Edwin Driscoll



Edwin Driscoll



The Negro folklore as recounted below was secured from the following

persons: Mrs. Julia Rush (an ex-slave) who lives at 878 Coleman Street,

S.W.; Mr. George Leonard (a very intelligent elderly person) whose

address is 148 Chestnut Avenue N.E.; and Mr. Henry Holmes (an ex-slave);

Mr. Ellis Strickland; Mr. Sam Stevens and a young boy known only as Joe.

The latter named people can be found at the address of 257 Old Wheat

Street, N.E. According to these people this lore represents the sort of

thing that their parents and grandparents believed in and at various

times they have been heard to tell about these beliefs.


Mr. Leonard says: "In dem days de old folks b'lieved in witch-craft and

conjure and sicha stuff like dat. Dey b'lieved dat an old person could

punish anybody by taking a piece of chip and spitting on it and den dey

would throw it on 'em. Dey said dat in two weeks time maggots would be

in 'em."

"I have seen 'em take a black cat an' put 'im in a sack an' den dey took

'im an' put 'im in a pot of boiling hot water alive. Man de cat would

almos' tear dat pot up tryin' to git out. After dey had cooked all de

meat off de cat dey took one of his bones (I don't know which one of

'em) and put it crossways in their front teeth while dey mumbled

somethin' under their breath an' den dey took dis bone an' throwed it

'cross de right shoulder an' when dey went an' picked it up an' put it

in their pocket it was supposed to give 'em de bes' kind of luck. Dey

could say or do anything dey wanted to an' ole marster couldn't hit


Regarding the Black cat's bone Mr. Strickland told the following story

which he says he once heard an old man tell his father:

"You goes out in de valley in de woods an' you takes a live black cat

an' throws 'im in a pot of boiling water. You boils 'im 'till he gits

done all to pieces an' den you takes all de bones an' throws 'em in de

creek an' de one dat floats up de creek is de one to use. You takes dis

bone an' draws it through your teech an' gits all de meat off an' den

you can take dat bone an' do all kinds of majic. You can talk to folks

an' dey can't see you. You can even disappear an' come right back. It

takes a good 'un to do dat (get a black cat's bone). While you's boilin'

de cat dat thunder an' lightnin' look like it goin' tear up de face of

de earth--you can even see de wind which is like a red blaze of fire."

Continuing Mr. Strickland says: "Some of de roots dat dey used to bring

'im luck an' to trick folks wid wuz Rattle-Snake Marster, and John de

Conquerer. John de Conquerer is supposed to conquer any kind of trouble

you gits intuh. Some folks says dat you can tote it in your pocket an'

have good luck.

"I once knowed a woman who had some lodestone dat she uster work. She

could take men an' dere wives apart an' den put 'em back together again.

She say dat she had killed so many folks (by the use of conjure and

majic etc.) dat she did'nt know whether she would ever git fit fer

forgiveness. She sold She sold herself to de devil fer twenty years."

"Aint nuthin wrong wid folks all de time when dey thinks dey is

tricked," says Mr. Strickland. "I had a friend named Joe once an' he

uster fool 'roun wid roots an' stuff like dat. One day he heard about a

man who had promised to pay five-hundred dollars to anybody dat could

cure him of de misery in his stomach. He thought somebody had "tricked"

him by puttin' a snake in 'im. Joe stayed wid 'im fer two days an' he

did'nt git no better an' so he went out de nex' day an' bought a rubber

snake an den he come back an' give de man some medecine to make 'im

vomit. When he comited Joe throwed de snake in de can an' den he said to

de man: "Dere it is, I knowed somebody had fixed you." De man said: "Dey

tol' me somebody had put a snake in me." Joe took de snake an' done away

wid it an' de nex' day de man wuz up walkin' 'roun. He never did know

how he had been fooled an' Joe made de five-hundred dollars."

