many reasons to believe that they were different people, one of which is that the "John Henry" song appears to have been extant before John Hardy's crime was committed.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: Dicho
Date: 24 Dec 01 - 02:57 PM

"appears to have been extant before" ?


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 24 Dec 01 - 03:21 PM

"appears to have been extant before"

Yes. Persistent and consistent testimony places "John Henry" around 1888, although a few informants claim it is older. I'm not at my office now, where I could check the date of John Hardy's hanging, but, as I recall, it was in the 1890s.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: Dicho
Date: 24 Dec 01 - 04:21 PM

John Hardy was hanged in 1894, long after his steel-driving days in the 1870s. Not pertinent to the story.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Dec 01 - 10:38 PM

"John Hardy was hanged in 1894, long after his steel-driving days in the 1870s. Not pertinent to the story."

Then he didn't die after beating a steam drill before 1894, did he?

There have always been a few informants who claimed that he beat a steam drill but did not then die. Such opinions, however, belong to a small minority. That doesn't make them wrong, but if JH didn't die from his effort in beating the steam drill, then what is the point of the legend?

C. C. Spencer claims to have seen him die. Another "Alabama" informant claims that her uncle was by his side when he died.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: Dicho
Date: 25 Dec 01 - 01:18 AM

All of this depends on which informants and what locale. The fact remains that there is no solid evidence to support either story.
John Hardy and "John Henry" may be two different people. (Some think there may be two John Hardys!)
More and more, I incline to the idea that the songs in all of their variants are composite, glorifying all of the the old steel drivers. I prefer the West Virginia origin, but that is only a personal inclination.
See post by Norm Cohen, author of "Long Steel Rail." Also posts by Barry Finn and Bruce O.
A folk song is generally legend, but based on some event or group of events, with a hero or heros increased to mythic proportions.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 25 Dec 01 - 09:03 PM

My belief that Dunnavant, AL, has a better claim on the historic John Henry than any other location is based on documented facts that agree with the story C. C. Spencer told Guy Johnson in the late 1920s. Here are some of Spencer's claims.

(1) He was a teenager working in Alabama on the construction of the Alabama Great Southern line in 1880-82. He carried water and tools for the laborers.

(2) He knew John Henry personally.

(3) He was an eye-witness to John Henry's contest with a steam drill, which occurred on September 20, 1882.

(4) John Henry drove steel at Cruzee Mountain.

(5) John Henry's last name was Dabner.

(6) He was born a slave on a Dabner plantation in Mississippi. He took the Dabner name from his slavery-time owners.

(7) He was from Holly Springs, MS.

(8) One of the contractors for whom he worked was named Dabner.

Two other "Alabama" informants placed John Henry at Cursey Mountain and Oak Mountain. One of these said that John Herny worked for a contractor named Dabney and a "Jamaica" informant said that he worked for a man named Dabner.

Here are some of the documented facts. As the man said, draw your own conclusions.

Oak and Coosa Mountains are about 16 miles east of Birmingham. They are parallel soutwest-to-northeast ridges, with Oak being north of Coosa by 2-3 miles. In 1887-88 the Columbus and Western (C & W) RR line was put through from Goodwater, AL, to Birmingham. Tunnels were put through Oak and Coosa mountains. Portal-to-portal the distance between Oak and Coosa Tunnels is almost exactly two miles.

The Chief Engineer, and the man in charge of construction, for the C & W was Captain (Civil War rank) Frederick Yeamans Dabney, born in VA but raised in Raymond, MS. Frederick's uncle Thomas Smith Gregory Dabney had owned a plantation, Burleigh, between Crystal Springs and Raymond, MS, with 154 slaves in 1860, several of whom are candidates to have been John Henry (right sex and approximate age, names not known). Captain Dabney maintained his family and official residence in Crystal Springs, MS, while he took temporary accomodations wherever his work in RR construction led him. In 1887-88 he stayed at the Florence Hotel in Birmingham.

Coosa Tunnel was a problem. In mid-1887 the tunnelers encountered a layer of rock that was very hard to drill and blast. The completion of the line was delayed by this difficulty by about 6 months (to July 1, 1888, instead of some time in late 1887).


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: Luke
Date: 26 Dec 01 - 08:46 AM

I wonder if he just had a broken heart. He saw his world changing and knew it was gonna be time to find some other means of employment. I think it's interesting that some of the greatest prime figures in mythology somehow die of a broken heart. What could be more tragic and romantic. Also it's a death that cannot be treated by medicine but only cured by one's own soul. This allows that it was a very personl matter going beyond the realm of mortal fixing. I believe that if he lived and died and did so in the course of events as told in the tale here. he has done so because of the repeated telling and building of the lore needed to inrich the listeners. That is good enough for a romantic non-scholar such as myself. I am thankful for either his life or non-so.

Luke


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 26 Dec 01 - 05:36 PM

FWIW:

From Chappell, John Henry, p 25.

Lee Holley, Tazewell, VA, reported in 1925:

"I've lived 'round here all my life. I've been acquainted with the camps in this section for forty or fifty years. I remember seeing John Hardy pretty often, and know all about him.

