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Origin Of John Henry--part TWO

DigiTrad:
HENRY THE ACCOUNTANT
JOHN HENRY
JOHN HENRY 2


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GUEST,John Garst 14 Dec 14 - 03:24 PM
GUEST 11 Apr 14 - 10:45 AM
GUEST,John Garst 05 Apr 14 - 02:31 PM
GUEST,John Garst 23 Jan 13 - 05:13 PM
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GUEST,John Garst 14 Jan 13 - 01:57 PM
GUEST,Carl Ellis 14 Jan 13 - 03:35 AM
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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 14 Dec 14 - 03:24 PM


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Apr 14 - 10:45 AM

Heads up:

On BALLAD-L, Jim Hauser has pointed to many versions of "John Henry" in which he resists, rebels, or complains in his statements to the Captain.

Therefore John Henry can be seen as a "rebel."


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 05 Apr 14 - 02:31 PM

My book on John Henry is finished, but I have not yet found a publisher.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 23 Jan 13 - 05:13 PM

Norm Cohen and Brett Williams, in their books (*Long Steel Rail* and *John Henry: A Bio-Bibliography*) argue against the job-saving interpretation because it is "too narrow" (Cohen) and because the story is really one of a "family tragedy" (Williams).

"For each John Henry left unemployed there will be a job for a steam-drill operator—not to mention for the factory worker who makes the steam drill and the mechanic who repairs it … The tragedy is not that the old ways of performing tasks are superannuated by newer ones, but that society finds it more convenient to discharge the old laborer than retrain him, or at least retire him in dignity." (Cohen, pp 74-75)

"It is this family context that gives John Henry his human dignity and complexity, renders his most profound statement, "A man ain't nothin' but a man," so proud and sad, and makes fictional parodies of him so often offensive. The song is a wonderful reaffirmation of the worth of a human life—a worker's in a workplace which denies it, a black man's in a context reminiscent of slavery, a southerner's during a time of bitter humiliation and drastic change—and, ultimately, of every ordinary person who through dignity and strength of will can be great. The ballad not only praises John Henry's courage and skill, but it also reminds us that the details of his personal life matter. Like all of us, he is a member of a family." (Williams, p 124)

To David Mamet, "the meaning of the song was not that he won but that he died—that the one person capable of defeating the machine is no more. The song, seemingly a paean to resistance, is, I think, more an assertion of its uselessness—'The hero died in the attempts; what do you think you could do?" (*Jafsie and John Henry*, pp 131-32)

These and similar interpretations are views of the *legend*, not of the historical John Henry. John Henry Dabney was earning his living, getting paid a little more than the typical dollar a day for black laborers in Alabama in 1887. Captain Fred Y. Dabney bet a steam-drill salesman that John Henry could beat his machine, and he offered John Henry fifty dollars and a new suit if he did it. John Henry's motives were simple: (1) to win prizes, (2) to win a steam drill for the Captain, (3) to live up to the Captain's boast, and (4) to justify his own pride.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 15 Jan 13 - 04:07 PM

It is commonly asserted that John Henry was trying to save his job and those of his fellow steel drivers by showing that he was better than the steam drill.

Where did this idea first appear?

I have not found it in any of the early songs or studies.

Thanks,

John


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 14 Jan 13 - 01:57 PM

Thanks for the thoughts, Carl.

Yes, that's a nice way to get Polly Ann from Margaret, through Peggy Ann, but it does not account for the occurrence of "Maggadee/Maggie D" and "Mary Magdalene," which have actually been collected. To my knowledge, "Peggy" and "Peggy Ann" have never been collected.

I suspect that there were Isbell and Howard houses in the area at the time. I have talked with some Isbells and Howards but not about white houses.

I had not thought of "white's house." It is not immediately obvious to me how I could pursue that idea.

I think that singers and hearers of "white house" immediately think "White House" and that that makes the "white house/White House" stanza attractive enough to be preserved in tradition, but a literal interpretation, that they took John Henry to the White House, is fanciful. I doubt that the white house in the song was originally a reference to the White House. Unfortunately, there too many white houses around to allow a reference to one to have much value as evidence.

I take it that you are from the Dunnavant area. Do you live there now?

Thanks,

John


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,Carl Ellis
Date: 14 Jan 13 - 03:35 AM

A little pure speculation from the unqualified, for your consideration -

"John Henry had a little woman -
"Name was Peggy, an'
"When John Henry was sick,
"An a-laying in bed,
"Peggy drove steel, like a man, Lord,
"Peggy drove steel, like a man."

Possible example of a missing link between the hypothesized Margaret and Polly-Ann? And -

"Well they took John Henry to the white(s') house,
"Buried him 'neath the sand,"
&c.

If they had taken a dead or dying black laborer to a white
peoples' house, for care/reviving-if-possible, whatever, it would surely have been remarkable enough to make it into the song. If he was a champion driller and/or friend of his captain I suppose it might not have been unthinkable. Any Isabell or Howard houses in the area at the time?

I always supposed The White House was just thrown in to imply that John Henry was such an awful feller that the U.S. President would take note of his passing, but if you're trying to link it to something less fanciful, seems to me the sense "the whites' house", later losing the 's' if it even had one originally, would be an obvious candidate for consideration.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 13 Jan 13 - 04:13 PM

Contact information can be sent to me privately at

garst@uga.edu


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 13 Jan 13 - 01:39 PM

The first post in the thread, *Origins: John Henry*, was by Peter Turner on February 12, 1998.

If anyone has contact information for him, I would appreciate getting it.

Thanks.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 11 Jan 13 - 04:52 PM

On Furry Lewis' 1929 recording, he doesn't give a name for John Henry's wife/woman.

On his Shake 'Em On Down album (1961), he gives "Neva Lee" as John Henry's wife.

On his Blue Horizons Sessions (1968), he gives "Neva Lee" as John Henry's woman.

On his Fourth and Beale album (1969), he gives "Polly Ann" as John Henry's woman.

On his Party! At Home album (2001), he doesn't give a name.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 07 Dec 12 - 05:21 PM

Earlier I wrote that Furry Lewis gave John Henry's woman as "Nella Lee." Listening to Blues Masters Vol. 5, recorded July 21, 1968, at Ardent Studios, Memphis, Tennessee, I hear the name as "Neva Lee."


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST
Date: 30 Oct 12 - 05:18 PM

Try this for a scary portrait of steel driving.

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/earlyphotos/b/largeimage54051.html


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 25 Jun 12 - 03:39 PM

I have filled eleven pages with evidence for John Henry in Alabama in 1887. This is evidence only, not arguments, which will follow the evidence itself. After I finish, I think I will have to redo it all.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 02 Jan 12 - 06:52 PM

I've been thinking a lot about how to present my arguments. Johnson and Chappell considered all the evidence at their disposal but offered no arguments. They simply stated their conclusions. Leach judged the quality of their evidence to be poor, offered some scraps from Jamaica, and allowed that Jamaica might have been the John Henry site. Nelson suffered extreme confirmation bias by considering only evidence that, in his view, supported John Henry at Lewis Tunnel in Virginia. I think that all of these studies are seriously flawed, and I don't want to emulate any of them.