According to Mrs. Rush the wife of the colored foreman on her master's

plantation was always working with roots. She says "One day I come in

fum de field to nurse my baby an' when I got to my house dere was dis

woman standing at my door." I said to her: "Name o' God Aunt Candis (dat

wus her name) whut is you doin'?" She wus makin' all kings of funny

motions when I come up on her. If you aint scared of 'em dey can't do

nuthin to you. When I hollored at her de sweat broke out on her face. By

dis time I had stayed away fum de field too long an' I knowed I wus

goin' to git a whippin' but Candis gimme some of de roots she had in her

mouth an'in her pockets. She tol' me to put piece of it in my mouth an'

chew it. When I got near de overseer I was to spit some of de juice

towars him an' I would'nt git a whippin'. I tied a piece of it 'roun my

waist an' put some in my trunk too. I did'nt git a whippin' when I got

to de field but when I went to look fer de root 'roun my waist it wus

gone. When I went back to de house dat night de other piece was gone

too. I aint seed it fum dat day to dis. De rest of de women on de

plantation honored Candis but I did'nt. Dey say dat folks like dem can

put stuff down fer you to walk in er set in or drink an' dat dey can fix

you lie dat. But dey can't do nuthin' wid you if you aint scared of


"Not so long ago a woman whut uster live back of me tried to do sumpin'

to me after we had a fuss. I woke up one mornin' an' looked out by my

back fence an' dere wus a lotsa salt an' sulphur an' stuff all 'roun de

yard. De other women wus scared fer me but I wus'nt."

Several of my informants say that salt can be used as a weapon of

conjure. According to Joe salt may be used to make a gambler lose all of

his money. To do this all that is necessary is to stand behind the

person to be conjured and then sprinkle a small amount of salt on his

back. From that instant on he will lose money. Joe has also seen a woman

use the following method to make her male friend remain at home: "She

taken some salt an' pepper an' sprinkled it up an' down de steps," says

Joe, "an' den she taken a plain eatin' fork an' stuck it under de door

steps an' de man stayed right in de house until she moved de fork."

Mr. Stevens says: "If you want to fix somebody all you got to do is to

sprinkle some salt an' petter 'roun 'em an' it'll make 'em bus' dere

brains out. If you wants to make 'em move you go out to de grave yard

an' stick your hand down in de middle of a grave an' git a handful of

dat red graveyard dirt an' den you comes back an' sprinkles it 'roun

dere door an' dey's gone, dey can't stay dere. Another conjuration is

fer a woman to make three waves over a man's head. I saw one do dat


Another method used to fix or conjure people, according to Mrs. Rush, is

to take a lizard and parch it. The remains must be put in something that

the person is to eat and when the food is eaten the individual will be

conjured. Mr. Holmes says if a black cat's tail is tied on someone's

doorknob it will "cut dey luck off."

Silver money tied around the leg will ward off the effects of conjure.

Mrs. Rush says if you are feeling ill and you wish to determine whether

or not someone has been trying to conjure you or not just take a silver

coin and place it in your mouth. If it turns black somebody is working

conjure on you. "I knowed a man who went to Newnan to see his mother who

wus sick," stated Mrs. Rush. "She wus so sick dat she could'nt tell whut

wus de matter wid her an' so her son took a silver quarter an' put it in

her mouth an' it turned as black as a kettle."

Says Mr. Holmes: "If anybody comes to your house an' you don't want 'em

dere, when dey leaves you take some salt an' throw it at 'em when dey

gits out of hearin' you cuss at 'em an' dey won't never come back


Following are some songs that used to be sung about conjure, etc.:


"Mother, make my bed down

I will freely lie down,

Mother, make my bed down

I will freely lie down"


"Ransom, my son, what did she give you to eat?

Ransom, my son, what did she give you to eat?


"Red head (parched lizard) and speckle back

Oh, make my bed down I will freely lie down."

"I'm goin' to pizen (poison) you, I'm goin' to pizen you,

I'm jus' sick an' tired of de way you do,

I'm goin' to sprinkle spider legs 'roun yo' bed

an' you gonna wake up in de mornin' an find yourself dead"

"You beat me an' you kick me an' you black my eyes,

I'm gonna take dis butcher knife an' hew you down to my size,

You mark my words, my name is Lou,

You mind out what I say, I'm goin' to pizen you."