"He was ... 27 or 8 when he was hung at Welch over in McDowell County. He was with a gang of gamblers 'round the camps ... loafers and gamblers, [who] robbed the camps at night often after pay-day ... most of the gang got killed sooner or later.

"... I know John Hardy didn't drive steel in Big Bend Tunnel; he couldn't have because he wasn't old enough when it was built, and he didn't work anyway. He got his living gambling and robbing 'round the camps."


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 08 Jan 02 - 01:53 PM

The "two John Henrys" theory, which I believe is highly likely to be correct:

John Henry Martin was a highly reputed steel driver at Big Bend Tunnel, C & O RR, between Talcott and Hinton, WV, during its construction in 1870-72. He did not race a steam drill and his death was from "natural causes" many years later.

John Henry Dabney was a steel driver working on Coosa and Oak Tunnels, C & W RR, Dunnavant, AL in 1887. Steel-driving contests were popular recreational and betting events, and John Henry won all of those he entered. He raced a steam drill at Oak Tunnel, and won, but collapsed thereafter and died.

A ballad about JHD, which did not give his last name, was being sung in Georgia by 1888 and it was soon known in the Big Bend area. When it arrived there, people still remembered John Henry Martin and they began to associate him with the John Henry of the song, assigning to JH Martin the deeds of JH Dabney and localizing the ballad to "Big Bend Tunnel on the C & O Road."


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: NicoleC
Date: 08 Jan 02 - 04:12 PM

What a fascinating discussion. Just to throw in something purely speculative:

The countryside surrounding Birmingham, AL was not very impressive to me when I was there just recently -- mostly rolling hills. The mountains of WV make a very impressive locale for stories about backbreaking work, all steep slopes and small valleys. A couple of different versions I've heard call him an "East Virginian man" (Eastern West Virginia?) It seems possible to me that the WV locale would be more popular or more believable from a legendary point of view, and therefore better fodder for storytelling, regardless of his true origin.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 09 Jan 02 - 10:40 AM

"It seems possible to me that the WV locale would be more popular or more believable from a legendary point of view, and therefore better fodder for storytelling, regardless of his true origin." - Nicole Castle

I agree, and further Big Bend is a much longer, and much more famous, tunnel than Oak or Coosa.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Jan 02 - 11:24 AM

"A couple of different versions I've heard call him an 'East Virginian man' (Eastern West Virginia?)" - NicoleCastle

No. East Virginia is what we now call Virginia. Before the Civil War Virginia included what we now call West Virginia, but there was tension between the western mountain region and the eastern lowlanders. The latter made laws to suit their own interests and not those of the mountaineers. This came to a head during the Civil War, when many mountaineers were opposed to secession. West Virginia was formed, as a state, during the Civil War. For some time thereafter, the residue, which we now call Virginia, was spoken of as East Virginia, to distinguish it from West Virginia.

John Henry Dabney was a Mississippi man. John Henry Martin is said, by a man who claimed to have been his grandnephew, to have been from (East) Virginia.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: NicoleC
Date: 10 Jan 02 - 01:58 PM

Guest,

I'm a Virginian, with lots of family WV, so I'm well aware of the history of the states :) Although I do meet a lot of folks with some very strange ideas about it!

I have seen pre-C.W. diaries and such that refer to people from the eastern mountains as being from "eastern Virginia." I can only guess at the reasons for such a distinction, but the concept of being from eastern VA definately predates the secession of WV, doesn't necessarily mean that portion of the country we now call Virginia, and is probably a very subjective distinction.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, a lot of people -- especially rural mountain people along the border -- didn't know which state they were in according to a legal map. The 1870 census very markedly shows this confusion.

Of course, none of this really pinpoints where JH was born or even where the event took place. I think the MS/AL arguments are pretty good. But I also think it's a mistake to assume that people were as aware of arbitrary political boundaries then as we are now in an era of free maps and "Welcome to West Virginia" signs. This is not to presume a lack of interest or intelligence, but a reflection of a time when "where" was defined by your neighbors, your church, this or that side of the mountain, and the most convenient county courthouse.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 10 Jan 02 - 03:21 PM

"East Virginia" and "eastern Virginia" are a little bit different. For the post-Civil-War period, I'd bet on "East Virginia" as the designation of a state and "eastern Virginia" as pointing to a region within a state.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 17 Jan 02 - 05:14 PM

I've recently learned of a Leeds, AL, family that preserves stories of steel-driving contests at the time of the construction of the C&W there, 1887-88. Their ancestor, the original source of the stories, worked on the C&W construction as a mucker, whose job it is to haul off the rock debris after blasting. Steel-driving contests were recreational and, I would guess, betting events, similar to the contests of lumberjacks, log rolling, sawing, chopping, etc.

The family stories are not about "John Henry," and the members of the family have never connected the hero of their stories with John Henry, nor do they preserve any lore about a contest with a steam drill or the steel drivers' death.

They tell about "John." John was such a good steel driver that he won every contest he entered.

