Folklore and Folklife in Virginia, Vol. 1, 1979

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"Tippy" Rhodes: A Black Street Dancer in Charlottesville, Virginia

This study is the result of several months of investigation, interviews, and recorded conversations concerning the life of Clarence Harris Rhodes, who, for approximately fifty-five years, danced on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. During these years, Rhodes' dancing was confined to a three-block area of Main Street in commercial downtown Charlottesville, although he made many trips uptown into the University of Virginia area, and several journeys to other cities in Virginia. In the areas of Charlottesville where he danced and worked, literally everyone knew him. If you asked specifically for Clarence Rhodes, however, it is very doubtful if anyone downtown would have known the name; for as long as Rhodes or anyone else can remember, he has been known simply as "Tippy." In Tippy's own words, the name refers "to the way I tips my hat all the time, that, or I'm always asking for a tip."

Some of the issues this study will discuss concern Tippy as an individual, and others as a representative of a type of black folk expression. I do not intend to draw conclusions about the situation of the black man in the small Southern city, but a great deal of the material presented here cannot help but relate to the subject. A large portion of the study will deal with a generic consideration of the nature of folk street dancing, an area in which very little actual collecting has been done. The reason why became apparent as I tried to find a suitable method of recording or noting Tippy's dances. Visual recording has traditionally been too expensive or unavailable; labanotation has been too technical for all but the very studied in this technique;1 and verbal description has been extremely subjective or, as is more often the case, incomprehensible. I will give only a
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general description of Tippy's art, the characteristics of his costume, his changing rhymes, his accompaniment, and associated items of folklore.

Jerry Jeff Walker, a popular country-rock musician, wrote a well-known song titled "Mr. Bojangles," about a black street dancer. That song is basic to my impression of Tippy Rhodes. What Tippy represents is not the dancer of the professional minstrel tradition nor the stage tap-dancer at all. Tippy's style is representative of the folk form from which these professionals have drawn their material. More precisely, he is an example of a return of folk expression to the folk after its assimilation in a professional setting.

In Jazz Dance, Marshall and Jean Stearns discuss the origins of the professional side of popular dancing.2 The influence of the "Mr. Bojangles" is made very clear. The first black "greats" ("King" Rastus Brown, Bill Robinson, et al) came from a tradition of African, and then Afro-American expressive dancing. Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, moreover, shares a common heritage with Walker's Mr. Bojangles. And Tippy reflects this heritage dually, coming from the tradition and yet learning from it.

My interest in Tippy began in September, 1971. I was sitting on my front porch, not very far from downtown Charlottesville, when Michael Otis passed by. Suddenly he stopped and began to tap dance; he danced for about ten seconds in a rather clumsy manner, stopped as suddenly as he had started, and tipped his hat. I said something like, "Hey, that's pretty good!" He thanked me profusely and just stood there. After several uncomfortable moments, I realized that he wanted a payment for his performance so I gave him a beer and began to ask him about his dancing. He said that he wasn't very good, but he was good enough to get a beer from me. And he said he'd seen Tippy do it all his life, and that Tippy was so good he made "his whole income just buck-dancing and kissing ass!" By the time Otis left my porch, I had decided to find out more about this "Tippy" and this aspect of black folklore.
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What I found was that almost all the serious folklore scholarship was aimed at either European derived folk-dance such as the square dance3 or at anthropological studies of "primitive" dances such as those of the American Indian.4 Studies of non-professional black dancing were only glossed over in studies like the Stearns'. So I decided to investigate Tippy first hand.

Finding Tippy was not hard at all. I went to the general vicinity that Otis had mentioned, and the first person I asked told me to go to the Yellow Cab dispatcher's office. At the dispatcher's office, I was told that Tippy comes in every day at approximately six o 'clock in the morning to empty the trash and to socialize. I was also told about several other places in the area where Tippy might be at that time of day. After following these leads, I learned that Tippy went home to his sister's house each day at five o'clock. I also learned that everyone in the three-block area Otis mentioned, to the last person, knew Tippy and had a very strong opinion about him--either good or bad. It was the black informants who gave a basically negative reaction, and the white informants who reacted favorably to my queries about Tippy. Of the 25 pedestrians and storekeepers on Main Street that I approached, there was not one exception to this trend.

The next day, I arrived earlier and found Tippy in the poolhall of L.P. Wood. He agreed to talk about himself and his dancing, and we were on our way. I have excerpted a rather sketchy biography from taped interviews with Tippy and Mrs. Helen R. Davis, who has known Tippy for over thirty years.

Tippy was born in White Hall, Virginia, a very small community about ten or fifteen miles west of Charlottesville, Tippy is uncertain of the day, month or year of his birth, but he thinks it was sometime in the year 1900. Tippy lived in White Hall with his sister and two brothers until his mother died in 1909. At that time, he was taken to the home of a Mrs. Pitzier, a white woman living in Charlottesville. He said that he stayed with Mrs. Pitzier for a few years, but implied that she demanded a
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great deal of work in exchange for her hospitality. When Tippy left her home, he worked odd jobs on Main Street in Charlottesville.

At this point there is a large gap in the biographical data. Presumably, it was during this period that Tippy began to dance on the street. He lived in basements and garages of local residents in exchange for work, and he washed windows for a living. Tippy has never really been hired at a set salary at the jobs he has worked, with one exception--his tenure as a porter on the Trailways bus between Charlottesville and Washington, D.C, a job he got sometime in the 1930's and kept for about ten years. (The Trailways Company has no record of his working for them.) Tippy seems to have become overly fond of wine during this period, and he implied that he lost his Trailways job for this reason. He also washed bottles for Pepsi-Cola for four years.

Tippy married sometime in the 1930's. His wife was killed in 1955, and this was not a subject Tippy would dwell on. In fact, Mrs. Davis said she had never heard him even mention a wife. One of Tippy's brothers lives in Philadelphia, and the other was killed in a knifing in Charleston, West Virginia, some years ago. While working for the bus company, Tippy traveled to Richmond and Washington for the first time. He said that he danced in Washington, and that he learned some techniques from dancers he saw in Richmond, especially Bill Robinson, whom he saw dance his ladder routine.

Gillie Hughes, a custodian at the University of Virginia, said that Tippy was coming to the University regularly when he first started there in 1962. Tippy himself said that he had been dancing at the school since he was a boy. His association with students at the school seems to have centered around the fraternity houses, where he would dance for reportedly lucrative tips and refreshments. The local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign War has been another audience. Mrs. Davis' brother, George Wyant, frequently took Tippy there to entertain after meetings.
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In June, 1971, Tippy was taken "out in the country" by a group of young people. He was gone for the entire weekend, and when he returned he stopped dancing. Mrs. Davis, who hires Tippy to wash the windows in her flower shop, describes the incident as follows:

Barden: When did he stop?
Mrs. Davis: Last June (1971)
Barden: Do you have any idea why?
Mrs. Davis: We think, I don't know now really, but we think he was with a bunch of boys. White boys.
Barden: Why do you think they were white?
Mrs. Davis: Well, I don't think he would have gone with colored ones. I think he went with this group of boys, and they gave him something--to drink or something. Something he wasn't accustomed to and it just upset him. He was very sick when he got back...I tried to question him when he got back but he wouldn't say.