One obvious logical principle is that *all* of the available evidence must be considered. There is a great deal of it, so this quickly leads to a complicated presentation, even though the final conclusion may be clear cut.

I think I've found a short cut. For WV, Jamaica, or VA, consider only the evidence that supports that site. In other words, construct the best-case scenario for each site. Perhaps the evidence does not discriminate between that site and others, even in the best-case scenario. If this were true, then WV, Jamaica, and VA would not merit further consideration. I believe that it *is* true.

WV: C. S. "Neal" Miller testified that he witnessed John Henry's contest with a steam drill at Big Bend Tunnel in 1870. Census records show that he did not live near Big Bend Tunnel in 1870, that he was 7-8 years old, and that he attended school. Miller's testimony is a fabrication. The testimonies of other men who claimed to have worked on Big Bend Tunnel during its construction are indirect and highly contradictory. About 40% of versions of the ballad "John Henry" published by 1933 place JH at Big Bend Tunnel, on the C & O RR, or both. Steam drills were not used in boring Big Bend Tunnel, but one could have been brought there for a trial, part of which could have been a contest with JH.

Is this evidence plausible, given that JH *was* at Big Bend Tunnel?
Yes.
Is this evidence plausible, given that JH was *not* at Big Bend Tunnel?
Yes. Contradictory testimonies do not depend on whether or not JH was at Big Bend Tunnel. Relocalization is so common in folksong that places they give are not reliable.

The evidence that is alleged to support the hypothesis that John Henry was at Big Bend Tunnel, Summers County, WV, does not discriminate between that hypothesis and others.

Jamaica: A few song fragments mention John Henry, and there is testimony that he died while working there on a road or railroad in 1894-96.

Is this evidence plausible, given that JH *was* in Jamaica?
Yes.
Is this evidence plausible, given that JH was *not* in Jamaica?
Yes. The tradition could have been taken from the US to Jamaica by laborers. Indeed, this is highly likely. Further, there is testimony that the ballad "John Henry" was known before 1894.

The evidence that is alleged to support the hypothesis that John Henry was in Jamaica does not discriminate between that hypothesis and others.

VA: A John William Henry was a convict in the Virginia Penitentiary who was leased to work on the C & O RR. He then disappeared from the records. A stanza of the ballad "John Henry," found occasionally, states that he was taken to the "white house" and buried "in the sand" where locomotives pass by. At Virginia Penitentiary there was a white workhouse and a mass grave with a nearby railroad. Steam drills were used in boring the C & O's Lewis Tunnel in Virginia. The hypothesis is that John William Henry was a steel driver who raced a steam drill and died at Lewis Tunnel, thereby giving rise to the legend. No song or legend places JH at Lewis Tunnel.

Is this evidence plausible, given that JH *was* a steel driver who raced a steam drill at Lewis Tunnel?
Yes.
Is this evidence plausible, given that JH was *not* a steel driver who raced a steam drill at Lewis Tunnel?
Yes. Men named "John Henry," white houses, sand, and railroads are all common enough for the observed correspondences with a stanza of the ballad to be pure coincidence. There is no evidence that John W. Henry was a steel driver, that he was ever at Lewis Tunnel, or that he died there.

The evidence that is alleged to support the hypothesis that John Henry was at Lewis Tunnel in Virginia does not discriminate between that hypothesis and others.

Before any evidence is considered, all tunnels that were bored in the South between between the Civil War and about 1888, when the ballad appeared, have equal probabilities of being the John Henry tunnel. I don't know exactly how many there were, but I'm sure there were at least 100, probably many more. Thus, the "prior probability" that JH was at Big Bend or Lewis Tunnel is no greater than 0.01. Since the evidence, in the best-case scenarios, does not discriminate between these and other sites, this evidence, after being considered, leaves the probabilities of Big Bend and Lewis Tunnels at their prior value, 0.01 or less. The prior probability for Jamaica is even smaller, and it, too, is left unchanged by consideration of the evidence that is alleged to support it.

As JH sites, Big Bend Tunnel, Jamaica, and Lewis Tunnel can be dismissed for lack of evidence.

Only one site that has been seriously considered remains: a tunnel at Dunnavant, Alabama. In that case, the evidence is more complex.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 22 Dec 11 - 03:31 PM

WV Hypothesis:
John Henry raced a steam drill and died at Big Bend Tunnel, on the C & O, in Summers County, WV, ca 1871 (1870-72).

Weak Test:
Given the WV hypothesis, is all if the John Henry evidence plausible?

The frequent appearances of Big Bend Tunnel and the C & O in versions of "John Henry" are plausible.

The Virginia evidence, such as it is, is plausible. Men named "John Henry," white houses, railroads, and steam drills were all commonplace. They need not have had anything to do with the John Henry of tradition.

The Jamaica evidence is plausible. The tradition came there from the USA.

The observed testimonial disagreements between men who had worked at Big Bend Tunnel and who had been in a position to know whether or not John Henry had been there are *not* plausible.

The Alabama evidence is *not* plausible. It is too coherent and the names involved are too rare for it to have arisen without a basis.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 03:02 PM

On the logic of evidence:

Two tests of a hypothesis against an item of evidence, several items, or all of the evidence.

Weak Test
Given the hypothesis, is the evidence plausible?
(The hypothesis passes the test if the answer is "Yes.")

Strong Test
Given the negation of the hypothesis ("not hypothesis"), is the evidence plausible?
(The hypothesis passes the test if the answer is "No.")

Serious hypotheses made by serious and qualified individuals will always pass the weak test against the evidence that was available at the time the hypothesis was put forth, provided that all of the evidence was considered. This is why the test is weak.

On the other hand, hypothesis framed on the basis of *part* of the available evidence, or before new evidence was found, and hypotheses of incompetents or crackpots may fail the Weak Test.

Given a hypothesis that passes the Weak Test, the Strong Test discriminates between hypothesis and not hypothesis.

The best situation is that a hypothesis passes both the Weak and Strong Tests.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 14 Oct 11 - 10:41 AM

I hate it, too, and there are still some peculiarities.

"Page" is a Burleigh Plantation slave surname. According to Susan Dabney Smedes, one of Thomas Dabney's daughters, slaves there had surnames. George Page is the best documented, being the personal body servant of Thomas Dabney.