I think that this is valuable information because it shows no signs of being tainted by John Henry legends external to the family's experience.

I identify their "John" with John Henry Dabney, the legendary John Henry, and I regard their family lore as support for this identification.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: NicoleC
Date: 17 Jan 02 - 06:38 PM

Just playing devil's advocate --

Question: Would a man who wins all the local steel driving contests work as a mucker? Isn't the mucker a less-skilled, lower paying position? (Honestly, I don't know, and couldn't find the answer, but it makes some sense.)

Is there any genealogical proof that their John is John Henry Dabney? John is a very common name, but the late-1800's are pretty easy to document.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST
Date: 21 Jan 02 - 02:27 PM

I'm sure you're correct about muckers' and drivers' relative pay scales. "John" didn't work as a mucker, he was a steel driver. The ancestor of the family recalling "John" worked as a mucker.

There is no other evidence that their "John" is John Henry, but how many different men can win all of the steel-driving contests in a particular locale? F. P. Barker, of Birmingham, AL, writing in in the late '20s, place John Henry at Coosa Mountain, AL, in the 1880s and said that John Henry was the "champion of the world with a hammer." This fits with the story about "John."

"...the late-1800's are pretty easy to document." Wow! Have you tried finding documentation of particular ex-slaves in Alabama or Mississippi at that time? If you know how, please give me some tips.

The closest I've gotten is to find a Henry Dabney in Copiah County, MS, in the 1870 U.S. census. That's the right county, where Crystal Springs is. He was born in 1850, making him 37 years old in 1887. I think it possible that he could have been John Henry, but that's as far as I've gotten. I've also found from the 1860 U.S. census slave schedules that there were a number of John-Henry candidates (right sex, age) at Burleigh plantation, owned by Captain Frederick Dabney's uncle Thomas, and two more at Raymond, owned by Captain Dabney's father Augustine, but these records don't give names. I need to find the records of Burleigh Plantation itself and the papers of Thomas, Augustine, and Frederick Dabney, but I suspect that these no longer exist.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: NicoleC
Date: 21 Jan 02 - 04:42 PM

""...the late-1800's are pretty easy to document." Wow! Have you tried finding documentation of particular ex-slaves in Alabama or Mississippi at that time? If you know how, please give me some tips. "

To document the lineage of a particular family to that time period would be fairly easy, however to document a particular person out of the blue would be MUCH harder. In this case, documenting the genealogy of this family might point to clues as to their John's identity. I think it unlikely that their John is THE John Henry -- family tales are rarely accurate, but it's a lead and it might offer some light on the subject. Maybe it's not really their ancestor, but someone who lived nearby and later got claimed or confused to be their ancestor.

I'd be very careful to go backwards from the existing family to look for clues. The census' from 1880 onward are MUCH more useful, and it will help develop a pattern of the neighboring familes and who might be allied to whom. The 1880 census was pretty thorough, and didn't miss as many people as some of the earlier ones did. However, I think your best bet in researching a former-slave population is to dig into church records, which are more likely to be carefully kept and recorded than the official ones. Providing, of course, that their church kept records; not all of them had reliable access to a literate person to keep those records.

I haven't done any research in Alabama, but I have done a lot of research in rural farming communities, and they present a unique set of challenges, mostly because of the lack of reliable official records. I understand Alabama is particularly poor in this department. You really have to understand the whole local history and the ways families intermingled to nail down some of the harder subjects, simply researching one family doesn't seem to work.

I'd be happy to spare the other Catters the boredom of a genealogy research how-to discussion :) I may not know Alabama, but I do know a lot of places to look for info. Feel free to email me with specific research questions, and I will see what I can dig up as possible sources for you. Eventually, you may need to refer the question to a professional genealogist who specializes in the area and in African-American ancestry, but you should cover as many bases as you can before going that route, and keep it well documented so that nothing gets repeated. It's a tough field, but not impossible.

-Nicole nicolecastle@NOSPAM.prodigy.net (Take the "NOSPAM." out, of course.)


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 22 Jan 02 - 04:41 PM

For the record, the Leeds family does not claim to be descended from "John." They are descended from "John"'s mucker co-worker.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 18 Mar 02 - 05:54 AM

Here's a new thread adding fuel to the theories about John Henry

John Henry's Origin Solved?


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 05:27 PM

What caused the death of John Henry?

Here are some possible clues.

************** C. C. Spencer, who claimed to have been an eyewitness, said that JH collapsed at the end of the day (it was an all-day event) and was revived by throwing water on him, at which point he said, "Send for my wife. I am blind and dying." At least one collected version of "John Henry" (from Burl McPeak, Fords Branch, KY, obtained by Chappell) speaks of "the place where John Henry went blind."

Leon R. Harris' version (Johnson, 90-95) says

Sun shined hot an' burnin,' Wer'n't no breeze at-tall, Sweat ran down like watah down a hill, That day John Henry let his hammah fall.

and

John Henry, O, John Henry! Blood am runnin' red! Fall right down with his hammah to th' ground, Says, "I've beat him to th' bottom but I'm dead."