This event in Tippy's life was of great significance. In June of 1971, he stopped drinking and he stopped dancing. But Tippy's previous dancing years were enough to make him somewhat legendary. In one interview I learned that in a restaurant "The Nook," which burned in 1963, there had been a mural of Tippy in a Main Street scene. The painter of this mural was "Stubby Stubbs, a local sign painter. Stubby, who is 52 years old, said he had seen Tippy on the street ever since he could remember.

Before discussing the community's opinions of Tippy, which I encountered during my investigation, I would like to describe Tippy's dancing and the other elements of folk expression which are associated with it.

Costume: The most notable item is Tippy's red baseball cap, which enhanced the overall comic effect which was central to his concept of the performance, and which doubled as a receptacle for tips after he finished his dance. Tippy said that he usually wore a tie each day and other informants indicated that it was inevitably a large and "outlandish" one. Tippy was given an intern's jacket by a medical student at the University, and for one
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    Clarence "Tippy" Rhodes
With his hat, tie, tunic & buttons - 1972

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period he wore this jacket covered with buttons on which were printed comic epigrams and slogans. The shoes that he wore were outfitted with large half-moon taps on the heel and small ones on one side of the toes. Tippy said this was so he could have the toe taps make noise when he wanted them to and not make any noise when he wanted that effect.

Nomenclature: Tippy had few technical names for his styles and steps of dancing. Those terms and definitions I could elicit from him follow:

Buck Dancing: This is a generic expression describing any form of black folk dance.
Stomp: Tippy used this term to denote a dance in which the emphasis is on rhythm, without the express use of tapping.
Shuffle: This term indicated the muffled sound derived by using the non-tap side of the toe, and dragging the heel rather than snapping it. Tippy made no distinction between any of his shuffling movements, whether they were in double tempo, side, back, or forward--they were all termed "shuffle."
Tapping: [D]enotes any dancing which is not a shuffle, that is, any dance in which the metal taps are used to produce the loud rhythmic beat.
Wing: This style is executed by leaving the stationary stance of tapping or shuffling and moving in a circle (Tippy seemed to consistently move counter-clockwise), dipping on a strongly accented upbeat of the feet.
Trucking: This term is not Tippy's own. It was used by several informants, and seemed to indicate any dance which moves in a straight line. Whether this relates to the dance described by Stearns or not is not clear.6
Leaning and Crotching: These terms described the attitude of the body during the dance. Tippy called any stance which made him appear to be falling over backwards "leaning," and any which made him appear to be slouched or hunched forward "crotching," which I presume is a variant of the word "crouching."

Rhyming Verses: Tippy recited verses to accompany his dancing.The purpose seemed to be two-fold: while maintaining the rhythm of his dance with these stanzas, Tippy added to the overall comic nature of his performances. Some of his rhyming verses were comic variations of standard folk rhymes like:
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Ching, Ching, Chinaman, sittin' on the fence,
Tryin' to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.

Which became:
Ching, Ching, Chinaman, sittin' on the fence,
If you ain't got a dollar give me fifteen cents.

When he was dancing, Tippy apparently performed differently for different audiences. Mrs. Davis said that he never recited more than "Roses are red" type verses, whereas Stubby Stubbs said that Tippy never recited a clean verse in his life. Mrs. Davis quotes:

Ace, King, Queen, Jack,
White folks tips but not the black.

Stubbs gives:
You a white man, I's a shine,
But yo' ass-hole smells just like mine.

Not all of Tippy's "patter" was rhymed verse. Stubbs said that he would stop talking and dance silently for several seconds and then give comic dialogue--an example:

Hey Rastus! What do you like bestus?
Rastus say, "I like ass-bestus."

Miscellaneous: One aspect of Tippy's routine was his "gimmick" of holding out his hat while he was still dancing in order to catch money thrown at him. Often, he said, the people watching would throw the coins far into the air to make it more difficult. Or they would roll them at him so that he would have to stoop down without losing the step. Another item which Tippy used as gimmick was his practice of finding the metal slab sections of the sidewalk to dance on. With these or man-hole covers, Tippy claimed he could make enough noise to be heard for three blocks.

After Tippy learned to dance on his toes the chance to "trick" dance was always taken. He said that he could do a version of Robinson's "Ladder Dance," that he used this sort of routine on the steps of college fraternity houses, and that he once even danced up the steps of the University itself (he presumably means "The Rotunda").
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A more specific description of the dancing of Tippy Rhodes would require movie film or labonotation, but I think the above notes show that, while Tippy falls into the category of a folk dancer, he considered himself a performer in the professional sense. And since his income has been from his dancing for a great part of his life, this impression can hardly be questioned.

A general description of Tippy's dancing was given by Mrs. Helen Davis:

Tippy would be on the street, right out front here, and somebody would see him a long ways off and yell at him. He'd look up and down the street and tap real loud just a second. If they yelled again he'd tap again; and when they got closer he'd tapdance straight down the sidewalk in their direction. Usually a few people would stop to watch. Sometimes a crowd of people would gather around him. Then he'd really get to dancing. He'd dance over to the gutter and hop up and down off the sidewalk, or kind of scoot around in a circle. He never used his hands or anything, just his feet; sometimes he'd pretend his feet were running out from under him, and he'd say these funny things about the people watching so they'd start throwing money. Then he'd run around after it while he was still dancing and he'd tip his little hat every time the money would come...

Another description was given by Gillie Hughes:

Well, I saw Tippy mostly at night you know, mostly on Preston Aveune or someplace like that. He was always drinking you know and he'd bother people. Every now and then somebody would come by and kind of hit Tippy or tease him and say, 'Hey Tippy, shuffle for me.' And he'd take his hat off and dance around a little bit and hang around. But he usually just bothered people. Somebody would tell him to shut up when he got too [t]ight you know. He'd be makin' noise and dancing and carrying on.

And L.P. Wood said:

Tippy only danced during the day right out here on Main Street. He'd get a circle of folks standing around and then he'd do this hambone and tap and pass his hat around; the police didn't mind, because Tippy never bothered anybody. And the folks that watched used to pay him pretty good tips. ... And he was funny with his little jokes and his hat.

Tippy was received most favorably by the white population of his area. I see this as significant in a number of possible ways.
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First of all, Tippy represents a kind of black expression that developed in a context of racial prejudice. The black dancers who became professional generally found ways of freeing themselves of total dependence on white approval in a white world, or at least crossed an acceptance barrier, when the tenor of the times permitted this. Many others, of course, died before they became an anachronism. The condescending, paternal attitude of the white informants suggests that Tippy is a comforting presence to the older white citizens of the area; his image, a harmless clown with perhaps a bit of the standard "trickster" figure thrown in, fits the cultural picture of the white informants I interviewed. The black informants, however, consider Tippy in another light--he is a figure that represents an almost total negation of cultural pride. The innate sadness of the "Mr. Bojangles" figure of Walker's song is to me the crux of the anachronistic position Tippy was in. The black community considered him an "Uncle Tom," not because of his dancing, but because of his willingness to prostitute himself and his Afro-American art form to a group which generally viewed him as a humorous though ridiculous caricature. I see a parallel between Tippy and "Shorty," the elevator operator in Richard Wright's Black Boy:

I'll do anything for a quarter, Shorty sang. What, for example?, the white man asked. Shorty giggled, swung around, bent over, and poked out his broad fleshy rear end. You can kick me for a quarter, he sang, looking impishly at the white man out of the corners of his eyes... I witnessed this scene or its variant at least a score of times, and I felt no anger or hatred, only disgust and loathing.7

Although I was unable to definitely determine the race of the young people who "convinced" Tippy to stop dancing, I feel that this act itself substantiates my premise. If the group was black, the motive would seem to have been to instill racial integrity or at least update the thinking of a "brother," and if the group was white, the motive would most likely have been amusement on a boring week-end--the object of amusement having been Tippy.
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My informants, both black and white, were more than willing to attest to the state to which Tippy had perfected his dancing. It was to Tippy himself that the reaction was so varied, and I feel the reason is that Tippy was a reminder of a social situation, comfortable to older Southern whites, but disgusting to blacks--a situation in which a totally uneducated but clever black man had to take on the role of a harmless buffoon for fifty-five years and please another group in order to survive.

