Google+ Georgia On My Mind: January 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Old Dan Tucker

As a young girl I became hooked on Laura Ingalls Wilder back when her books were the thing…..not the television show and the subsequent re-runs….but the honest to goodness turn-the-page books.   When I read On the Banks of Plum Creek I had what I believe to be my introduction to the song Old Dan Tucker.

Here are the lyrics as they appeared in Ingall’s book, but there are other versions as well.

Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man
He washed his face in the frying pan
He combed his hair with a wagon wheel
And died of the toothache in his heel

Get out the way for old Dan Tucker
He's too late to git his supper
Supper's over and dishes washed
Nothing left but a piece of squash

Old Dan Tucker went to town
Riding a mule and leading a hound
Hound barked and mule jumped
Threw old Dan right over a stump…..

Most references state Old Dan Tucker became a minstrel hit in 1843 when a troupe of white men who performed in blackface began to sing it.  They sang in Black Vernacular English and called themselves the Virginia Minstrels.  Though the lyrics Laura Ingalls Wilder placed in her book seem a little tame they actually tell the story of how Dan Tucker visits a strange town where he is the epitome of a bad guest.  You name it he does it – he fights, he gets drunk, he overeats, etc.   As other minstrel groups added the song to their playlist they removed and added lyrics as they wished.Just as there are many versions to the lyrics there are just as many versions regarding how the song came to be.

Dan Emmett, the leader of the Virginia Minstrels, claimed to have written Old Dan Tucker when he was 14 years old and living in Mount Vernon, Ohio.   In interviews he stated he named the character after himself and his dog, Tucker.   Emmett is also credited with having written the song Dixie as well…..but that’s another story for another time.

The Georgia connection with Old Dan Tucker involves Elbert County.  Their Chamber of Commerce promotes a story that states the Dan Tucker in the song actually lived in Elbert County where he was a farmer, ferryman, and minister.  This particular Dan Tucker was originally born in Virginia in 1740 and ended up fighting in the American Revolution.  As a ferryman he operated a boat that moved back and forth on the Savannah River between Georgia and South Carolina and owned a plantation referred to as "Point Lookout."  As a Methodist minister he worked with slaves.  The slaves actually wrote the song to honor him.  When Tucker died in 1818 he was laid to rest in a grave along Heardmont Road in Elbert County, Georgia where a state historical marker is located today.

Unfortunately, we may never truly know the source for the lively tune. 
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