No surnames for Augustine Dabney's slaves are mentioned in any of the three memoirs left by his children, Mary Dabney Ware, Thomas Gregory Dabney, and Letitia Dabney Miller. Augustine's slave boy Henry, however, spent considerable time in the company of Thomas' 150-odd slaves. It may be that he admired George Page and later took his surname. However, it may also be that the Henry Page whose young (19) wife cooked for Augustine Dabney in 1870 was *not* the Henry of Letitia Dabney's memoir but instead one of Thomas' ex-slaves.

However, the ages of Letitia's Henry and of Henry Page match well, and Letitia describes Henry as still working for the family in 1866.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: Lighter
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 08:00 PM

John, I hate when that happens.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 07:30 PM

One of my pet hypotheses has bit the dust.

Letitia Dabney, Fred's youngest sister, left a memoir in which mentions the family's loyal slave, "Henry." According to Letitia, Henry was born ca 1844.

The dead hypothesis is that this Henry took the surname "Dabney" after the Civil War, moved to Copiah County, where Captain Fred Dabney lived by 1880, and became the legendary steel-driving man.

I now realize that Letitia's "Henry" is probably the "Henry Page," 26, who was in the Augustine Dabney household in Raymond, Mississippi, in the 1870 census. Unless he changed his name or Spencer erred, he cannot be the "John Henry Dabner" described by Charles C. Spencer as the steel-driving man.

Thus, I cannot argue that Captain Dabney became close to John Henry as John Henry grew up in the Augustine Dabney household in Raymond.

This still leaves the Henry Dabney/Dabner (1870, 1880 censuses) of Copiah County as a candidate for the steel-driving man. This man was probably one of Thomas Dabney's 150-odd slaves at Burleigh Plantation. Fred Dabney was often there, so he probably knew many of Thomas' slaves. Indeed, in 1870 Fred is enumerated as living at or near Burleigh.

Thus, it is still possible that Fred Dabney knew John Henry Dabney in Copiah County, Mississippi, well before the boring of Coosa and Oak Tunnels for the C & W (C of G) at Dunnavant, Alabama, in 1887-88.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 30 Jun 11 - 05:02 PM

In 1927 Charles C. Spencer, an African American living in Salt Lake City, Utah, sent Guy Johnson two long letters detailing his witnessing of John Henry's contest and death in Alabama. Slowly, and with much assistance, I've been finding out more about Spencer. I believe that some of it is relevant to the transmission of the legend.

1870 Born John Matthews, 05Dec, at Spencer's Store, Henry County, Virginia*
1879 (fall)-1880 (01Jun) Father, Houston Matthews, died
1880 "At school," but did not read or write
1881 Mother remarried, 15Dec, to Jake Watkins
1887 20Sep Carrying water and tools for steel drivers on the C & W
    including John Henry Dabney
    at Coosa Mountain Tunnel, Dunnavant, Shelby County, AL
    "under the care of a white man, the young Master of my people"
    Saw John Henry's contest and death
    Knew a great deal about John Henry
1887 (late) or ca 1888 Went with crew, including John Henry's wife,
       to Mercer and McDowell Counties, WV, to work
       in the Elkhorn Tunnel (original, not present-day)
1888+ Worked with John Hardy in McDowell County, WV
1894 19Jan Witnessed hanging of John Hardy at Welch, McDowell County, WV
1900 Coal miner in Bell County, Kentucky
    Known as "Charles C. Spencer" by now and for rest of life
    Single
    Could read and write
1910 Hod carrier in Denver, CO
    Married to Lucile since ca 1901
    Elected first-degree minister, Second Church of the Brethren, Denver
    Second Church was a "Negro mission"
1915 (ca) Now second-degree minister and pastor, Second Church
1920 Coal miner in Mohrland, Emery County, Utah
    Non-union, a scab
    Still married to Lucile
1922 24Dec Shot and killed Pleasant Jackson during card game
1923 20Feb Began serving life term at Utah State Prison, Salt Lake City
    Known as "Sugar House" prison
1926 20Nov Sentence commuted to five years
1928 18Feb Released from prison
1930 Boarding in Salt Lake City
    Landlady: Lula V. Stevens
    "Crane man" in a factory
    Probably Griffin Wheel Company, where he later worked
    Still married but not living with Lucile
1932 Becomes pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Salt Lake City
    Preaches many sermons and funerals
    Active in NAACP
1935 (ca) Marries Lula V. Stevens
1937 Establishes free employment bureau for African Americans
       in Salt Lake City
1940 Lula V. Stevens Spencer dies
1941 (late) Steps down as pastor of Calvary Baptist
    Continues work at Griffin Wheel
1944 21Apr Charles C. Spencer dies, age 73+

Surely Spencer and the rest of his crew told John Henry's story often while they were in West Virginia. This is a plausible way for the legend to have arrived there. Relocalization could have converted "C & W" and/or "C of G" to "C & O" and attached the legend to Big Bend Tunnel.

Note that what is being discussed here is the legend, not the ballad. To an extent, they overlap, but by the time they were being collected the ballad had lost details that the legend maintained, such as Coosa ("Cruzee"/"Cursey") Mountain, John Henry's surname, and the name of the "Captain" (both "Dabney").

In 1934 Elbert McDonald, of Bell County, Kentucky, published a John Henry tale that places him there when he died, but also calls him a "tall, gaunt, Alabama negro," "the most powerful steel driver of the crew," who "had never tasted defeat." There is the usual contest and collapse, then John Henry's "foreman" "gathered John Henry close to his bosom" as "tears were streaming down his face." John Henry died in his arms. Spencer, who was in Bell County in 1900, is a logical person to have planted the seeds of this tale, which correctly associates John Henry with Alabama and notes a close personal relationship between John Henry and his boss, really
Captain Fred Y. Dabney, whose father had probably owned John Henry before the Civil War.

Some versions of "John Henry" ballads and work songs mention Colorado. Spencer was in Denver by 1910 and stayed until ca 1916. Letters or other communications with home folks could have planted the Colorado seed.

Spencer was very active in Salt Lake City from 1928 to 1944. He must have told his John Henry story there many times. Even so, I am not aware of a Salt Lake City John Henry tradition. If somebody on the list lives there, it might be worth trying to track down African Americans who might still recall the story. The place to begin would be with elderly members of Calvary Baptist Church, now pastored by the Rev. France A. Davis, a vigorous and accomplished many who has been very helpful to me and to whom I am grateful. The members in question should be those whose families have a history at Calvary Baptist that goes back at least to 1940, preferably to ca 1930.

Why did John Matthews change his name to Charles C. Spencer?

His father, Houston Matthews, died young, at about age 36, when his son John was nine or ten years old.# I do not know how he died. Perhaps it was ignominiously, such that John could not bear the disgrace of his surname. Perhaps he chose not to accept his stepfather's name, Watkins, either. For all we know, Jake Watkins might not have been too happy at having an 11-year-old stepson. It is hard to say, but perhaps there was a Charles Spencer whom John Matthews admired. There have been plenty of them, some of them from Henry County, Virginia. I don't know what the second "C" in "C. C. Spencer" stood for, but I guess that it might have been "Clanton," the surname of his maternal grandparents.

