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.