  Thomas E. Barden
University of Toledo


1 Rudolph Laban, Principles of Dance and Movement Notation, London, MacDonald and Evans, 1956. Ann Hutchinson's, Labanotation, New York, New Directions, 1954, also discusses the method.

2 Marshall and Jean Stearns, Jazz Dance, New York, Macmillan, 1968, pp. 1-55, discuss the history of the origins of Afro-American dance.

3 For example, Cecil Sharp's The Country Dance Book, London, Novello, 1909, or Anne Duggan's Folk Dances of the United States and Mexico, New York, Barnes, 1948.

4 Such as Paul Radin's The Story of the American Indian, New York, Garden City, 1937.

5 See Stearns, p. 36. "That dance came along before tap,"says Leigh Whipper. "All they did was stomp."

6 Stearns, p. 417, Richard Wright, Black Boy, New York, Harper, 1945, p. 249.

[Ed. note: This paper was originally written before the publication of Lynne Fauley Emery's Black Dance in the United States from 1619 to 1970, Palo Alto, Calif., National Press Books, 1972. This is a fine book on the history of black dance with many citations of original documents. Further, we should report that Tippy Rhodes has passed away since the writing of this paper.]

[Note: The report of Tippy Rhodes death in this issue of the VFS Journal was "greatly exaggerated" and premature. The unconfirmed report from an ostensibly good source was, in fact, an error: Rhodes was still alive at the time of this publication and lived for some years afterward in the high-rise apartments for low income or elderly persons in downtown Charlottesville. The combination of having quit dancing and his change in living arrangements reduced Rhodes's visibility in the eyes of a white public and surely contributed to the false reports of his demise. The Society regrets having unwittingly furthered that notion.]

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Insult and Slander in Seventeenth-Century Virginia

Folklorists, for the most part, study the traditional culture of living people, but a case also can be made for the study of folkways in history, through documents which unconsciously reflect traditional ways of behaving and speaking.

Documents recorded by seventeenth-century Virginians, for instance, reveal their medieval peasant background. Certain documents, especially depositions and probate inventories, exhibit folk systems of classification, spontaneous speech, and uncalculated actions of ordinary people.1 Court records were produced as a result of an expanding secular bureaucracy that regulated many aspects of daily life. Different types of documents were written for different reasons, allowing some to be informal and full of detail about peoples' day-to-day concerns. One of the problems that concerned early Virginians was their reputation, and this is reflected in the serious attention given in seventeenth-century court proceedings to cases of slander and defamation.

The insults discussed in this article are drawn from depositions found in seventeenth-century county court records from Northampton, York, and Westmoreland Counties in Virginia.2 These records contain court orders as well as transcripts of documents relevant to court proceedings, such as letters of attorney, deeds, wills, inventories, indentures, and depositions. Depositions are of particular interest because they were made in order clarify to the court, actions which took place, or words that passed, between individuals in cases involving assault-and-battery, adultery, and slander. In other words, they deal with cases judged on the basis of testimony of eye-witnesses rather
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than upon the evidence of supporting documents. In such instances, several witnesses were sworn and examined, and their exact words were recorded.

In slander cases, witnesses testified to the content of conversations. Therefore, many depositions may be viewed as reasonably reliable accounts of past speech events. Evidence given in a case by a number of witnesses may corroborate details of interest to the court, but it may also point to subtle differences in the way various onlookers perceived an event.

A series of depositions was taken in York County in 1689 to determine the antagonist in an assault-and-battery case. At least eight deponents had witnessed an altercation between Peter Wells and John Macarty, but depending upon the social position and personal prejudices of each, the onlookers attributed the start of the fight to different individuals. A few of the witnesses blamed Wells, an indentured servant, but several accused Macarty, a free-holder. One deponent placed the blame upon a Negro who had been drinking in company with the white men, and one person stated that there had been no fight at all. On the other hand, the surgeon who examined Wells testified that Wells's jaw had been broken as a result of Macarty's having kicked him in the face.3

None of the insults found in the seventeenth-century court records may be classed as "ritual" or structured in nature or content; rather, they are highly personal in both respects. William Labov notes in his essay, "Rules for Ritual Insult," that personal insults are characterized by a direct attack upon the character or background of an individual, followed by a denial or excuse on the part of the person attacked. The recipient of a personal insult bases his or her response upon considerations such as how serious the antagonist is: Does he want to start a fight? Does he mean it? Are people going to believe this is true?"4 It is evident that cases of slander which appear in court records are there precisely because the person insulted responded
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to a verbal assault by recognizing that the attacker meant what he or she said, and that the community-at-large would believe the accusation if it were not rebutted through public, i.e. legal, channels.

In the following essay, three relevant aspects of insult and slander in seventeenth-century Virginia will be discussed: the categories of insult which were considered slanderous by seventeenth-century legal standards; the social and emotional motivations which sparked such controversial verbal assaults or exchanges; and the means through which slanderous attacks might be redressed.

Verbal abuse vicious enough to be deemed slanderous usually took the form of accusations or allegations. The defamed person might be accused of thievery, prostitution, fornication, adultory, bestiality, or lying. For example, in 1640 Robert Wyard deposed that he and others were in the house of George Dawe when William Berryman came in and exclaimed that Dawe was "an idle pratinge and lyinge knave" who went up and down prating and lying from house to house. William Evans confirmed that Berryman had "set people together by the ears," especially in his disparagement of Dawes's profession as Clerk.5

Allegations often shifted to the level of name-calling and vilification. Widow Taylor, according to the evidence of three witnesses, resoundingly insulted Goody Curtis when she came to her cowpen to milk her cow, calling her "draggle-tayle," and badd her goe goe you slutt who replied slutt in her face and bad her to go to Bantomes house and play the whore with Lawrence if she would, or gather strawberries."6

In 1643, Robert Wyard was sentenced by the Northampton Court because he had "in a disgraceful and barbarous manner blemish't the reputation of Alice the wife of George Travellor in most base and ignominious language by which defamation hath taken away the reputation of the said Alice." Wyard's offence was telling
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Rowland Mills that he had "sucked" Alice Travellor, and when asked by William Denham if this were true, he replied, "What dost thou thinke that goodwife Travellor doth perswade me from marrying for?" As punishment for slandering Alice Travellor through his claim of having committed adultery with her, Wyard was forced to stand in church three consecutive Sundays "in a white sheete with a white wann in his hand" and ask forgiveness of Alice in a manner dictated by the Churchwardens.7

While Wyard's defamation of Alice Travellor was retracted through his public humiliation, other persons convicted of a similar offense might receive corporal punishment. In 1644, the Justices of Northampton ordered that "Whereas Thomas Parks hath most infinitely disparraged and defamed the wife of Andrew Jacob in the face of open court by saying that he did lye with her in a Chayre at Fleet Bridge," he is to receive thirty lashes and ask her forgiveness in open court. In a case involving a third party who claimed to have witnessed an act of adultery to which no other witnesses could attest, the slanderer was forced to publicly ask forgiveness of both of the wronged parties.8