My next task is to make an effort, perhaps a small one, given that I feel time pressure, to find out how Houston Matthews died.

By the way, there seems to be no lack of historians and historical
accounts of Henry County, VA. I need to find some way to use them well and efficiently. One of my most recent resources has been Beverly R. Millner, an African American man who has plumbed the depths of the 1866 Cohabitation Register for Henry County and other documents and produced a gorgeous book, *Something to Build On: Genealogy of African American Families of Henry County Virginia and Surrounding Area with Surnames "A-Z"* (2006?), as well as other genealogical books on Henry County. I am grateful to him.

See http://www.myspace.com/something_to_build_on .

*I had concluded from circumstantial evidence that John Matthews, of the 1880 census, Henry County, Virginia, was probably Charles C. Spencer, but Bev Millner found documents that make this very clear. Perhaps the most important items are that the identified Jane Matthews as the former Jane Clanton, a daughter of ex-slave Louisa Clanton. This explains an error on Spencer's death certificate, where his mother is give as "Louise Clayton." Louisa Clanton was not his mother but his grandmother. The informant for the death certificate was Spencer's stepdaughter's husband, who was able to give a remarkable amount of correct information about Spencer's origin, but he erred on this point.

#Since I wrote the above, Cliff Ocheltree has discovered a record stating that "Hairston Mathews" (wife Jane) died on 07Nov1879. It is clear that this is Houston Matthews. Thanks, Cliff.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 19 May 11 - 07:27 PM

Go here an click on "The Legend of John Henry" for someone's idea of what John Henry was about. This is what happens when literary types get hold of folklore. Another example, which probably inspired this one, was provided by Roark Bradford, who wrote a 1931 novel and a 1939 (as I recall) play about John Henry.


http://www.archive.org/details/DestinationFreedom


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 08 May 11 - 06:28 PM

The Rev. Charles C. Spencer is said to have become the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1932. In 1937 he "established and directed a free employment bureau for Salt Lake Negroes."

http://www.kued.org/productions/voices/articles/calvary.htm


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 04 May 11 - 05:19 PM

A bit more about Charles C. Spencer, eyewitness to John Henry's contest and death:

He became a first-degree Dunkard minister in Denver, Colorado, in 1910. There was an African American Dunkard (Church of the Brethren) mission there. When the pastor was removed on a morals charge, Spencer replaced him. In 1910 he had been married for nine years to Lucille Spencer.

By 1920 he was living in Mohrland, Utah, where he was a coal miner. At Christmas time, 1922, he shot and killed Pleasant Jackson during a card game. He served time in the Utah State Prison 1923-28. On his release, he remained in Salt Lake City. Lucille never lived with him again.

By 1936 he was married to Lula V. (Lavinia) Stevens Spencer and was "Rev. Charles C. Spencer," pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City. He was still the pastor there in 1941, after Lula had died in 1940. Calvary Baptish Church still exists. It's present pastor is ver highly educated and accomplished.

Spencer died from a stroke in 1944.

So here we have it:

preacher -> murderer -> preacher


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 05 Mar 11 - 04:58 PM

Charles C. Spencer died in Salt Lake City, Utah, on April 21, 1944, according to his Certificate of Death. That document gives his birth date as December 5, 1875. However, his gravestone, which can be seen at Find-A-Grave, gives his birth year as 1870. According to other records (censuses, wife's death certificate, own testimony, etc), he was born between 1867 and 1884. Throwing out the latter datum leaves a range 1867-1875. Unlike Neal Miller, Spencer was old enough, 12-20, to have been carrying water and steel on the job where he said he saw John Henry's contest. That would have been on September 20, 1887, if we accept the month and day that Spencer gave.

His death certificate carries a surprising bit of information. He was not born a Spencer but rather a Matthews. He was born in Spencer, Henry County, Virginia, of a father named "Huston Matthews" and a mother whose maiden name was "Louise Clayton." Houston Matthews appears in Henry County in the 1870 census with wife Jane. Perhaps "Louise" was another of her given names. They have no children in 1870, but in 1880 Jane is a widow with a 10-year-old son, John Matthews. No other male child has an age appropriate for him to have been the man who later called himself Charles C. Spencer. Therefore I suspect that "Charles C. Spencer" was born John Matthews on December 5, 1870. If so, he would have been 16 years old on September 20, 1887, when he said that he was "about fourteen."

Another surprising thing about C. C. Spencer is that he was a second-degree Dunkard minister. This comes from a news account and his prison record, Utah State Prison (Sugar House, where Joe Hill's last word, to the firing squad he faced, is said to have been "Fire!")

In 1927, Spencer wrote to Guy Johnson on plain paper with the return address "1400 East 21st South," the address of the Utah State Prison. Johnson apparently never realized this. Spencer was serving time for having shot and killed Pleasant Jackson, a fellow coal miner, in Mohrland, Utah, in a dispute over a card game on Christmas Eve, 1922. Spencer was in the Utah State Prison from February, 1923, to February, 1928, when he was released after having had his life sentence commuted to five years and then shortened a few months by a parole.

I have copies of Spencer's mug shots.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 25 Jan 11 - 03:36 PM

It has been pointed out to me that the instructions to census takers specify the time frame of the census, which may not coincide with that of the census taker. The census of 1870 seems to have been for June 1, 1870, which was before Cornelius Miller's 9th birthday, so he was registered as 8 years old. The same explanation applies to 1880, when he was listed as 18.

These census records are consistent with a birth date on a day in June, 1861, later than June 1.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 24 Jan 11 - 08:49 PM

I have found Cornelius Miller in 1870. His father, head of household, is listed as "Aop Miller," someone's lousy reading of lousy handwriting for "A. J. Miller."

Cornelius is listed as 8 years old, despite being past his birthday when the enumeration was made. I'm beginning to suspect that he was actually born in 1862, not 1861. It is hard for me to figure how an error of a year in his age could have been made when he was so young, 8 in 1870, 18 in 1880, having had his birthday already in each of those years. Maybe people just didn't care.

Anyhow, the big news is that he did not live on Hungart's ("Hungard" on official maps, its seems) Creek in 1870. He was enumerated in the Blue Sulphur Township of Greenbrier County, post office: Lewisburg. I don't know exactly where this is, but Blue Sulphur Springs and Lewisburg itself are 12-20 miles north and northeast of Talcott.

Talcott was not used as the name of the community before Big Bend Tunnel was bored. The post office there was first called "Rollinsburg," and it was on the opposite side of the Greenbrier River from Talcott.

