The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #4018 Message #520100
Posted By: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
02-Aug-01 - 08:39 PM
Thread Name: Origins: John Henry
Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
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.