Onah L. Spencer's version (Johnson, 95-99) says

He broke a rib in his lef' han' side, And his intrels fell on the groun'.

J. D. Williams' version (Johnson, 103-105) says

He stretched out on the ground And said to his friends around, "And I was the best, but I am going home to rest, That steam hammer is done broke me down."

Several versions have John Henry saying, before he died, "I've got a mighty roaring in my head." Or something similar.

Many versions have JH saying, "Give me a cool drink of water 'fo I die."

W. A. Bates (Johnson, 118-119):

Till that hot summer day he died

Thomas Watkins (Johnson, 121-122):

W'en de sun commence to shine and de steam fall down

Jesse Sparks (Chappell, 111):

The rock it was so tall and John Henry so small He fell from his hammer and he died.

Sam Jones (Chappell, 112-113): "I'm going to my shanty number nine to take a lie down, Please take good care of my wife and child, Brother Bill, I did beat the steam drill down."

J. P. Jumper (Chappell, 113):

"I feel a pain in my heart, Before this steel drill shall beat me down, I'll hammer my poor self to death."

Sallie Flannery (Chappell, 113):

"I can feel my muscles giving way."

W. S. Barnett (Chappell, 114):

He drove so hard that he broke his heart, He laid down his hammer and he died.

Lubie Freeman (Chappell, 126):

But when the poor boy laid down and died

A few versions have JH being killed by his partner. One story says his captain killed him after they got back to Mississippi. ***************

I found a physician, Dr. Harris, who was willing to look over these items and comment. His finding: Most likely ventricular rupture - as the Barnett version says, "he broke his heart."

This came as a surprise to me. I had assumed that heat stroke was most likely. Dr. Harris thinks that ventricular rupture fits better, although it could have been the rupture of some other "great vessel." Ventricular rupture can follow a heart attack. As far as I can tell, it usually occurs in older people, and I think that John Henry was probably under 40, but perhaps the hard life of a black southern laborer and his likely grease-laden diet could have predisposed him. Further, many versions of the ballad tell how "Polly Ann drove steel like a man" while John Henry was sick. I'd always taken that to be a commentary on Polly Ann, or on John Henry's preferences in women, but now I wonder if the more significant aspect might be that John Henry had been sick. Perhaps he had had an earlier heart attack, from which he recovered, but with some dead tissue and a weakened heart. Then, perhaps days or a few weeks later, his great effort doomed him.

According to Dr. Harris, blindness could be a consequence of low blood pressure. A ventricular rupture could have put John Henry into "instant hypovolemic shock." Lying down could have partially restored his blood pressure, enough for him to speak. Dr. Harris thinks that John Henry bled out.

Barnett's version, quoted above, says John Henry "broke his heart." Jumper's version says he felt a pain in his heart - perhaps this was an earlier heart attack. Flannery's "I can feel my muscles giving way" describes weakness that could result. A perceived roaring sound is another symptom of low blood pressure.

Dr. Harris does not think that the story that "his intrels fell on the groun'" is realistic.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: Dicho
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 05:54 PM

Still piling speculation on speculation.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 06:12 PM

*From: Dicho *Date: 11-Apr-02 - 05:54 PM

*Still piling speculation on speculation.

Informed speculation, though.

When you get the real answers, let us know.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: Dicho
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 07:21 PM

You, too.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 07:52 PM

This really points out how John Henry and others like him might have benefitted from a diet low in cholesterol, and a regular exercise regimen that included both high and low impact aerobic exercising. No doubt swinging his hammer gave JH enormous upper-body strength and high lung capacity, but had he taken advantage of the dietary information readily at hand from the many asian railworkers who no doubt worked in close proximity to him and adopted a diet high in vegetables, protein, and long-chain sugars, his longevity could have extended his life well into his fifties or sixties. Then we might be singing

"Ah cain't give the grandkids no piggyback ride
'Cause dat hammer put arthritis in my back Lawd, Lawd
Dat hammer done put an achin' in my back"


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: Art Thieme
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 11:49 PM

When John H. was around they didn't have cholesterol, but if they'd had it, they would've fried it.

Art


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 23 Apr 02 - 01:57 AM

Art...LOL!


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 23 Apr 02 - 01:53 PM

The question arises, "What is speculation?" Is it anything that isn't documented? What type of documentation is necessary?

Suppose a witness says "xyz." Suppose that "yz" is independently documented. Is "x" then speculation?

I consider "x" in this case to be supported by evidence, albeit indirect.

This is the nature of the evidence that places John Henry in AL in 1887.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 24 Jun 02 - 11:27 AM

I think that my article,

"Chasing John Henry in Alabama and Mississippi"

has now appeared. It presents evidence and arguments supporting the hypothesis that John Henry raced a steam drill in Alabama, near Leeds, in 1887.

I haven't seen the journal itself, but I have received off-prints. It is in

Tributaries: Journal of the Alabama Folklife Association Issue No. 5 2002

The price printed on the back cover is $10, and the WWW site says there is a $2.50 postage and handling charge.