Anyhow, Cornelius Miller did not move to Talcott in 1869, as he claimed, since in 1870 he was still living at some distance away.

To me, the best interpretation is that the family moved to Talcott ca 1879, when Cornelius was, as he said, about 17, some 7 years or so after Big Bend Tunnel had been completed.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 24 Jan 11 - 09:59 AM

Q: Miller could have been a precocious observer-

or even a carrier of water and steel at age 7-11. However, those things can be mighty heavy. Other men that I know of, who said they had that job, said they were 14 or older. Miller says he was 17, and if that is true, then he started working on Big Bend Tunnel in 1878. The boring was completed in 1872.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 23 Jan 11 - 10:08 PM

Miller could have been a precocious observer-


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 23 Jan 11 - 10:02 PM

Well, Q, I've looked at that version lots of times, but there's something there I've overlooked until you posted it. I was probably misled by the lack of capitalization of "cap'n" in the original. You supplied it, and then I saw it.

"John Henry went to Cap'n Monday"

Without the capitalization, this says that on Monday John Henry went to his captain. With the capitalization, "Cap'n Monday" becomes, possibly, the man's name. The historical man was Captain Dabney. "Monday" is one of a couple of plausible mutations of "Dabney in the record, the other being "Tommy."

Thanks. That is part of what made my day.

The other part is finding death records for Cornelius Stratton "Neil" (or "Neal") Miller. His Certificate of Death indicates that he died on March 16, 1930, in Hinton, WV (probably hospitalized there, I think), of "bronchopneumonia" and "influenza," at age 68 yr, 9 mo, 13 days. Birth date: June 3, 1861.

In the spring of 1869, when he said he went to work at Big Bend Tunnel, he was about 7 yr 9-10 mo old.

Unless he was working at a tender age indeed, he did not work at the tunnel while it was being bored.

He said that he started work there at age 17. That would have been ca 1879, well after the completion of the tunnel in 1872.

I won't claim that his testimonies for Chappell and Johnson were fraudulent, though they could have been (perhaps he was pulling the legs of these professor types - he was an old farmer himself). More likely, I suppose, is that he conflated various memories.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 23 Jan 11 - 05:11 PM

One more name for John Henry's wife or woman-

Lizzie Ann; Odum and Johnson, Negro Workaday Songs, 1926, version K.
Odum and Johnson, in listing the names, add "....or whatever other Ann may be thought of as representing an attractive person."
They might have added "or whatever name that rhymes....."

There also is the "girl John Henry loved,....."

Many versions of the song are mentioned or partially quoted in this thread; here is 'version K' with Lizzie Ann. Not much new, but worth posting.

John Henry
Odum and Johnson, version K, 1926

John Henry was a little boy,
Was settin' 'roun' playin' in the san',
Two young ladies come a-ridin' by,
Say, "I want you to be my man."

John Henry was a little boy,
Settin' on his mammy's knee,
Say, "Dat ol' nine-poun' hammer
Gonna be the death o' me."

John Henry was a cruel boy,
Never did look down;
But when he start to drivin' steel,
He ever-mo' did drive it down.

John Henry went to Cap'n Monday
All worried in his min',
Say, "Give me a heavy axe,
Let me tear dis ol' mountain down."

John Henry told the captain,
"Cap'n, when you get to town,
Bring me back a ten-poun' hammer
An' I lay dis ol' sev'n-poun' down."

John Henry went to captain,
"What mo' you want me to have?
Say, han' me drink o' ol' white gin,
An' I'll be a steel-drivin' man."

John Henry had a little woman,
The dress she wore was red,
She went down de track, never look back,
Say, "I goin' where my man fall dead."

"Who gonna shoe my pretty little feet?
Mommer gonna glove my han',
Popper gonna kiss my rosy cheeks,
John Henry gonna be my man."

John Jenry went to captain,
Say, "Man ain't nothin' but a man.
Befo' I let you beat me down
I die wid de hammer in my han'."

John Henry had a little woman,
Name was Lizzie Ann.
Say she got her dress from man in mine
An' her shoes from railroad man.

John Henry on right,
Steam drill on lef',
"Befo' I let steam drill beat me down
I'll drive my fool self to death.

"I drill all time,
I drill all day,
I drill all way from Rome
To Decatur in one day."

John Henry say,
"Tell my mother
If she want to see me,
Buy ticket all way to Frisco."

John Henry on way to Frisco,
Wid orders in his han',
Say, "All you rounders who want to flirt,
Here come a woman wid a hobble-skirt."

John Henry say to his captain,
Befo' he lef' town,
"If you give me 'nother drink o' yo' co'n,
I'll beat yo' steel drill down."

A good example of using verses from several songs.

Pp. 234-235, Howard W. Odum and Guy B. Johnson, 1926, Negro Workaday Songs, University of North Carolina Press, Oxford University Press.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 23 Jan 11 - 10:19 AM

On Cornelius Miller's birth date:

I realize that I must be careful here. We have three records, so far, indicating that he was born ca 1853. These are from 1910 (census), 1920 (census), and 1927 (statement to Guy Johnson). Against these we have the 1880 census, age listed as 18, and a birthdate, June 25, 1861, from a source cited as "Greenbrier Births, Bk1A, p62, L200." I have not seen this last source.

It appears, however, consistent with the 1880 census (almost), so the best interpretation seems to me to be that Miller systematically added about 8 years to his age beginning at some time before 1910.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 22 Jan 11 - 07:07 PM

P.S. on Cornelius Miller.

In the 1880 census, his age is given nearly correctly. It is 18 there. Actually, he had turned 19 three days before enumeration.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 22 Jan 11 - 07:03 PM

Hi, Q.

There have been lots of men named Cornelius Miller.

Your first one is the one interviewed by Chappell and Johnson. His wife was the former Cora L. Wiseman of Ohio, b ca 1868. They married in 1888. In the 1920 census he exaggerated his age, and he did also in 1920 (census) and 1927 (to Johnson). He seems to have died between 1927 and 1930, when Cora is reported in the census as a widow. You note that an LDS record gives his birthdate as 1861. That is correct. The census records for 1910 and 1920, and his self-reported age in 1927, are not correct.

Your second Cornelius Miller is not a son of Andrew Jackson Miller, as is your first one. Chappell reports that his Cornelius Miller is a son of Andrew Jackson Miller.

For some of the details, see

http://www.fridley.net/alderson/i0003471.htm


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 22 Jan 11 - 06:20 PM

A Cornelius S. Miller born abt. 1854, lived in Summers, West Virginia in 1920. 1920 Census. Spouse Cora (Census) or Anna Ramsey (LDS). LDS record give 1861 as birthdate.

A Cornelius Miller, born abt. 1855, lived in Roane, West Virginia in 1870. 1870 Census. M. Frances Hardman (LDS).