Defamation did not always consist of criminal allegations. Often it took the form of aspersions against a person's social rank or background. Insults against an individual's social rank might focus on his or her parentage. In Northampton County in 1643, Roger Marshall and Richard Hill both testified that Thomas Parks had slandered a Mr. Yardley by claiming that Yardley's father had been a tailor and his mother a midwife, "not to honourable citizens but to byeblows."9

In the York County example previously mentioned, Peter Wells struck John Macarty because Macarty had insulted his status as an indentured servant by repeatedly calling him "Tayler." Wells grew angry and exclaimed that "he was as good a man as the best of them all" and that "he was not Christened Taylor." When Macarty antagonized him by saying "Are you not Humphrey Brownings Tayler?", Wells replied "God Damne Humphrey Browning & you, for
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hee...was as good a man as Humphrey Browning." A vigorous fight ensued, and Wells was later convicted of committing an assault upon Macarty.10

This incident indicates both the sensitivity to social station and the friction which existed within a community structured by class differences--differences which were being challenged in the Virginia colony by opportunities for social mobility. It also serves to emphasize the social power of names: "They embody a whole range of social relationships, and violations of the conventions of which name to use in which social situation are often regarded as serious, even insulting."11 Wells's fight with Macarty in 1681 stemmed from his resentment at being called by the name of his trade--Tailor--instead of his rightful Christian name. In a situation already fraught with social tension, this indignity was more than he could bear.

When considering the significance of names and name-calling, it is worth noting that many terms which by our standards seem mild were considered highly derogatory in the seventeenth-century. For instance, "rascal" nowadays has an almost jocular connotation, but in seventeenth-century parlance a "rascal" was a man without genitals.12 While calling someone a "rascal" might on the surface refer to criminal acts such as thievery or cheating, the implication was sexual and insulting.

Insult and slander frequently revolved around sexual behavior and sex words; the language of an insult was especially objectionable when it accused a person of violating sexual taboos in words which, because they referred directly to taboo acts, were themselves subject to public censure.13 Several of the examples given illustrate the disapproval with which unlawful or abnormal sex acts were received by county courts.

Most slanderous were accusations of sexual promiscuity or prostitution; women were always the targets of such attacks. The term "whore" was applied to women who exercised any form of sexual
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liberty: fornication, promiscuity, adultery, or sex for remuneration. In Westmoreland County in 1659, Roger Laddamore's wife was tried for slandering Goodwife Williams. John Stowell deposed that Laddamore's wife had "Abused Goodwife Williams & Called her whore & sayd & swore that she was Capt. Douglass whore," claiming that she herself had "never swive for a tammy gowne" (that is, she had accused Goodwife Williams of engaging in sex in return for a dress of fine worsted cloth).14

When a woman accused another woman of being a whore the insult may have been motivated by jealousy or rivalry. A heated quarrel would normally ensue if the two women were face-to-face when the insult was delivered, and this sometimes resulted in a fight or a slapping bout.

However, men were often tried for slandering women by calling them "whore" before a number of people, and jealousy seems not to have been the major motive in most of these cases. After examining a number of depositions of this nature, I have drawn the conclusion that a man was most likely to accuse a woman of sexual promiscuity if he contracted venereal disease as a result of having had sexual relations with her. No doubt this is the reason that many a man would claim that he could "prove" that a woman was a whore.

An example from Northampton County points to this conclusion. In 1642, John Charles deposed that Elizabeth Bacon was in bed at his house and John Little "come in late in the night & took the cloathes of the said and would have burned them & said you are a whore and I will prove you a whore."15 Edwyn Conoway and Arther Turner also testified that they had heard Little call Bess Bacon a whore and say that "she was as common as the milking payle."16

Little's behavior toward Elizabeth Bacon bears a resemblance to the eighteenth-century custom known as "docking." It was a punishment inflicted by sailors on the prostitutes who had infected them with venereal disease; it consisted of cutting off all their
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clothes, petticoats, shift and all, and turning them into the streets.17

Venereal disease itself was rarely mentioned in the court records, despite the fact that it was obviously the cause of personal misery to many. It was the source of many altercations, such as the one between Robert Woolterton and Rebecca Jackson in Northampton County in 1643. At least five people drinking together in George Smyth's house testified that Woolterton laid his hand on the plackett of Rebecca saying, "Here is a base thing." She replied, "It is better then thou carried over the Bay." To this Woolterton responded, "It is better then thyne," but Rebecca said that this was "A Lye, for yours is a 'pockyfyed one', and struck him. When Woolterton struck her in return, James Jackson, Rebecca's husband. joined in and a bloody fight ensued.18 The apparent cause of dissension in this case was an accusation by each party that the other was infected with venereal disease--accusations which were met with indignation and denial.

It is possible that a slander involving a woman who called another woman "whore" "twice or thrice" as well as "you Longneck", "thou pissa bedd Jade" was referring to what she felt to be her infected state.19 A carrier of venereal disease, it is clear, would be viewed as a potential threat to the health and bodily cleanliness of the entire community. Personal hygiene and cleanliness may not have received the degree of attention in the seventeenth-century that they do in the twentieth, but persons deemed unclean in their bodily habits often were objects of derision. Incontinence, infection with venereal disease, or slatternliness were understandably abhored, and insults that challanged a person's state of bodily cleanliness--whether they were justified or not--were considered slanderous.

A form of insult which appeared infrequently in slander cases, but which often caused fights between people, centered around terms of abuse derived from names of common domestic animals.
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Grose explains in his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) that to call a woman a "bitch" was to level at her the worst insult that an Englishwoman could receive. It is likely that this was due to the attribution of the sexual habits of a dog to a human female. Men might receive the epithet of "dogg," but the intended meaning seems not to have been as cutting as the term "bitch." In an example mentioned previously, a woman was called a "jade": the Oxford English Dictionary defines this term in its secondary usage as a derogatory term applied to females; its primary meaning, however, is "a worn-out horse or hag."20

Edmund Leach demonstrates in his article "Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse" that terms of abuse derived from names of domestic animals tend to be especially powerful because such creatures are in many ways manlike and their attributes may be extrapolated to humans. Because humans often equate themselves with animals such as dogs and horses, the creatures become subject to certain taboos (especially with respect to food categories).21 I would like to suggest here that the power of insult found in terms like "bitch" or "dogg" stem from their reference to the non-human attributes of domestic animals. While a dog may be a pet and "man's best friend" it is still an animal, and those habits which cannot be readily equated with human behavior are viewed as base and sometimes obscene. But I should point out that the fact that the comparison of like attributes occurs in the first place makes the application of unlike and undesirable attributes possible and, therefore, all the more potent.

It should by now be clear that insults in seventeenth-century Virginia focused upon the same areas of sensitivity that characterize insult behavior today: sex taboos, social position, personal appearance, and hygiene.22 An insult considered slanderous, however, charged a specific individual with behavior which transgressed the moral standards imposed upon the community by its institutions. The language in which slanderous remarks were expressed was powerful and potentially damaging to an individual
[End page 49]
because of the logical mental transition between forbidden words and forbidden acts.

  Mary C. Beaudry
Richmond, Virginia


This paper was presented at the First Annual Meeting of the Middle Atlantic Folklife Association, Annapolis, Maryland, May13, 1978.

