John Hardy


Leadbelly plays “John Hardy”on the diatonic accordion:


by John Harrington Cox  (From Journal of American Folk-Lore, Volume 32, No. 126, October-December 1919, pp.505-520)

The following statement was made to me in person in the summer of 1918 by Mr. James Knox Smith, a Negro lawyer of Keystone, McDowell County, who was present at the trial and also at the execution of John Hardy:—

“Hardy worked for the Shawnee Coal Company, and one pay-day night he killed a man in a crap game over a dispute of twenty-five cents. Before the game began, he laid his pistol on the table, saying to it, ‘Now I want you to lay here; and the first nigger that steals money from me, I mean to kill him.’ About midnight he began to lose, and claimed that one of the Negroes had taken twenty-five cents of his money. The man denied the charge, but gave him the amount; whereupon he said, ‘Don’t you know that I won’t lie to my gun?’ Thereupon he seized his pistol and shot the man dead.

“After the crime he hid around the Negro shanties and in the mountains a few days, until John Effler (the sheriff) and John Campbell (a deputy) caught him. Some of the Negroes told them where Hardy was, and, slipping into the shanty where he was asleep, they first took his shotgun and pistol, then they wakcd him up and put the cuffs on him. Effler handcuffed Hardy to himself, and took the train at Eckman for Welch. Just as the train aas passing through a tunnel, and Effler was taking his prisoner from one car to another, Hardy jumped, and took Effler with him. He tried to get hold of Effler’s pistol; and the sheriff struck him over the head with it, and almost killed him. Then he unhandcuffed himself from Hardy, tied him securely with ropes, took him to Welch, and put him in jail.

“While in jail after his conviction, he could look out and see the men building his scaffold; and he walked up and down his cell, telling the rest of the prisoners that he would never be hung on that scaffold. Judge H. H. Christian, who had defended Hardy, heard of this, visited him in jail, advised him not to kill himself or compel the officers to kill him, but to prepare to die. Hardy began to sing and pray, and finally sent for the Reverend Lex Evans, a white Baptist preacher, told him he had made his peace with God, and asked to be baptized. Evans said he would as soon baptize him as he would a white man. Then they let him put on a new suit of clothes, the guards led him down to the Tug River, and Evans baptized him. On the scaffold he begged the sheriff’s pardon for the way he had treated him, said that he had intended to fight to the death and not be hung, but that after he got religion he did not feel like fighting. He confessed that he had done wrong, killed a man under the influence of whiskey, and advised all young men to avoid gambling and drink. A great throng witnessed the hanging.

“Hardy was black as a crow, over six feet tall, weighed about two hundred pounds, raw-boned, and had unusually long arms. He came originally from down eastern Virginia, and had no family. He had formerly been a steel-driver, and was about forty years old, or more.”


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