The Alabama Folklife Association 410 North Hull Street Montgomery, AL 36104 (334) 242-3601 FAX (334) 269-9098

Ordering instructions are given at

http://www.alabamafolklife.org/AFApublication.htm

and there appears to be an on-line, credit-card option. However, Issue No. 5 of Tributaries is not yet listed on this web page.

This issue also contains

The Life and Death of Pioneer Bluesman Butler "String Beans" May (Doug Seroff and Lynn Abbott)

Butler County Blues (Kevin Nutt)

Tracking Down a Legend: The "Jaybird" Coleman Story (James Patrick Cather)

A Life of the Blues (Willie Earl King, with photo essay by Axel Kustner)

Livingston, Alabama, Blues: The Significance of Vera Ward Hall (Jerrilyn McGregory)


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 15 Jul 02 - 04:30 PM

I've just learned that Tributaries, Vol V, containing my article, "Chasing John Henry," is not yet out. It is expected to be shipped from Canada to the Alabama Folklife Association on July 17, 2002. Assuming that this takes no more than a week, it should be available by the end of July.

Art Rosembaum pointed out to me a song published by Dorothy Scarborough in "On the Trail of Negro Folk Songs" (Harvard, 1925), p 221.

John Henry's Dead

John Henry's dead, And de las' words he said, "Never let your honey Have her way."

'Way back, 'way back, 'Way back in Alabama, 'way back.

(The two other verses are not about John Henry.)

This verse is often found as "Georgia Buck" (The Georgia buck is dead, And the last words he said....) Even so, the association here of John Henry with Alabama could be significant.

The version of "John Henry" published by Zora Neale Hurston in Mules and Men contains a reference to "Georgy skin." This points to the deep south (not West Virginia).

Individually, these are very weak points. Even so, they add to the dozen or so other features of various versions of "John Henry" that support Alabama over West Virginia as the scene of John Henry's race with a steam drill.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: Art Thieme
Date: 16 Jul 02 - 12:51 AM

Mr. Garst,

This is fascinating.

Art


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 11 Aug 02 - 01:57 PM

I have just read in Letitia Dabney Miller's memoirs (found in several libraries, but I consulted them at the McCain Library at the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg) that a slave named Henry was a boy in their family during the Civil War. Letitia was Captain Frederick Yeamans Dabney's youngest sibling. Thus, Henry belonged to Philip Augustine Lee Dabney, their father. This Henry could be the John Henry of legend. If so, Captain Dabney would have known him when he was a child. Captain Dabney would have been about 15 years older.

John Garst


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: Blues=Life
Date: 12 Aug 02 - 08:14 AM

Fascinating thread. Totally useless, but fascinating. You can "ivory tower" a song to death, you know. Did John Henry really exist? WHO CARES? It will not change the power of the song one iota. This song has lasted for years because it touches the listeners with true power, on a primal level. NOT because JH was a myth or a real person. Because we can identify with the good fight, and the underdog, and the victory, and the cost. Now I remember why I left academe:

"A man ain't nothing but a man." (I wish I had written that.)

"I am trying to find a fundamental difference between my speculation and other, more legitimate kinds of interpretation. The only distinction I can come up with is that the units/objects of analysis are, in my case, more abstract than in other cases." (Thank God, I didn't write this.)

Just sing the damn song.

Peace,

Blues


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 14 Aug 02 - 03:56 PM

I agree with "Blues=Life" that knowledge of the historical John Henry "will not change the power of the song one iota" and I appreciate the sentiment, "Just sing the damn song." I can't tell how many times I've seen some long-winded person get up to lead at a Sacred Harp singing and have their remarks terminated by a polite version of "Shut up and sing!"

John Henry is a powerful legend that stands on its on and will keep going no matter what. I've done quite a bit of wondering what the impact of firmly documenting John Henry in Alabama would be on the West Virginia people. In a way, it would rain on their parade, sort of. But if we recall that their investment is in the *legend,* not the facts, then finding John Henry in Alabama would be irrelevant to their celebrations. If that day comes, I surely hope they will see it that way. Also, as I've noted earlier, I suspect that they really did have their own John Henry, John Henry Martin, a noted steel driver at Big Bend. I don't think that he raced a steam drill, however.

None of these considerations deter me from pursuing the historical John Henry. It is a real challenge, and an interesting one, just the kind of thing you might design for a retired chemist to do.

Are you ready for some wholesale speculation?

Here're some facts.

I've known of Neal Pattman since about 1970, when he worked as a one-armed janitor at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education here on the campus of the University of Georgia, Athens. I didn't know then that he was a bluesman. When Art Rosenbaum joined our faculty in 1976 or '77, he started immediately digging up local traditional musicians, and he found Neal, blowing his harmonica and singing. Since then Neal has become pretty well known on the international blues scene.