1 For a brief discussion of documents as sources for folklife studies, see James J. P. Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life, Garden City, New York, Anchor Press, 1977; works dealing with folk taxonomies in inventories include: Mary C. Beaudry, "An Analysis of Ceramics in York County, Virginia Inventories, 1730-1750," MA thesis, Brown University, 1975; idem, "Worth its Weight in Iron: Categories of Material Culture in Early Virginia Probate Inventories," Archeological Society of Virginia, Quarterly Bulletin 33 (1): 19-26; Susan Geib, "Folk Taxonomies in Rural Household Inventories," Paper delivered at the First Annual Meeting of the Middle Atlantic Folklife Association, Annapolis, Maryland, May 13, 1978.

2 The Northampton examples are taken from Susie Ames, editor, County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, Virginia, 1640-1645, Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1973. For convenience, the county is called simply Northampton throughout this article. York County depositions were transcribed by the author from microfilm records at the Colonial Williamsburg Research Library; the Westmoreland depositions were transcribed by Fraser D. Neiman from original records in the Westmoreland County Court House. All dates have been changed to conform with the Gregorian calendar; therefore, for example, 1636/37 in the records appears as 1637 in the article.

3 York County Deeds, Orders, Wills No. 6, pp. 362ff.

4 William Labov, "Rules for Ritual Insult," in Thomas Kochman, editor, Rappin' and Stylin' Out, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1972, p. 335.

5 Ames, County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, pp. 28-29.

6 Ibid., p. 103. A "draggle-tayle" is a slattern according to Francis Grose, Classical Dictionary the Vulgar Tongue (1785), reprint, Northfield, Illinois, Digest Books.

7 Ibid., pp. 235-236, 238.

[End page 50]

8 Ibid., p. 395 (Parks vs. Jacob); the third party was George Vaux, who accused Alice Travellor--the same woman slandered byRobert Wyard earlier--of committing adultery with Capt, Francis Yardley. Both Alice Travellor and Capt. Yardley appear to have been rather unpopular, as they were defendants in more than one slander case apiece (Ibid., p. 238; see below).

9 Ibid., p. 313; a "bye-blow" is defined as a "bastard" in Grose, Classical Dictionary.

10 See note 3 above.

11 Herbert Kohl and James Hinton, "Names, Graffitti and Culture," in Thomas Kochman, editor, Rappin' and Stylin' Out, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1972, pp. 1-26-127.

12 Grose, Classical Dictionary.

13 Edmund Leach, "Anthropological Aspects of Language: Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse," in Eric H. Lenneberg, editor, New Directions in the Study of Language, Cambridge, Massachusetts, M.I.T. Press, 1966, pp.24-25.

14 Westmoreland County Deeds, Wills, Patents, Accounts, 1653-1659, f. 131; Oxford English Dictionary for definition of "tammy."

15 Ames, County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, p. 189.

16 Ibid., p. 190. I have been unable to trace the meaning of the phrase "milking payle" or "common as the milking payle."

17 Grose, Classical Dictionary.

18Ames, County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, p. 298. A "placket" is the opening to a woman's skirt; the word also refers to a pocket according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The term is used, presumably, in a euphemistic sense in this deposition.

19 Ames, County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, p. 292.

20 One assumes that the implication of the terms "bitch" and "jade," therefore, is that a person has been debased or worn out from over-activity of a specific sort.

21 Leach, "Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse."

22 This is true of both personal and ritualized insult behavior; cf. Labov, "Rules for Ritual Insult."


I wish to thank Dell Upton for providing the inspiration which prompted me to write this article; Fraser Neiman for depositions from Westmoreland County records; Charles Perdue for his helpful comments; members of the Colonial Williamsburg Research Department for giving me access to their resources and expertise;and to Cynthia Carter, for editorial advice.

[End page 51]

Communicating With Critters

In a conversation with an aged mountaineer the subject somehow turned to the destructive nature of rats and the great loss that can be attributed to those rodents. He said, "Nowadays they have chemicals and traps that can help eliminate them, but in earlier times, around our neighborhood, we used special words we called 'giving away the rats'."1

He explained that the procedure required finding a blacksnake which was then killed but kept intact. The snake was then buried near the rat infested house with its head pointed in the direction where the rats should go--a specific residence had to be selected, not a stand of woods, mountain or other uninhabited place. The informant noted, "We done it here, and after awhile people on the farm down the road complained they was being overrun!"

In the same neighborhood, which borders Highland and Rockingham Counties in Virginia and Pendleton County in West Virginia, other elderly residents told of similar practices with minor variants. Some claimed the snake must be buried after sunset or before sunrise, others said special words as part of the process, and still others carried the blacksnake around the homestead three times before burial in its special position.2

As unusual as this practice may appear, it reminded me of an experience recounted by Cornelius Weygandt, Professor of Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, who bought a farm in New England a half century ago and in preparing the place for his summer occupancy found an old letter addressed to rats which asked them to leave the basement of the home.3 Weygandt considered
[End page 52]
it unique; nevertheless it was a practice known in widely separated places in America and in Virginia too.

One such letter was dated October 31, 1888 in Maine, and addressed to "Mssrs. Rats and Co." The opening paragraph reads: "Having taken quite a deep interest in your welfare in regard to your winter quarters, I thought I would drop you a few lines..." The writer then offered persuasive reasons why the rats should leave, citing the cold winter months, the lack of food, and the planned remodeling of the interior of the home. He told the rats that they would be uncomfortable and perhaps destitute. The writer then recommended an alternative consisting of a specific address of a neighbor to which they could go, adding that " will find a splendid cellar well filled with vegetations...a barn with a good supply of grain, where you can live snug and happy." The letter ends with a mild threat, "Shall do you no harm if you heed my advice."

A similar letter written in New Hampshire in 1845 was much less friendly and more demanding (perhaps this was a second or third letter of a sequence), "I have borne with you till my patience is gone...depart from this place with all speed!...Begone, or you are ruined!" The consequences of staying were emphatic, "We are preparing water to drown you; fire to roast you; cats to catch you; and clubs to maul you." Yet the writer offered the rats an alternative by suggesting they "...quit here and go to Ike Nutes!"

In 1882 an elderly Maryland farmer near Cockneyville wrote such a letter which he read aloud to the rats which infested his home. He read it at night in the belief they were perhaps more active and receptive at that time. His occult activities became widely known when his children used the letter as evidence against him in court seeking a legal declaration of his incompetence.

In recent years two specimens of similar letters were made available to this writer. One used in Rockingham County was written
[End page 53]
on a single sheet and "delivered" to the rodents through a hole in a baseboard of the homestead near rural Tenth Legion. The other was similar in structure and theme and was merely placed in the cellar near food supplies that rats had been eating, on a farm located in western Shenandoah County.

A lifetime resident of the region offered instructions for the procedure, "lf you find rats or mice in your house write them a cordial note saying how bad the facilities are and suggest they leave. Put the note where they will see it. If this doesn't work, write another letter and say it's the second notice and be firm but cool. If this doesn't work, write a third notice but be mean and tell them to "get the hell out!" Warn them you'll use poisons and traps--they'll be gone in just a few days after that!"4

In seeking to reduce the loss of grain caused by rats, John George Hohman's pow-wow booklet (1819) included a method used by many Pennsylvania Germans. This was in a sense a harvest ritual in which the first three sheaves of grain were presented to the rats with an announcement, "Rats these sheaves I give to you, in order that you may not destroy any of my wheat."5. The rest of the harvest was then stored in the barn. This practice assumes the logical and reasonable nature of the rodent.


