My name is
Robert E. McCormack.
I will share
4 versions of this heart-rending ballad and introduce each one of them.
introduction, let me share with you:
My great grandmother, Frances Jane Ratliff McCormack, was
heartbroken and distraught after loosing two little girls, Annie &
Suvenia, in a house fire in the early 1870s. This has been said to have
happened in Carter County, KY and was in the local newspapers of the
time. The 1870 census shows Frances Jane living in Greenup County with
her children and her occupation was listed as seamstress.
In the 1860 census, Frances Jane and husband, Floyd, were listed
as living in Carter County. The
status of their marriage at the time of the tragedy is somewhat fuzzy
and I have not been able to locate any extant newspapers giving the
story of the fire. Existing
newspapers of that day are rare and fragmented. It is my desire that
some day someone will locate a newspaper giving the account of the fire.
Members of my family always said that Frances Jane died of
heartache at the age of 33. She was the wife of Rev. Floyd Alson McCormack, a Methodist
circuit minister. Although
I had been told that such a ballad about this tragedy existed, I had not
seen it such until a copy of the words was located by genealogical
researcher, Teresa Klaiber, of Rush KY.
She found the ballad in “Ballad Makin’ in the Mountains of
KY” by Jean Thomas.
listen to the four versions of the ballad, notice that there are some
variation but the story remains generally the same. The ballad has been perpetuated by the oral tradition.
Anne McMeans Strong seems to combine a couple of the verses into
one verse and has a final verse that is missing from the others.
Also note that the version sung by Walsh Nelson (Berea College ,
l959) omits the first verse included by the others and calls his
rendition “Last Wednesday Night I Spied a light.”
His title words are the beginning words of the second verse
included in the other versions. You’ll also notice that the version sung by The Country
Gentlemen refers to “her little boys” but census records reveals
there were two infant girls named Annie & Suvenia.
I will to share all 4 versions for you to draw your own
conclusions. It is a sad
story and one that my family was very reluctant to talk about.
Fortunately, others outside the family have kept the story alive
for over 130 years. For the
sake of my family history, I am grateful for that.
the first sung version:
cousin, Carl McGlone of Olive Hill, KY, put me in touch with his cousin,
Ruth Strong Frank of Tracy, CA. She shared with me a tape of her 90 year
old mother, Anne McMeans Strong, singing the ballad which she called:
TWO LITTLE GIRLS -- Anne Strong says that her mother, Louise McGlone McMeans Rider, put the tune to the words. Louise McGlone dated one of the brothers of the little girls in Quincy, KY about 1880. Census records show the names of the little girls are Annie and Suvenia. Now listen to Anne McMeans Strong sing her version.
Steve Green of Elko, NV, stumbled upon my
genealogical website in 2001. Steve
is writing a full length book about a man named J. W. Day (“Blind Bill
Day”) who was a well-known old-time fiddle player and self taught
ballad maker in eastern Kentucky. Beginning
the 1920s he became known as “Jilson Settlers” (a name perpetuated
by Jean Thomas of Ashland, KY). The
fire ballad was a standard in his repertoire. It is not known who the
author of the ballad is. Some
would give J. W. Day credit for the words as well as the tune.
Nevertheless, he was responsible for perpetuating the ballad
throughout TN and KY in the 1920s and 1930s.
Steve sent me a tape giving 3 versions of the ballad:
COME ALL YE TENDER HEARTED BY
The Country Gentleman
From lyric sheet accompanying Folkways LP The Country Gentleman Sing and
Play Folk Songs and Bluegrass, Vol 2. Folkways FA 2410 c 1961
THE FIRE TRAGEDY Sung by
Wash Nelson, 1959. Collection of Mrs. Mary Stuart Nelson, for Professor
Leonard Roberts. Leonard
Roberts Tape Collection at Berea College LR-OR-67, Collector heard
speaking on tape may have been Orin Nelson.
Transcribed by Steve Green, June 28, 2000.
· COME ALL YOU TENDER HEARTED The Stanley Brothers
Thank you for taking time to share this sad story of my great grandmother, Frances Jane. I have one single photo of her. She has been described as having very fair complexion and long slender fingers. She loved to dance.