“Uncle Ned”

Author: Stephen C. Foster
Earliest date: 1848 (copyright)
Keywords: death mourning slave
Found in: US(SE,So)

Description

Uncle Ned was so old when he died that he had no wool (hair) on his head, no teeth, and was blind. Even so, both his fellow-slaves and his owners grieved at his death

Supplemental text

Uncle Ned
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods,
chapter 5 (last words of the chapter). Reported to have
been sung 1871/1872, though this part of the book is fiction
(the Ingalls family did not live in Wisconsin at the time).

There was an old darkey
And his name was Uncle Ned,
And he died long ago, long ago.
There was no wool on the top of his head,
In the place where the wool ought to grow.

His fingers were as long,
As the cane in the brake,
His eyes they could hardly see,
And he had no teeth for to eat the hoe-cake,
So he had to let the hoe-cake be.

So hang up the shovel and the hoe,
Lay down the fiddle and the bow,
There's no more work for old Uncle Ned,
For he's gone where the good darkeys go.

          *** B ***

From Vance Randolph, Ozark Folksongs, Volume II, #261, p. 335.
Collected 1926 from Mrs. Marie Wilbur of Pineview, Missouri.

There was an old nigger an' his name was Ned,
He died long years ago.
He had no wool on the top of his head,
The place where the wool ought to grow.

Hang up the fiddle an' the bow
Lay down the shovel an' the hoe,
There's no more work for pore old Ned,
For he's gone where the good niggers go.

His fingers was long like the cane in the brake,
He had no eyes for to see,
He had no teeth for to eat the corn cakes,
So he had to let the corn cakes be.

One cold frosty mornin' when everything was still,
The darkies stood round the bed,
Not a thing was done, not a thing was said,
For pore old Ned was dead.

When old Ned died Miss' took it mighty hard,
The tears poured down like rain
Old Marse turned pale an' he looked mighty sad.
Cause he'd never see the old man again.

          *** C ***

From Thomas W. Talley, Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 61. It is item #81 (p. 53)
in the revised edition by Charles K. Wolfe.

Jes lay down de shovel an' de hoe.
Jes hang up de fiddle an' de bow.
No more hard work fer ole man Ned,
For he's gone whar de good Niggers go.

He didn't have no years fer to hear,
Didn' have no eyes fer to see,
Didn' have no teeth fer to eat corn cake,
An' he had to let de beefstake be.

Dey called 'im "Ole Uncle Ned,"
A long, long time ago.
Dere wusn't no wool on de top o' his head
In de place whar de wool oughter grow.

When ole man Ned wus dead,
Mosser's tears run down lak rain;
But ole Miss, she was a little sorter glad,
Dat she wouldn' see do ole Nigger 'gain.

Notes

Randolph, following White, says this song is common in African-American tradition, but collections from tradition (Black or White) seem relatively few. (And it's hard to see why African-Americans would make it their own, given its obvious pro-slavery bias. White found several versions, and Talley had one much-modified text, but that's about it for collections from non-Whites.) Brown had a genuine collection; Randolph also has one, plus there is also a fragment in Laura Ingalls Wilder's _Little House in the Big Woods_ (chapter 5). But the latter two versions, we might note, have Ozark connections.

This was one of Foster's very earliest pieces, and one of his first big hits. According to Bernard DeVoto, _The Year of Decision: 1846_, Little, Brown and Company, 1943, p. 134, 'in March of [1846] a twenty-year-old Pittsburg youth failed of appointment at West Point, and so at the end of the year he went to keep books in his brother's commission house at Cincinnati. He took with him the manuscripts of three songs, all apparently written in this year, all compact of the minstrel-nigger tradition. One celebrates a lubly collud gal, Lou'siana Belle. In another an old nigger has no wool on the top of his head in the place whar de wool ought to grow.... And in the third American pioneering was to find its leitmotif for all time: it was 'Oh Susanna!'"

This is one of the first pieces Foster had published; he *gave* it to W. C. Peter, who proceeded to sell thousands of copies without giving Foster royalties. - RBW

Same tune

Cross references

Broadsides

Recordings

References

  1. Randolph 261, "Uncle Ned" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 223-225, "Uncle Ned" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 261)
  3. BrownIII 420, "Uncle Ned" (2 texts plus an exaggerated parody, "There was an ancient colored individual, and his cognomen was Uncle Edward")
  4. Thomas-Makin', pp. 236-237, ("Uncle Ned") (1 fragment plus a Great Depression parod noting that "All the Democrats are working on the State Highway Job And the Republicans are all on Relief")
  5. ST R261 (Full)
  6. Roud #4871
  7. BI, R261