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OLD SONGS FROM CLARKSBURG, W.VA., 1918.
BY ANNA DAVIS RICHARDSON.
Two old minstrels are still living in a little town in the western foot-hills of the Alleghenies in West Virginia. Neither knows the other; but in their cracked old voices they sing many of the same old ballads, to the same old minor tunes.
Mrs. Rachel E. Fogg moved here some twenty years ago from her childhood's home in Upshur County. It was some time after I knew her before I discovered that she was an old minstrel in disguise, and then it was by chance. I had gone to see her little son who was sick, and she had called in her daughter Viney to "entertain the lady." Giggling, embarrassed, and protesting that she couldn't "sing ner dance neither good enough fur her," Viney was persuaded to take her mouth-harp from her pocket, and began a pas seul accompanied by improvised skirling on the mouth-harp.
When the dust had settled down, and Viney had ceased to cough, her mother suggested that all of them sing a "song-ballet" for me; whereupon Viney flushed with the late applause she had received, readily agreed, and all three of them began to sing the ballad of “Young Collins.” Several times Mrs. Fogg made them stop and begin from the first again, and apologized for her weak voice, “Time wuz when I could sing till you could a heard me a quarter of a mile,” she said with a sigh.
Ballad after ballad followed, until it went to my head; and I became wildly excited as they became calmer, and knew that I had found buried treasure indeed, which must be preserve
It was while I was spending the following winter in the city that I received this letter:
dear friend May God bless you i take the time to rite you a few lines we are all well as usual and hope you the same dont think hard for me not riting soner. Well, i will send you your song ballets. the song of littel jonie Green it is one a hunderd years old it was sung 1777 as near as i can guess. My great grandmother was a Docter in the indian war her name was judith ann easter. i hope you get a premian on your songs and if you do rite and tell me what you get i dont expect you can read them very well you plese tipe rite them befor you send them to the office well being my letter is so bad i will close
so goodby Love
In the note appended to "Little Johnnie Green” she adds, "My great-grand-mother learned the song in Jermina,' she learned it to her daughter, and she learned it to my mother, and I learned it from my mother."
So this wonderful great-grandmother, born in Germany, a doctor in the Indian wars in America, dashing through the woods on her errands of mercy through a blizzard of Indian arrows, spurring on with her slatted sunbonnet the wonderful horse that could "smell Indians a mile off,” was responsible for the fascinating entertainment I was getting from her great-grand-daughter in the West Virginia hills. "Jermina" was a vague region "on the other side;" and when I asked Mrs. Fogg where she was from, she said hesitatingly, "ScotchDutch or Jerusalem, I forget which." Whichever it was, she came trailing clouds of humor along with her. She is little and plump, with dark glossy hair, pink cheeks, and brown eyes made to twinkle and laugh. The adverse winds of circumstances have blown the clouds many times across her sky; but the sun was always there when they passed, and the laugh is still easily called forth.
In her collection are the following: "Young Collins," "Little Johnnie Green," "The Ship's Carpenter," "The Twelve Joys of Mary,” “Down by the Greenwood Side," "The Little Rosewood Castel,” “The Rich Irish Lady,” “Tuck and Tady," "Joe Bowers," "Billy Boy,” “Betsy Brown,” “The Dying Ranger," "Jesse James,” "Maggie was a Good Little Girl," and then some half a dozen interesting but not valuable songs. All are of equal value to her, — the oldest and the newest Salvation Army song, all jumbled up together.
My other old minstrel, Mrs. McAtee, popularly known as “Old Nance," is the opposite in every way of Mrs. Fogg. She is tall, and thin and gaunt, and has led a hard life, a life in which no one would suppose there had ever been or was now any song. But you never can tell, and her small deep-set blear eyes twinkle as merrily as pretty little Mrs. Fogg's over the humorous parts of her song. She, too, was discovered by accident. She had come up one day to have a letter written to "the govermint" to get him to “redimpt Bobby,” her son who had been drafted. She said she had sent his reprieve to the “Gov'nor," but had never heerd nuthin' frum it," so she had determined to appeal to the "govermint;" and if one wouldn't let him out, the other might, for she "heerd there is two of 'em." The letters and the answers, and the frequent letters to Bobby in camp, necessitated many trips, and much conversation in which reminiscences of the past, of childhood days, gave me the clew, and started questions.