Moths were destructive to clothing made of wool and particularly so when not in use during the summer months. Various means have been used to protect stored clothing. One noted in the diary of John Conrad (1783-1853) in Rockingham County instructs (in German) how to use written words placed on a sheet as follows: "Moth, you shall vanish, you shall not destroy my clothes, I adjure you." These words, followed by the Trinity 6 was placed on clothing which was then wrapped in born [sic, brown?] paper and stored.

[End page 54]


Two techniques have been used to protect a kitchen garden from damage by cutworms. The first is as follows: "Take the first three cutworms you find in your garden to the nearest fence, separating your property from adjoining land. Turn so your back faces the fence and throw the three cutworms over your shoulder saying, "Go to these fields and cut the grass."7

The second procedure, from western Rockingham county, also involves gathering the first three cutworms found. These were placed at the base of a white oak tree while saying, "Now cut this tree." It is said that within a few days the cutworms will leave the garden and accumulate at the trunk of the tree.

In Paul Christians's "Supernatural Sciences and Curiosities"8 it is noted that an early conjuration to protect a garden against the invasion of caterpillars included the writing of a special line of words ("Christus Regnat; Christus Vincit; Christus Vobis Imperat, etc. ...") on a parchment long enough to stretch around the tree trunk. The similarity of this ancient Old World practice and that used by a few elderly regional farmers is obvious.


Bed-bugs were the scourge of all housewives. At one time they were common to most inns and homes alike, with the result that numerous means were devised to kill them or to ward them off. None were quite as simple as the procedure that follows:

If you have bed-bugs and want to get rid of them, say the proper words and stretch a board across the creek nearest your property. The bugs will then have the means to follow the directions and go to the neighbors you recommend.9

This practice, known in Rockingham and Shenandoah Counties, varies with practitioners primarily in details such as: the migration must be toward the east; the insects must cross water; and the full name of the head of the household the insects are to go
[End page 55]
to must be used in the instructions.


Spiders were used by some people in the belief that spells could be cast on an enemy. The so-called "writing" spider was the object used in such proceedings, which involved shouting the name of the person at the spider in his web. The spider later wrote the name of that person in the center portion of his web and misfortune was the expected or intended result. The writing spider has also been used as a means of prognostication, particularly pertaining to the seeking of the name or initials of a future mate. Females could watch the spider web for any posslble evidence of letters; this was done most often after a rain or in the early morning after a heavy dew.


In the summer season wasps were both a nuisance and a threat because their sting is unusually painful. It is little wonder that an occult method of protection was available. A lifelong resident of western Shenandoah County recalled the ritual verse used to ward off the sting of a wasp:

You wisp - you wasp.
Thou cannot sting me.
No more than the dead.
Can say these words.10

The "words", of course, were the Trinity. This ritual, handed down over the generations from one sex to the other, was usually uttered in whispered tones.


Conjuration of critters was not always negative for there were times when an insect was viewed as valuable and beneficial. The honey bee was such a resource offering man one of nature's few sweeteners--a widely cherished product.

This writer was told by a longtime keeper of bees that "If a beekeeper
[End page 56]
dies, the bees must be told before sun-up the next morning or else the bees will die."11 Others have noted that bees should be told of any death in the family of a beekeeper and if this were to be neglected the bees would swarm and abandon their hives and never return.

According to Bertram S. Puckle, the early authority on death rituals,

the proper method of procedure is to knock at the in giving invitations to a funeral. The hive is then tied around with a band of crepe, whilst the little inmates are solemnly informed of the catastrophe.12

An aged Negro employee in the orchards of Albemarle County was reported to have decorated the trees with strips of black crepe paper on the death of an employer who kept bees.l3 This practice was also known in early times in the orchards of Rockfish Valley in Augusta and Albemarle Counties.

It has been noted by some people acquainted with this practice that bees should be allowed to share in the good news and glad tidings, as well as the sorrowful events, as do all members of the family of which they should be considered a part. This conception was portrayed in the poem "The Bee-Boys Song" by Rudyard Kipling:

Marriage, birth or buryin'
News across the seas,
All your sad or merryin'
You must tell the bees.

The conjuration practices noted are interestingly devoid of violent behavior in spite of the obnoxious nature of the subjects involved, whether they be rats, moths, cutworms, wasps or bees. Although undesirable to most men, they were nevertheless treated as creatures of the Creator and were thereby assumed to have a proper place on earth.

It is satisfying to a collecting folklorist to find that remnants of occult practices derived from ancient origins persist
[End page 57]
in spite of dramatic modifications of our agrarian heritage and the contemporary emphasis on science and technology. It is one evidence of the resilience of the traditional folk culture in our region of America.

  Elmer L. Smith
James Madison University


1 Taped interview with Jesse Crummett, Crummets Run, West Virginia, November 27, 1964.

2 Interview with E. Frank Rader, near Sugar Grove, West Virginia, June 14, 1963; Artie H. Recode, Briery Branch, Virginia, October 17, 1962; and Susie Simmons, Brushy Fork, West Virginia, July 17, 1966.

3 Cornelius Weygandt, The White Hills, Mountain New Hampshire, New York, 1934.

4 Interview with Ella H. Bowman, Runions Creek, Virginia, November 15, 1963.

5 John George Hohman, Long Lost Friend or Pow-Wows: Arts and Remedies for Man and Beast, Grille, Pennsylvania, 1819.

6 The Trinity, "God, The Father; God, The Son; God, The Holy Ghost," is used in numerous occult rituals.

7 Interviews with Goldie Crawford, Rockingham County, September 2, 1965; and Myrtle Shifflett, near Harrisonburg, Virginia, September 2, 1965.

8 Paul Christians, The History and Practice of Magic, translated from the French, seven-volume original edition (1870) by James Kirkup and Julian Shaw, New York, Citadel Press, 1963.

9 Interview with Amos Eaton, Runions Creek, Virginia, October 14, 1964; Emmert Sager, near Broadway, Virginia, July 30, 1965; and Cora Hepner, Hudson Crossroads, Virginia, October 15, 1962.

10 Interview with Thomas Miller, Dellinger Gap, Virginia, August 29, 1962. Floyd Puffenbarger, Pendleton County, West Virginia, uses a variant verse to ward off pain after a wasp has stung a person; from an interview on August 21, 1966.

11 Interview with William Eisenbrown, rural Muhlenberg Township, Pennsylvania, November 16, 1964.

12 Bertram S. Puckle, Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, London, 1926.

[End page 58]

13 According to tradition this employee worked for the Jarman Gap orchard near Crozet, Virginia.

Notes & Queries.....

Julia Oxrieder, P.O. Box 443, Williamsburg, Va. 23185, asks:
    Can anyone help me annotate these items collected off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd and Patrick Counties?

  1. Pushing a person under the bed or desk on his birthday.
  2. Blacking a person's nose on his birthday.
  3. Belief that if you wash your hair you all surely end up in the crazy house.
  4. You will marry the boy who brushes against the lovecatcher you made.
  5. Wearing assafetida around your neck will prevent nosebleeds.
  6. Song of which the first two lines are:
    Lift your eyes to mine, my darling,
    Let me see the sunlight there.