I attended a Neal Pattman concert last night. As he said, he usually includes "John Henry" because it was the first song he ever learned from his father. As usual, his version is flexible. The weight of John Henry's hammer can vary from singing to singing as can the selection of verses. Neal always sings about driving "them steels" and not letting "another man beat my time" (rather than the "steam drill"). Anyhow, last night he included the verse about John Henry's woman/wife who "drove steel like a man" when John Henry was sick.

In most versions you hear nowadays, John Henry's woman/wife is "Polly Ann." In about 1927, however, Leon Harris, a collector of John Henryana from Moline, Illinois, stated that "Lucy" was the only name for John Henry's woman/wife that he had never heard in a "John Henry" song.

Both "Polly Ann" and "Lucy" strike me as likely commonplace replacements for an earlier, perhaps less "romantic" or singable name.

In addition to these, one finds among the 59 versions of the "John Henry" ballad collected and published by Guy Johnson and Louis Chappell the following names: Julie Ann, Mary Magdalene, Mary Ann, Ida Red, Sary Ann, Martha Ann. Last night Neal Pattman sang something like "Maggadee," maybe "Maggie D," perhaps? I'll try to find out from him what he thinks he sings.

Anyhow, if it's not "Maggie D" its something much like it.

Henry Dabney, black, b 1850 in Mississippi, married Margaret Foston on November 4, 1869, in Copiah County, Mississippi.

Speculation: "Maggie" was Margaret's nickname. To distinguish her from other "Maggies," she was called "Maggie D."

"Maggie D" appeared in the earliest versions of the "John Henry" ballad. Neal Pattman preserves it. Oral tradition led to changes like the following.

Maggie D -> Magdalene -> Mary Magdalene -> Mary Ann -> Polly Ann -> Julie Ann, Sary Ann, Martha Ann

"Ida Red" is likely a transfer from the song/fiddle tune of that name.

This adds a little bit to the plausibility that Henry Dabney was the historic John Henry.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: NicoleC
Date: 14 Aug 02 - 05:21 PM

On the name issue, common nicknames in the last century for Margaret include: Maggie, Marg, Margie, Peggy, Daisy, Meg, Midge, Peg, Peggy, Rita, Margery, Marge, Margie

"Magdalene" is another form of Margaret, and shares many of the same nicknames.

"Polly" was a common nickname for Mary

Someone named Mary Margaret or Mary Magdalene (both VERY common names for girls from about 1700 to 1950) could be referred to by most of those names listed above. Nor was it uncommon for record keepers to refer to the same person by different nicknames names on different documents. (And different spellings are ubiquitous.)

All of those names are so common, as is John, that it's hard to use them as evidence, though.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 15 Aug 02 - 03:31 PM

"All of those names are so common, as is John, that it's hard to use them as evidence, though." - Nicole

Yeah, it isn't, of itself, very strong evidence.

However, "Maggie D," if that what Neal sings, has special meaning, given that "Margaret Dabney" is the wife of record of Henry Dabney of Copiah County, MS.

Also, "Mary Magdalene" and "Maggie D" occur very rarely in the "John Henry" tradition. You might think that this would argue against "Margaret" as the original name. However, the oral ballad tradition is, I believe, follow a law much like Gresham's, "bad money drives out good." The "'Gresham's' ballad law" would be something like "bad facts drive out good," meaning that incorrect facts tend to replace correct ones. Part of what happens is that facts from lots of cases, which are woven into good lines, spread themselves out over all of the ballads.

Anyhow, the implication is that rare occurrences may be more likely to be correct than common ones, once a ballad has been transmitted through oral tradition for a while.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,RBH, sapengro@onebox.com
Date: 18 Aug 02 - 11:31 PM

I am really not interested in analyzing the man, the song, etc. to death. I am, however, interested in knowing whether or not the story is true (if that can be known), and only because of certain information that I recently found in doing my family genealogy.

I came to this site in search of information on John Henry and what I have found is of interest. However, I hope that after I have been dead for a hundred years, people that are not even of my acquaintence don't decide to move me to Alabama (with all due respect to Alabama).

For the record, noting the above discussion re: "Eastern" Virginia, although the area where the C&O tunnel is located (Summers County) is in West Virginia, it is an area which was almost entirely allied with "Eastern" Virginia and the Confederacy. The original proposal for the State of WV did not include several border counties, including Monroe, Greenbrier and Pocahontas. Summers County was not created until 1780, out of parts of Monroe, Greenbrier, Fayette and Mercer Counties. I believe that where the tunnel lies was within Monroe Co. from the time of its formation in 1799 until Summers was formed in 1870. So the area in question was "Eastern" in its politics, plantation economy, customs and allegiance. It was different in that it was a "small" plantation style system and the slave-holders generally had fewer acres in production, fewer slaves and they often worked side by side. Apparently, after emancipation many ex-slaves stayed in the community. This may be because it had not been ravaged by war (although economically devastated), in the small plantation system there was often a personal relationship between the slaveholders and slaves that persisted after emancipation (I am aware of many instances of this in the area). My point is that after emmancipation there was not a general exodus of the black population as there was in certain parts of the South, rather, they stayed, lived and worked.