When she knew that Mrs. Fogg had given me twenty-two "songballets," she determined to be even with her, and strained every bit of memory to recall long-forgotten songs. By counting fragments the twenty-four were at last made up.
“You got to be partic'lar," she would whisper to her daughter, who usually came up with her, "she makes it come out printin'!"
If this were a biographical sketch, it could come out "printin'” indefinitely; but that is another story, and I have not seen her now since the day she came up to tell me that Bobby was about to be "trespassed" into another company.
Every now and then, as she repeated the words of her songs for me, she would stop, and ask anxiously, "It ain't no harm sayin' 'em, is it? It's jus' sport, ain't it?” She went on to explain: "My mother she wouldn't never sing 'em, she sung good pieces. Her an' Pappy was well religious old people, they belonged to meetin', an' wuz baptized in the river. Pappy had this here — what you call fam’ly prayers, yes ma'am, prayed 'fore he went to work in the mornin', and 'fore he went to bed at night. He was full-blooded Irish, named McDonald. They brung him over when he was six weeks old, an' settled down in Albemarle County, Virginia. No, ma'am! I never learned these ballets from them; I heerd the other kids a-singin' 'em, an' the people that lived round there. Some of 'em I heerd the soldiers singin' when the war wuz goin on down there, pore fellers! some of 'em'd a had to stand in the same place twict to cast a shadder; but they was plucky, a-singin' an' pickin' their banjos an' fiddles.”
Mrs. McAtee's collection included "Lady Margaret and Sweet William," "Lord Leven," "Fair Ellender," "Little Johnnie Green," “William Taylor and His Own True Lovyer,” “Billy Boy," "Davy Crockett," "A Pretty Fair Maid in a Garden," "I was brought up in Sheerfield,” “Go saddle up my Milk-White Steed," "My Name it is Bill Staffato,” “When I rode the Madison Square," "The Cruel Father," "McAtee's Confession,” “The Raising of Lazareth," and two or three songs of the Civil War, — “The Victory won at Richmond," "The Yankees' Retreat," etc.
Having found these two, I have entirely abandoned the idea that the "Lay of the Last Minstrel" has been sung, and am sure that "just around the corner" there are others waiting to be heard, if we passers-by will only stop a minute in our rushing life to listen.
There are other songs to be heard in these West Virginia hills besides those of the birds and winds and streams; other assets for the State besides the lumber-camps, oil and gas wells, coal-mines, and cattle on "a thousand hills." The Pan who lives in these mountains is different from his Greek ancestor; but he is here, piping on his reed where you least expect it, and in a disguise that completely camouflages him.
1. JOHNNIE COLLINS.
Young Collins went forth one morning in May
All over the fresh blooming flowers;
A-washin' a white marble stone.
And he kissed both her cheeks and her chin; The stars from heaven came twinkling down
At the place where young Collins jumped in!
He swum, and he swum, and he sw - u-u-um
Till he came to his own father's door; Says, "Father, dear father, oh, let me in!
Oh, let me in once more! "If I should die this very night,
Which I think in my own heart I will,
At the foot of Fair Eleanor's hill."
All dressed in her silks so fine,
“An old true-lover of mine.”
So she might gaze on his beautiful form once more, "And get one kiss from those cold clay lips
Which oft-time have kissed mine before." She ordered a sheet to be brought right there,
All trimmed with its laces so fine; "For to-day it waves over young Collins' grave,
To-morrow shall wave over mine." The news it went round to Dablin Town
All printed on Dablin's gate, "Six pretty fair maids all died last night,
And 'twas all for young Collins' sake."
2. THE SONG OF THE TWELVE BLESSINGS OF MARY.
(Given by Mrs. Rachel Echols Fogg.)
It was the blessing of one,
Was God's eternal Son,
Was God's eternal Son.
Was the blessing of two,
Could read the Bible through,
Could read the Bible through.
Was the blessing of three,
Could make the blind man see,
Could make the blind man see.
Was the blessing of four,
Could make the rich man poor,
Could make the rich man poor.
Was the blessing of five,
Could make the dead man alive,
Could make the dead man alive.
Was the blessing of six,
Could make the sick man well (wear the crucifix?)
Could make the sick man well.
Was the blessing of seven,
Carried the keys of heaven,
Carried the keys of heaven.
Was the blessing of eight,
Could open the gates of heaven (sic),
Could open the gates of heaven.
Was the blessing of nine,