U. S. Census records. Both would have been teenagers at the time (1869-1870)

ancestry.com, family search.org.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: BanjoRay
Date: 22 Jan 11 - 06:00 PM

Good stuff, John - keep it up!
Ray


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 22 Jan 11 - 04:35 PM

In 1925 Louis Chappell interviewed C. S. "Neal" Miller, of Talcott, WV. In 1927 Guy Johnson also interviewed Miller. In the same year, Johnson corresponded with C. C. Spencer (Salt Lake City).

These two men, Miller and Spencer, are the only self-proclaimed eyewitnesses to John Henry's contest with the steam drill that Chappell and Johnson turned up. For Chappell, Miller did not make this claim, only for Johnson.

Miller placed John Henry's contest at Big Bend Tunnel, West Virginia, in about 1870. The tunnel was bored 1869-72.

Spencer placed John Henry at Cruzee Mountain, Alabama, in 1882. (It had to have been 1886-88, when the C & W RR was under construction.)

Johnson spurned Spencer's testimony and placed great faith in Miller's:

"At last I had found a man who not only saw John Henry but also saw the contest. Mr. Miller told me all this in a quiet and casual way as we sat on his porch at dusk. He seemed to see John Henry and the steam drill as clearly as if it were only a few years since he had seen them."

"One man against the mountain of negative evidence! Were it not for that one man the question might not be so teasing ... He had apparently had first-hand knowledge of a steam drill; yet I could not bring out by questions any evidence that he had ever had an opportunity to observe one unless it were at Big Bend Tunnel." (I note that Miller was educated, that popular periodicals of his day carried illustrations of steam drills, and that he might have seen a steam drill at Big Bend Tunnel at some time after it was bored, since work of various sorts continued for years.)

Chappell grouped Miller with the Hedrick brothers, neither of whom had seen the contest. Their rather disparate testimonies were congruent enough for Chappell, who came down solidly for Big Bend Tunnel as the John Henry site.

Miller is a poor witness. He gives few details and changes elements of his story (e.g., for Chappell, Phil Henderson was the shaker; for Johnson, Jeff Davis;; for Chappell, John Henry "was later killed in the tunnel"; for Johnson, "he took sick and died from fever soon after that"). Further, he says that he didn't see much of the contest - "It was just considered a sort of test on the steam drill. There wasn't any big crowd around to see it. I was going and coming with water and steel, so I saw how they were getting on from time to time, but I didn't get excited over it especially." This is an unlikely inspiration for a legend.

Spencer is an excellent witness, giving myriads of details. Preparations for the contest lasted about three weeks - "there were about three or four hundred people present." On beating the steam drill, John Henry collapsed, was revived, and died with his head cradled in his wife's lap. This is just the kind of event that could inspired a legend.

Many of Spencer's details are confirmed in documentation (none, however, that point specifically to John Henry).

Because Miller seemed to be such a poor witness, and Spencer such as good one, I have not been especially perturbed by their conflicting testimonies. I trust Spencer a lot more than Miller.

Not so Chappell and Johnson, who made Miller's testimony a lynchpin of the case for Big Bend Tunnel as the John Henry site.

Here, now, is something that astonishes me:

Looking on the WWW into genealogy, I find that Cornelius S. Miller was born on June 25, 1861. His age in the 1880 census is 18 (really 19 - he had had a birthday three days before the enumeration). His age in the 1910 census is 56 (really 48), and in 1920 he is 66 (really 58). He told Johnson in 1927 that he was 74 - he was really 66!

Miller turned 8 in 1869, the year he told Johnson he was 17 and started working at Big Bend Tunnel. If he *did* start working there at age 17, then the year was 1878-79!

Miller was too young to have worked at Big Bend Tunnel while it was bored.

His testimony is fantasy.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 04 Dec 10 - 02:59 PM

A 91-year-old niece of William T. Blankenship, the broadside man, told me recently that "Uncle Willie," called "Blind Willie Blankenship by others, had a black musician friend from Mississippi, according to a family story. Willie was white and lived for most of his adult life in Athens or Huntsville, Alabama. He and his black friend would play together, and Willie is said to have learned "John Henry" and other songs from the black Mississippian.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 19 Oct 10 - 06:47 PM

William Turner Blankenship married, wife unknown, ca 1896; had a son, Clarence, ca 1897; and was blinded in an accidental dynamite explosion (dynamiting a tree stump) in 1897-98, when he was 21. The accident cost him his eyesight and his wife, according to recently obtained Blankenship family lore.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 01 Oct 10 - 10:52 AM

Correction:

About William Turner Blankenship -

"He was married by 1900, possibly to an Attkisson, and he was blinded in an explosion, also by 1900. Further, by that date either he was divorced or his wife had died. In 1900 he lived with his parents, Theodore Blankenship and Delilah Cape Blankenship, in Weakley County, TN."

In the 1900 census, Willie is blind, single, and lives with his parents,

BUT

in the 1910 census he is married, has been for 14 years. His son, Clarence, age 13, lives in the household with Willie and his parents.

No wife lives in the household with Willie in either 1900 or 1910.

If the 1910 census is to be believed, Willie's wife was somewhere at that time.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 23 Sep 10 - 07:29 PM

William Turner Blankenship was born in 1876, perhaps in Marshall County, TN, where he lived in 1880.

He was married by 1900, possibly to an Attkisson, and he was blinded in an explosion, also by 1900. Further, by that date either he was divorced or his wife had died. In 1900 he lived with his parents, Theodore Blankenship and Delilah Cape Blankenship, in Weakley County, TN.

He married for the second time in 1914, in Huntsville, AL, to Mrs. T. M. Morring, who was first married to George Morring. Her maiden name is probably Tennie Maten. Tennie M. "Blankingship" died in February, 1923, in Madison County, AL.

In 1924 WTB married Josephine Green. They settled in Athens, AL. He died March 16, 1960, and is buried in Gatlin Cemetery, Limestone Co AL (Ardmore).

His nephew Rollie recalls his playing the banjo, jew's harp, and potato (ocarina, I assume). Some distant relatives think he also played fiddle, but Rollie doesn't recall this.

I've heard a number of colorful stories about the Blankenships ("they were all fiddlers") and Attkissons in the vicinity of Pulaski, TN, and Athens, AL, in what seem to have been the wild and wooly days of moonshining ("everybody made whiskey"), killing revenuers, and changing names after committing a crime. There is a hint that WTB may have been in the KKK.

Anyhow, he published broadside ballads, including "John Henry, the Steel Driving Man," which I date to ca 1910.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 13 May 10 - 02:00 PM

I have just learned of the death on May 10, 2010, of Susan Marye Dabney Rawls, of Crystal Springs, MS. Susan was a granddaughter of Captain Frederick Yeamans Dabney, John Henry's boss at Dunnavant, Alabama, in 1887. She was born October 13, 1920.