I have numerous family lines in Monroe County (including what is now Summers. My great, grandfather was from a Plantation, which spanned the Greenbrier 4 miles north of the tunnel opening at Pence Springs. My great-grandmother was from a Plantation in the Indian Creek Valley. The plantation house, a big "white house" was 7.5 miles from the tunnel opening but the lands once ran very close to the Greenbrier River and to the tunnel.

In a codicil to my great, great, great grandfather's will, dated November 22, 1854, he made the following bequest to one of his daughters: "Secondly I desire that JOHN HENRY my yellow boy go to ------- -------- my daughter in lieu of Charles who is now dead.

Given that this John Henry was a boy in 1854, putting him in the correct age range, and living about 7 miles from where the tunnel was to be built 16 years later, and that his name is "John Henry," (not Henry or John, or rumored to have been)I had expected that I would have found this information had been made available and its merits discussed.

I had also heard that John Henry was said to have been light skinned. Although it appears that he has been, it also appears he has been said to be dark, white, etc. I am not sure what anyones take of that issue is.

Pardon my not disclosing the family names and the name of the daughter to whom John Henry was bequeathed, but I would really initially like to give this information, copy of the Will, etc. only ot someone who is a serious researcher. In case there is someone appropriate who is interested I will be as helpful as possible.

I realize that this might not pan out (i.e., not "The" John Henry), but after reading all of the posts, I think it is more compelling than 99% of the information out there.

Oh, one last thing -- the "White House." I don't know if it was CALLED the "White House," but the plantation house was a big, white house. I also know that it was not unusual post-emancipation in Monroe County for free, ex-slaves to continue to have burial "rights" in the burial grounds of their former masters. Many old Monroe families, black and white, still reside in Monroe and many have the same surnames. It is a place changed little by time.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 19 Aug 02 - 10:38 AM

GUEST,RBH, sapengro@onebox.com, writes:

******* In a codicil to my great, great, great grandfather's will, dated November 22, 1854, he made the following bequest to one of his daughters: "Secondly I desire that JOHN HENRY my yellow boy go to ------- -------- my daughter in lieu of Charles who is now dead."

Given that this John Henry was a boy in 1854, putting him in the correct age range, and living about 7 miles from where the tunnel was to be built 16 years later, and that his name is "John Henry," (not Henry or John, or rumored to have been) I had expected that I would have found this information had been made available and its merits discussed. *******

Information like this could be valuable, but until some further connection is made it is hard to know what to do with it. There is no shortage of men named "John Henry." As Uncle Beverly Standard put it to Guy Johnson (quoted from Johnson's book): "Which John Henry do you want to know about? I've known so many John Henrys."


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: RB Haynes
Date: 19 Aug 02 - 02:34 PM

*******Information like this could be valuable, but until some further connection is made it is hard to know what to do with it. There is no shortage of men named "John Henry." As Uncle Beverly Standard put it to Guy Johnson (quoted from Johnson's book): "Which John Henry do you want to know about? I've known so many John Henrys."*******

How much information is there about Afro-American men named John Henry of the correct age, living (and perhaps born) within "walking distance" of the C&0 tunnel project? What further connection needs to be "made" before something further is done with it?

Pardon me if I am wrong, but I don't think we are talking about "John Henrys" of Finnish extraction living in Nome, Alaska in 1923.

As a subset of all the John Henrys, I would think that a man of the right race, right age in the right place at the right time would be a very small subset, especially given that the population of the area was (at the time) and continues to be small.

The Will names other slaves who were likely family members. Again, many families of freed slaves remain in the area and may have knowledge through oral history, etc.

When I started family research in Monroe, I did not expect to find much, but again, so little has changed and so many peoples families have been there continuously since the 1700s, that I found an amazing amount of oral history, original documents, buildings, etc.

Again, any serious John Henry researchers out there?


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: NicoleC
Date: 19 Aug 02 - 03:21 PM

RB, John has been posting a considerable amount of research on this topic to this forum for over a year, and has published an article outlining his arguments in more detail. I'd consider his work "serious research," but you may want to review his published work before you make up your mind. (See above for details on how to get one.)

Personally, I'm rooting for WV :) But I really feel that the story of John Henry is probably fiction or mostly fiction, but a great song. Man/animal vs. machine was a common theme of the era, and it still resonates with us today.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: RB Haynes
Date: 19 Aug 02 - 03:58 PM

Nicole, I was just responding to what seemed an extraordinarily quick dismissal of this possibly relevant information, and was sensing (perhaps incorrectly) what seemed like an agenda overriding the natural scientific curiousity which I would have anticipated. In any case, I believe I have found professional interest elsewhere and will post again if anything comes of it.

Thanks for the feedback! RBH


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 20 Aug 02 - 02:05 PM

"As a subset of all the John Henrys, I would think that a man of the right race, right age in the right place at the right time would be a very small subset, especially given that the population of the area was (at the time) and continues to be small...