We will be happy to print brief notes or solicitations of specific information regarding folklore and folklife in Virginia. Send "Notes & Queries" for future issues of the Journal to Editor, Virginia Folklore Society, 115 Wilson Hall [now: 219 Bryan Hall], University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va. 22903.

[End page 59]

Black Music and Tales From Jefferson's Monticello

There was no way of growing up at Monticello without being aware of music. The air was full of it. Martha and Maria both played the harpsichord and later, when that instrument was introduced, the piano. Jefferson himself had once practiced the violin for three hours a day until a broken wrist had made it impossible. Jefferson Randolph tells us, "My earliest recollections are of my grandfather playing on the violin, his grandchildren dancing around him." (Randolph's "Memoirs").

There were, however, sounds of a different music at Monticello, African as well as European, black musicians as well as white. In his Memoirs of a Monticello Slave, Isaac tells us that Madison Hemings played the fiddle. Isaac himself was a drummer. When he had been in Richmond with Jefferson during the Revolution, a fife and drum corps of mixed black and white soldiers often marched in front of the Governor's mansion. As Isaac tells it, Bob Anderson, white, was a fifer, and Mat Anderson, black, was a drummer.

Mat 'bout that time was sort a-makin love to Mary Heming...Bob Anderson would go into the house to drink; Mat went into the kitchen to see Mary Hemings. He would take his drum with him into the kitchen and set it down there. Isaac would beat on it and Mat larned him how to beat. (Memoirs..).

The Christmas holiday given the slaves was a great time for fiddling. One Christmas on her way to the smoke house, Cornelia Randolph was caught by the sound of a fiddle. Pausing to look, she saw "the fiddler as he stood with half closed eyes and head thrown back, with one foot keeping time to his own scraping in the midst of a circle of attentive and admiring auditors." (Cornelia to Virginia, December 27, 1821).

This music was not made for white ears, although we may be sure
[End page 60]
that it was often overheard. Isaac speaks of the dances, where "Old Master's brother, Mass Randall used to come out among black people; play the fiddle and dance half the night."

A marriage celebration was a prime occasion for black music. Bride and groom joined hands and leapt over a broomstick; after this they were considered man and wife. And the young white people at Monticello often sang and danced in the evenings, either to the music of a black fiddler or to the old harpsichord.

There were more formal occasions in Richmond, where Martha Randolph and her daughters had taken part in the local balls. The two most celebrated black musicians there were Sy Gilliat, a fiddler, and his companion, London Brigs, who played flute or clarinet. The spring and fall race meetings in Richmond and Petersburg would bring these two to perform at the Race Ball, vividly described in the book, Richmond in By- Gone Days. The order of this entertainment is important, as it illustrates both the aspirations toward European elegance and the natural, home-grown tastes of the participants. This ball was held in the large ballroom of the Eagle Tavern in Richmond, as were all the regular assemblies of the winter season.

Etiquette required shorts and silks, and pumps with buckles, and powdered hair. The ball was opened by one of the managers and the lady he thought proper to distinguish, with a minuet de la cour, putting the grace and elegance of the couples to a severe ordeal.
Such bowing and curtseying, tip toeing and tip fingering, advancing and retreating, attracting and repelling, all in the figures of Z or X, to a tune which would have served for a dead march! A long silken train following the lady, like a sunset shadow; and the gentleman holding a cocked hat under his arm, or in his hand, until at last the lady permitted the gentleman, at full arms-length, to hand her by the very tips of her fingers to a seat, when, with a most profound bow, he retreated backward to seek one for himself.
Then commenced the reel, like a storm after a calm--all life and animation. No solemn walking of the figure to a measured step-- but pigeon wings fluttered, and all sorts of capers were cut to the music of Sy Gilliat's fiddle, and the flute or clarinet of his blacker companion, London Brigs.
Contra dances (these were country dances imported from England) followed, and sometimes a congo, or a hornpipe; and
[End page 61]
when the music grew fast and furious, and the most stately of the company had retired, a jig would wind up the evening.

Jefferson was not inclined to take black music seriously. His measured judgement arrived at nothing further than the oft quoted statement:

In music they are more generally gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tune and time, and they have been found capable of imagining a small catch. Whether they will be equal to the composition of a more extensive run of melody or of complicated harmony, is yet to be proved. (Notes on the State of Virginia).

Although Jefferson's ears seemed to be closed to all but the European mode, his daughter Martha kept her ears open. She had a large store of songs and tales that she had picked up from the black people around her. It was authentic material, of which the later minstrel shows were no more than a caricature. This material she passed on to Eugene A. Vail.

In 1816, Ellen Randolph (Martha's daughter) had met Vail in Washington. This young man had lived in France and Ellen described an accent "by no means unbecoming to him," (Ellen Randolph to Martha Jefferson Randolph, December 30, 1816). In 1841, Vail published a book in Paris, De la litterature et des hommes de lettres des Etats Unis d'Amerique, in which he included Martha's songs and tales. Most of them came directly from Monticello, although "The Dairy Key" she had probably heard in Richmond. That song was the composition of an old Negro man called "Titus," who also sang the song about Old Colonel Tom, Martha's father-in-law. Titus played the mandolin and sang for people of his own race. He is shown in a picture that has now disappeared, but that was known to Vail at the time that he wrote. Unfortunately the music has been lost; if Martha set down the notes, Vail did not use them.

The tales were told to the children by Mammy Ursula, who had nursed Martha and then Martha's children. No doubt they were repeated many times. Vail's translation is formal and makes no attempt at dialect. The present English versions follow the
[End page 62]
French texts closely. [Ed. note: Titles have been given to the songs and tales for purposes of identification.]

While old Colonel Tom lived and prospered,
There was nothing but joy at Tuckahoe.
Now that old Colonel Tom is dead and gone,
No more joy for us at Tuckahoe.
(Vail says that he has omitted the chorus as "being gutteral sounds impossible to imitate on paper.")

Young Mary was the dairy maid,
But Nancy lost the dairy key.
Oh! For forty days and forty nights,
We looked in vain for the dairy key!
We were so far beyond the sun,
Searching for the dairy key,
That we could see there blacks that we couldn't understand,
All that, alas, without finding the dairy key.

I was an old hare, I was born in the snow,
I was pursued by the black horse of Shields.
Grass grows green, tears roll down my cheeks,
Still Shields is mayor of the town.
Oh! Mr. Koon, you come too soon,
Just let us rest until tomorrow.
(Captain Shields was a police officer in Richmond noted for harassing the Negroes.)

I bought me a fine horse in Baltimore County,
    Oh! Nancy, Oh!
And then a house with seven chimneys,
    Oh! Nancy, Oh!
I bought me a chair to sit next to my Nancy,
    Oh! Nancy, Oh!
And boots of leather to walk with my Nancy,
    Oh! Nancy, Oh!
[End page 63]
Oh Miss Nancy is proud and haughty,
    Oh! Nancy, Oh!
Oh Nancy dear, Nancy my dear, why don't you marry me?
    Oh! Nancy, Oh!
(One voice will start these songs, then all together will join in the chorus.)

My old mistus don't love me,
Cause I won't eat her black eyed peas,
      Oh yo! Oh yo! Oh yo!
Up there on the mountain, I whipped up my horse,
Then I galloped further than Diffiki,
      Oh yo! Oh yo Oh yo!
I tied my horse to the doctor's post,
The poor beast caught the whooping cough,
      Oh yo! Oh yo! Oh yo!