This remarkable woman was an aerial gunnery instructor during WWII!

I interviewed her several years ago. She knew nothing of her ancestor's connection with John Henry.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 27 Apr 10 - 04:19 PM

Thank you, Guest "dutch", for your thoughtful remarks.

I had not considered the possibility that "john" could have been simply a man-designator. I am more familiar with "jack" being used in this way. In steel driving, there are "single-jacking" and "double-jacking," referring to the number of men it takes to do the job. Of course, "Jack" is a nickname for "John."

The testimony of C. C. Spencer, who claimed to have been an eye-witness to John Henry's contest and death, is as follows (February 24, 1927): "John Henry, whose real name was John H. Dabner." Thus, Spencer, who seems to have known John Henry pretty well (giving not only his name but also where he was from), thought that "John" was part of his "real name."

"Henry" was a slave to Gus Dabney, "Henry Dabney" appears in the 1870 census, and "Henry Dabner" (same vital information) appears in the 1880 census. In 1870 and 1880 Henry Dabney lived in Copiah County, Mississippi, not far from Captain Frederick Yeamans Dabney, Gus' son, who would (as Chief Engineer) build the extension of the Columbus & Western Railway from Goodwater, Alabama, to Birmingham, the job on which Spencer's and others' testimonies place John Henry, in 1886-88.

I have no documentation that the slave "Henry" was the census "Henry" or the steel-driving "John Henry", but things seem to be sufficiently consistent to make that a likely possibility. The most out-of-whack part is that two records (1860 Slave Schedule and Letitia Dabney's memoir) have the slave "Henry" born about 1844, while two records (1870 and 1880) have the census "Henry Dabney/Dabner" born about 1850. I am inclined to believe that this discrepancy is within the likely "experimental error". Census takers simply wrote down what they were told, and people were often casual about their ages.

Steel drivers, even champions, were usually not all that big. Technique and endurance were most important. John Henry Dabney was probably about 5' 7-10" and weighed perhaps 160 lb., as best we can gather from a couple of people who claim to have known him personally.

Henry Dabney/Dabner (census) married Margaret Boston in December, 1869. Spencer tells us that John Henry "Dabner"'s wife "cooked for the men." "Margaret Dabney," of course, could give rise to "Maggie D."

I think it hyperbole that she "drove steel like a man." For someone, male or female, doing domestic work on a daily basis to pick up a hammer suddenly and start driving steel is beyond belief, IMHO. The real information in that stanza, I think, is that John Henry had been sick. If this were an undiagnosed mild heart attack that he treated with rest, that would set the stage for his death from ventricular rupture at the contest by leaving a weakened ventricular wall. His dying symptoms suggests death by bleeding from a ruptured organ, and the heart is most likely, ventricular rupture being not rare.

There are quite a few rare elements of versions of "John Henry" that are clearly consistent with the Alabama claims and that are not clearly consistent with other scenarios.

Yes, the slave "Henry" would have been well known to Captain Dabney. Consistent with this, there are both ballad lines and legends to the effect that "the Captain" was very fond of John Henry. If John Henry had grown up as part of Captain Dabney's family (in a sense), there might have been an unusual ease of conversation between them. In the ballad, John Henry pretty well speaks his mind. I'm not sure how common that would have been for black railroad construction workers in the late 1880s in Alabama, but I think that both whites and blacks would have allowed it if they had known there was a fond personal relationship between John Henry and the Captain. This may have been what allowed late 19th- and early 20th-century blacks and whites to sing the ballad.

In the earliest known text, his name was "Johnie Henry." I don't think that this affects your argument that "john" could be a man-designator; "johnny" works the same way.

There is a considerable opinion on the side of "John Henry" having been written and adapted to a tune by whites, then taken up by blacks and continued by whites. I have not made up my mind about this, and I suspect that making a compelling distinction between authors, by race, may not be possible.

There is an interesting comparison between "John Henry" and "John Hardy," a subject of early confusion. Except for Leadbelly, who probably learned it from his white friends, "John Hardy" is not found in the comprehensive book, *Blues and Gospel Records 1890-1943* (Dixon, Godrich, Rye), and, as far as I know, it did not appear in any of the famous collections of black folk songs. Regardless of who wrote it, "John Hardy" has been the exclusive property of whites. "John Henry," on the other hand, has belonged to all Americans.

I value your comments. In some way or another, they will be noted in my book.

John


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,dutch
Date: 01 Apr 10 - 02:38 PM

Very interesting read, but I think you are all over looking something.

Henry might very well have been his first name not his last, and he actually was a john named Henry. Furthermore as a former slave, he may very well have taken the surname of his former owners at emancipation, and not all of them initially took any at all; so he might very well have been a john named Henry from the Dabney's and have continued to be a laborer connected with their enterprises. One could then rephrase that to "one of Dabney's johns named Henry", but that is clumsy in short lined poetry, although very likely might have been used in conversation. So it became simply john Henry. That would certainly be a lot more palatable for general publication and for black mythic maintenance than calling him Dabney's boy Henry, although on the same order from current standpoints which didn't apply in the same way when this legend got started.

BTW Henry is a traditional name in my Dutch background but is usually shortened to Hank, moving from the French Henri to the Germanic Hendrick to the familiar Henk to the Americanized Hank. The original Dutch Hendrick has been Americanized to the English Henry, but the Hank familiar remains. It is my impression that Reconstruction Southern "Henry" did not familiarize that way, that "Henry" stood by itself, and that Southern blacks actually frowned on general familiarization of their actual names; so Henry stands someplace in this almost certainly.   

Not all steps between familiar and formal names move in straight lines. The Dutch Piet has become the English Peter and then reverted to the familiar Pete; so sometime it even moves backward. The former Dutch Claus has become the familiar American Nick by moving through the Anglicized Nicholas. I can trace all of those in my own family history.

IOW it is quite possible the his first name wasn't John at all, but his status was a working john. The idea of first name with little or no surname for former black slaves actually comes from my house abstract here in Minneapolis, where the initial owner of the property is officially listed as Sweet William. Although I don't know for sure, that doesn't sound very white and the time period is very similar to that of the John Henry folk song.

Whatever the actual case there is almost certainly a big, black man with an almost unbelievable appetite for physical labor behind the legend. I think that overlooking the wife does a disservice to the women who often filled in for sick or resting husbands to keep a claim on their jobs. That she could drive steel like a man points to quite a bit different type of labor organization than we have now, and very strongly suggests that some work forces were not as strictly segregated by sex as they became later. That her last words to him were that she had been true to him, also indicates that she hadn't been one of the camp town ladies either, but a legitimate wife, although perhaps common law, which was quite acceptable at that social status in that time. So John Henry became a legitimate man even with a formal family. Whatever her name such a legendary figure would have to have a more or less legendary wife. Her name is far less important than that she existed, although I personally prefer MaggieD, on racially based usage of the time. Were she as well known in camp as it appears, less formality would have been likely than with her husband's name, although significant effort is made into making her legitimate to add to her husband's credentials, and she is a secondary character anyway.

IMO as only a peripheral outsider to this debate, that points to Henry Dabney, former slave boy named just Henry on the Dabney plantation, as the person behind the legend, provided there was a historical basis pretty accurately portrayed by the folk song, which seems like it will remain an open question. But all the elements for myth are certainly there, whether there was an actual person behind them or not. John Henry actually emerges as one of the cleaner cut of American commoner folk heroes.

I expect that there was some sort of comparison trial between former hand labor and the introduction of increased mechanization. Some sort of test, one against the other, or the company would not have even considered expending the capital for the newer, and unproven equipment.

It would make general sense that if any part of the work crew were historically connected to any of the overseers, which was quite common for the newly emancipated former slaves, then one would put one's best against the machine in such trials if only out of some sort of antebellum pride. The folk songs say that the "captain" boasted that his john named Henry could outwork any machine, if you just change the capital of one letter in one word. That might very easily have simply been "cleaned up" for publication. That would not have been noticeable in any sung version, until well after it had been formalized in print. Almost certainly the John Henry myth was a Southern black railroad work crew legend first, probably long before any of it got written down. Editors do that sort of polishing all the time to broaden a publication's appeal. No black minstrel of the time had the cache to challenge any such publication detail any way and many of them never learned to read in the first place to even know about it, at least not in time. That would have been for the benefit of any potential white audience sensibilities.

There were such trials all over as physical labor became more and more mechanized in the late 19th Century, most of which were not considered significant enough by themselves to get publicly recorded or documented; this one is legendary and likely only so because of the race issues involved and how that was organized at the time, as well as the fact that black minstrels were far more common and folksy than their white counterparts, and have always entertained some degree of white audiences.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: Richie
Date: 13 Mar 10 - 01:13 PM

Nice articles John,

The links don't work as they are but can be copied and pasted on your browser.

Love to see Chappell's collection,

Richie


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 12 Mar 10 - 02:33 PM

Louis Watson Chappell was a major figure in John Henry scholarship, producing as he did a seminal book on the subject in 1933, fours years after his rival Guy Benton Johnson had published his own book. Chappell's work is marked by an intensity and thoroughness that outdoes Johnson, who admitted in a 1975 (?) interview with Kip Lornell that Chappell's book is in "some ways very good."

Chappell's book is marred, in the view of many, by the carping attacks on John Harrington Cox and Johnson with which the Introduction, 20 pages, is chiefly concerned. If we had no other information about Chappell, we might conclude that he was an angry and bitter man.

Perhaps he was, but available online is a personal account of Chappell by Kenneth Walter Cameron, who knew him very well from 1929 to about the time of Chappell's retirement in 1952. This account presents Chappell in a much kinder light than Chappell's own works. It is available online, as PDF files, in two installments.

www.libraries.wvu.edu/wvcollection/newsletter/1985-1994/v4n2.pdf

www.libraries.wvu.edu/wvcollection/newsletter/1985-1994/v4n3.pdf


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 03:34 PM

Ronald D. Cohen
*Work and Sing: A History of Occupational and Labor Union Songs in the United States*
Carquinez Press
2010

This book has a good bit about "John Henry," but does not address origins at all, even though it mentions Johnson's, Chappell's, and Nelson's books. I am disappointed that it does not mention my work, but since origins are not addressed I suppose that it is a natural omission. Cohen is a historian, it says on the back cover, who "is the author of numerous books on folk music."

I am gratified to find that he reaches the same conclusion that I have about the importance of John Henry to the labor movement, namely, that John Henry did not become a labor icon before the 1960s, when "John Henry" appeared in Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, *Songs of Work and Freedom*, and in Pete Seeger and Bob Reiser, *Carry It On! A History in Song and Picture of the Working Men and Women of America*. "... 'John Henry' did not appear in the numerous songbooks connected with the Communist or Socialist parties in the 1930s, or even in *Hard-Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People*, compiled by Alan Lomax and Woody Guthrie as the depression waned but not published until 1967" (pp 42-43).

This is contrary to Nelson's view. He interprets all muscular laborers and superheroes as John Henrys, even when there is no evidence of any such link.


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 17 Nov 09 - 10:22 AM

Indeed, I remind myself continually that no single piece of information about John Henry, regardless of its source, can be assumed to be reliable. That said, there *is* an island of coherence in the sea of incoherence. I think that the Alabama claim is now very well supported. In my view, it is "beyond reasonable doubt."

I have come to regard the evidence gathered by Johnson and Chappell as sufficient to establish the Alabama claim, even though they failed to recognize that. All the other stuff I've found is just "icing on the cake."


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: Richie
Date: 16 Nov 09 - 11:47 PM

Hi John,

You as well as anyone know who tricky research can be. I'm doing a series of articles for the Old-time Herald.

What's amusing to me is that the interviews with the actual people that lived the events are incorrect.

For example Clayton McMichen said in one interview with Norm Cohen he was 11 years old when he learned the play the fiddle. In fact he was only 5 or 6- this info and who he first learned to play the fiddle from is only available though a family article which interviews his sisters and other family members.

Later in that same family article there is more misinformation because she cites an unreliable source, another relative.

Hop to get the painting done by the end of the year. I've been bogged down playing and performing constantly.

Richie


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: Art Thieme
Date: 16 Nov 09 - 08:12 PM

I'm with Frank Hamilton on this! His last post (Stringsinger) is right on. It is all grist for the mill; ---the mill called the folk process.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
From: GUEST,John Garst
Date: 16 Nov 09 - 07:47 PM

A news article in the Middlesboro (KY) Daily News, June 1, 1934, by Elbert McDonald, states that John Henry died in a contest with a steam drill held at Ewing, Virginia. John Henry was from Alabama and is buried somewhere near Birmingham. The railroad was the L & N.

McDonald states that it is a well-known legend in the Cumberland Valley that John Henry died at the "Seven Sisters," near Varilla, KY, "a short distance from Pineville while working on the construction of the railroad from Pineville to Harlan." The railroad reached Harlan in 1911. Later in the article he writes that John Henry's death is "mistakenly attributed to the 'Seven Sisters,'" and that it really happened at the "next construction job," at Ewing, Virginia.

McDonald's RR history seems to be a bit screwed up, since the L & N already went through Ewing in 1895 but didn't reach Harlan until 1911.

Anyhow, McDonald's John Henry was from Alabama and was buried there.

This kind of mutation in tradition is to be expected if John Henry was actually at Dunnavant, Alabama, 15 miles east of Birmingham.


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