"Nicole, I was just responding to what seemed an extraordinarily quick dismissal of this possibly relevant information, and was sensing (perhaps incorrectly) what seemed like an agenda overriding the natural scientific curiousity which I would have anticipated. In any case, I believe I have found professional interest elsewhere and will post again if anything comes of it." - RB Haynes

I do not rely, for information on the frequency of the name, "John Henry," on the quotation that I gave earlier, from Uncle Beverly Standard. However, Uncle Beverly lived in the Big Bend Community and was speaking largely of "John Henry"'s "of the right race, right age in the right place at the right time."

As I see it, the chances are slim that the particular John Henry for which RB has information is the legendary John Henry. Even so, it remains possible, and every lead that is followed up to some conclusion is a significant contribution to knowledge of the subject, even when the result is negative.

RB should follow his lead, and I would be as pleased as anyone if it should prove out.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST
Date: 21 Aug 02 - 03:08 PM

RB Haynes

RB,

If you have not already done so, I suggest that you contact Scott Nelson with your John Henry information. Scott is a history professor at the College of William and Mary. He has suggested that the "white house" of some versions of "John Henry" refers to a building at the Richmon Pen. He maintains a special interest in John Henry at Big Bend and continues to work on this subject. He might receive your information with more enthusiasm than me.

Contact information can be found at http://history.wm.edu/srnels.html

I find Scott's suggestion about the "white house" to be reasonable - I've seen such a reference in at least one other song text (not "John Henry") in which it is clear that a penitentiary is meant. However, I suspect that this is an intrusion into "John Henry" from that other song, or another one yet, and not something of historic significance in connection with John Henry.

As you can construe from my other posts here, I strongly suspect that the further pursuit of the legendary John Henry at Big Bend will not be fruitful. I believe that the data of Guy Johnson and Louis Chappell come close to ruling out the possibity that John Henry did his thing at Big Bend. This does not correspond, of course, to their conclusions, but my reading of the data in their books leads me to the position that their data do not support their conclusions, which represent wishful thinking.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 21 Aug 02 - 05:08 PM

RB Haynes

RB,

You should also contact wlb@vaix.net, who contributed at least one message to this forum. He knows something about a John Henry in the Big Bend area. It could be that your information matches up with his.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,garst@chem.uga.edu
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 01:37 PM

A synopsis of my recent (2002) Tributaries article has been posted on the John Henry pages at

http://www.ibiblio.org/john_henry/index.html

It summarizes what I consider to be the most important evidence, but it is much less complete than the article itself.

An 1895 photograph of Coosa Mountain Tunnel is also posted (taken from my article) and a 1930 photograph of "John Henry's last steel drill," sticking up in the rock outside the east portal of Oak Mountain Tunnel, will probably be posted there late next week, about August 30 or so, 2002.


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 10:49 AM

Part two started by Art at Origins of John Henry - Part 2


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Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
From: GUEST,Rebecca
Date: 02 Apr 03 - 08:29 PM

Hey you never answered my question on what kind of things sailors had to have and/or do on a boat.


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Subject: RE: Origins: John Henry
From: GUEST,coosa tunnel
Date: 01 Sep 05 - 02:10 PM

i live in leeds alabama, where is this tunnel?


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Subject: RE: Origins: John Henry
From: Q
Date: 01 Sep 05 - 03:21 PM

Shelby County, *Norfolk Southern RR, 15 miles east of Birmingham, built in 1895.
* old C & W


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Subject: RE: Origins: John Henry
From: GUEST,Don C resident of Leeds, Alabama
Date: 10 Sep 06 - 04:26 AM

It's been a while (3 years), since I first expressed my opinions on this subject; but I see in some recent articles in the B'ham News (09/03/06) and the Leeds News (09/07/06) that the "alleged" Leeds connection to the legend of John Henry is making a return engagement. The subject of John Henry initially appeared to some wishful thinking folks in Leeds several years ago in the form of a potential movie, tourist moneymaker (Talcott, WV was making tourist $$$) and it was something that "would put the city of Leeds on the map."   The current John Henry in Leeds connection is to be portrayed as a future significant historical event (All-star movie to follow). Its interesting to note that contrary to modern thought, neither history nor truth have any direct relationship to the proposed "John Henry Days" event; or at least in Leeds they don't. It appears that in Leeds you are free to create your history as you need it; forget about any truth or facts, bring on the fiction. All you need to do is officially declare a historical occasion based on some half-truths, convoluted suppositions and hearsay; provide some entertainment and games, invite some vendors and you are in business…let the tourist money roll in. The bases for any particular historical event does not have to be real, factual or actually have ever existed.

Oh well, you create your fun however you can and I suspect the city needs all the revenue it can collect from whatever sources, after all it has been extremely successful at going into mega-debt in anticipation of the "sometime" in the future Bass Pro Shop. At this rate I would expect that there would be a grand opening of "John Henry Land" before the grand opening of the BPS. If you build it, they (the suckers) will come.


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Subject: RE: Origins: John Henry
From: Q
Date: 10 Sep 06 - 01:45 PM

With Rummy, Chummy and Dummy providing the example, 'creative' history is becoming the norm.


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