I went behind the turkey barn,
There I fell upon my knees;
I almost died of laughin',
Listening to those turkeys sneeze.
I went behind the turkey barn,
I didn't want to stay;
But how could I keep from laughin',
When I saw those gluttons pray?.


There was once a woman they called Mammy Dinah [In the French she is called "Diah"]. She had three dogs, George, Ring, and Duncan, who were so mean and so strong that she could hardly hold them behind nine doors locked with nine keys. These dogs obeyed her always, and were so devoted to her that wherever she might be, even out of sight and hearing, Mammy Dinah had only to sing a certain air which she used to call them, for them to surmount all obstacles and make their way to her side. This woman, with her dogs, enjoyed supernatural power; but as she was good natured she never used it to do harm to anyone. For the very reason of this power and her virtue there was an evil spirit who, jealous of her and hating her bitterly, never ceased his efforts to destroy her.

One day Mammy Dinah locked up her dogs as usual, and went early to the woods. There she met the evil genie, who ran toward her at full speed, in order to slay and devour her. As it was impossible
[End page 64]
to run as fast as he, she did her best to escape by climbing a tree. The devil could not climb, but he was an experienced wood cutter, and never went out without carrying two hatchets. In order the quicker to reach his prey he took a hatchet in each hand, and began to chop the tree with terrifying speed. Mammy Dinah's heart trembled. However she did not lose her nerve. Perched in her tree she began to sing the tune which possessed the magic charm for her dogs. It went something like this:

Oh help Mammy Dinah, George! and you, my Duncan!
And you also, Ring! Come then, Oh my Ring!.
How slow you all are in coming to me!.

To which the Devil replied:

Death to you! I'll kill you. Death to you, Caby.
Soon I'll have you. Oh! I'll get you at last.
Go on! Soon I'll have you! You will be mine!

And all this time the hatchet was going at a great rate:

pan, pan, pan, ducka, ducka, ducka...

(Dinah's part is taken in a voice slow and plaintive; the Devil is abrupt and rapid.)

At the first call from Mammy Dinah her dogs forced three of the doors closed against them, at the second they broke down three others, and finally at the third the last three fell. Before she could sing for the fourth time they were at her side. They fell upon the evil genie and tore him to pieces, thus delivering Mammy Dinah forever from her mortal enemy.

[Note: An article by William Bascom containing an extensive bibliography, discussion, and numerous versions of this tale ("Escape on the Tree," part IV. of the Aarne-Thompson tale type 315A, The Cannibal Sister) was published in Research in African Literatures, 12 (1981), 460-519. The article was subsequently reprinted in a collection of Bascom's essays published posthumously (he died in September 1981). See "Dogs Rescue Master in Tree Refuge," in African Folktales in the New World (1992), pp. 155-200, for this critical monograph. It does not include any reference, however, to either Vail's early French publication of the "Mammy Dinah" variant of the tale or to its translation as cited here in the VFS Journal.]


One day a fox, pursued by hounds, fled to a rabbit hole, begging the rabbit to let him in, so that he might hide. "None of that, replied the rabbit, "I am afraid that you will eat me if I let you in." "Oh no," said the fox, "I wouldn't do that for the world." But knowing that the rabbit had little faith in his words, he added: "Let me just put my nose in your home; you know that with all the rest of my body outside I could not hurt you." The rabbit was good natured, and although he hardly understood what good it would do the fox to have only his nose in the hole, nevertheless he opened his door just a crack, enough to let in the nose. But hardly had he done this when the fox begged him to let in one of his ears; this being granted, he made the same request for the other. Soon it was a matter of one paw, then another, then for the body, and then, one after another, for the two hind paws, and when the whole was in except for the tail which the rabbit held pinched in the door, thus still holding the fox in his power, the latter said in the most submissive tone in
[End page 65]
the world: "I am sure, my dear sir, that you will not be so cruel as to allow the dogs to tear me to pieces in your very house, which they will certainly do if they see my tail sticking out, as it is at present."

The rabbit, not being cruel by nature, yielded out of pity, and decided to take the risk he would run in shutting himself up with the fox, who moreover never ceased his promises to do no harm. So he let the tail enter. Once in, the fox, claiming that he did it for security, locked the door from the inside.

The two pretended friends sat down opposite one another in front of the fire, where a large pot of water was boiling in preparation for the rabbit's supper. The latter, feeling uneasy so close to the fox, spoke little; the other, for his part, was equally silent, and seemed to be thinking of something very pleasant, for he was smiling and looking pleased with himself. Meanwhile he was staring so hard at his companion that the rabbit became more than ever uneasy, but, hiding his agitation as best he could, he said: "Neighbor fox what pleases you so much, why do your teeth shine so brightly? "That," said the fox with a grimace that made the other tremble, "is because I am in a hurry to feast on some of your tender bones." Still the rabbit did not entirely los[e] his presence of mind, and, seeming to pay little attention to the fox's remark, he walked in a casual manner toward the window, and stood there looking out for several minutes. At last the fox in his turn asked: "What are you looking at out there, Mr. Rabbit, with so much attention?" "I am only watching the hunter and his hounds," replied the rabbit, "who are coming nearer and nearer." "The hunter and the hounds!," cried the fox. "For the love of God, dear Rabbit, hide me somewhere. I am afraid that if they come near they will break down your door and take me." "If you wish you may hide in that box," the rabbit said, showing him the box and lifting the lid. The fox jumped in at once, the rabbit closed the lid and turned the key. He took a gimlet, and pierced a number of holes in the lid. "Why do you do that?," asked the fox. "So that you may have more air," and the rabbit continued to drill more holes until the lid was completely perforated.

Taking boiling water in a gourd he poured it over the fox who cried: "Rabbit, your house is full of fleas, I feel them biting over my whole body." The rabbit replied by pouring a second gourd of boiling water over the fox, who saw soon enough that it wasn't fleas that were bothering him. He opened his mouth to cry out, and received the whole contents of the pot down his throat, which ended his days.

Various studies of Monticello use the term, "inventing America," to describe the importance of the ideas and the way of life that flourished at the Jefferson estate. The studies, however, have not normally included the black component of Monticello life.
[End page 66]
The songs and tales presented here--preserved in a forgotten book of French essays--are intended to shed some light on black culture at Monticello. They are as vital an expression of the black half of Monticello as we are likely to find.

  Elizabeth Langhorne
Charlottesville, Virginia


Bear, Jr., James A., ed. Jefferson at Monticello: Memoirs of a Monticello Slave.
    Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1967.

Carson, Jane. Colonial Virginians at Play.
    Colonial Williamsburg, 1956.

Cripes, Helen. Thomas Jefferson and Music.
    Charlottesville, The University Press of Virginia, 1974.

Farish, Hunter Dickinson, ed. Journal & Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, 1773-1774:
A Plantation Tutor of the Old Dominion
    Colonial Williamsburg, 1943.

Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia.
    New York, Harper Torchbooks (reprint edition), 1964.

Mordecai, Samuel. Richmond in By-Gone Days, by An Old Citizen.
    George M. West, 1856.

Randolph, Thomas Jefferson. "Manuscript memoirs."
    Manuscript Department, Alderman Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Stoutamire, Albert L. "A History of Music in Richmond, Va., 1742-1865."
    M.A. thesis, Florida State University, 1960.

Tate, Thad. W. The Negro in Eighteenth Century Williamsburg.
    Colonial Williamsburg, 1965.

Vail, Eugene A. De la litterature et des homme de lettres des Etats Unis d'Amerique.
    Paris, 1841.

[End page 67]

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