Mrs. Rush says that backache can be cured by rubbing a hot iron up and

down the afflicted person's back.

Asafetida tied around the neck will prevent smallpox.

Risings can be cured by rubbing them with a poultice made from

House-Leak root.

To prevent a fall while walking from one side of a creek to the other on

a log, place a small stick crosswise in the front-teeth and no mishap

will result.

Hold the mouth full of water while peeling onions and the onion juice

will not get in the eyes.

If a man wishes to make a woman fall in love with him all that he has to

do is to take some of her hair, tie it up, and then throw it in running

water. In a short while she will fall deeply in love with him.

A man may also cause a woman to fall in love with him by letting her

drink whiskey in which he has allowed "Gin-Root" to soak.

If a woman wishes to make a man fall in love with her she has only to

take the small bow usually found in the back of a man's cap on the

sweatband, or the bow usually found on the band of the man's hat. After

this has been secured it must be taken and worn under her clothes next

to her body.


Mrs. Betty Brown of 74 Butler Street, N.E. says that when people die

angry with someone they usually come back after death in the form of a

witch and then they ride the person that they were angry with at the

time of their death.

According to Mr. Favors who lives at 78 Raymond Street, when a witch

rides anyone it is a sign that a man, a woman, or a dog, is after that


Mrs. Julia Rush says: "De old folks uster call witches hags. Dey wus

some kind of sperrits (spirits) an' dey would ride anybody. My

grandmother uster sleep wid de sissors under her pillow to keep 'em


"I once heerd a woman dat a witch come to a house one night an' took her

skin off an' went through de key hole. Somebody foun' de skin an'

sprinkled salt on it an' when de witch come out she could'nt git in de

skin an' she started saying: 'Skinny, Skinny, don't you know me?'"

Regarding witches Mr. Leonard made the following statement: "The old

folks b'lieved dat any house a person died in was "hainted" and dat de

dead person's spirit was a witch dat would come back at night. They used

to put a pan of salt on de corpse to keep it fum purgin' an' to keep de

witches away. They burned lamps all night long fer about three weeks

after de person was dead an' they sprinkled salt an' pepper 'roun too to

keep de witches away."

Another informant claims that if a person sleeps with his or her shoes

under the bed the witches are liable to ride him.

Mr. Strickland says that when the witches are riding anyone if that

person can say any three words of the Bible such as: "Lord have mercy,"

or "Jesus save me" the witch will stop riding.


Mr. Henry Holmes claims that he has seen the Jack O'Lantern and that at

one time he even followed it. He says: "One night me an' two more

fellows followed de Jack O'Lantern. It looked like a light in a house or

sumpin. We did'nt know where we wus until de nex' mornin' an' when we

did find ourselfs we wus at home. All de while we followed it it jus'

kep' goin' further an' further until it jus' vanished."

According to Mr. Leonard the Jack O'Lantern is a light that comes out of

the swamps at night and after getting in front of a person it will lead

him on and on. The old folks also used to think that the vapor seen

rising out of the swamps at night were ghosts. One night he and his

grandfather were walking down the railroad tracks when suddenly his

grandfather said: "Stand back dere George don't you see dat man walkin'

'long dere wid no head?" He says, however, that he himself failed to see

any such thing.

According to both Mrs. Brown and Mrs. [Rush?] people who are born with

cauls (a kind of a veil) over their eyes are able to see ghosts.


Mr. Leonard says that a young man wishing to accompany a young woman to

her home always spoke in the following manner: "Dear kind Miss, if you

have no objection of my being your protection, I'm going in your

direction." It was in this manner that he asked her to allow him to

escort her home.

For several years after freedom was declared it was the custom for the

bride and the groom to jump over the broom together before they were

pronounced man and wife.


The best time to hunt 'possums is on a cloudy night just before the

break of day. All of the big ones are out then Mr. Favors claims.

Edward Lycurgas Edwin Driskell facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail