leader of the 1739 Stono slave rebellion, was born in central Africa, most likely in the Kingdom of Kongo, now part of Angola, and brought as a slave to the British colony of South Carolina in the 1730s. A majority of the African slaves sold by the British Royal African Company to South Carolina in the early eighteenth century originated in Kongo, an independent kingdom that had converted to Christianity more than two hundred years earlier. If typical of Kongolese slaves brought to South Carolina, Jemmy would have worshipped a combination of Roman Catholicism and older African faiths and may well have had knowledge of Portuguese, or some Creolized variant of that language, which was the lingua franca of the slave trade and of the Kongo elite Jemmy s ability as a military leader and the fighting skills of his fellow rebels had probably been acquired through service in ...
Steven J. Niven
“steel-driving man” and legendary hero, may have been a historic person born a slave in Mississippi, Virginia, or some other Southern state. In ballad and legend he is simply “John Henry,” but “John Henry” is a common combination of given names, so Henry may not have been his surname.
Songs about John Henry were collected as early as 1905. In 1916 the former West Virginia governor W.-A. MacCorkle confused him with John Hardy, an African American gambler and murderer who was hanged in Welch, West Virginia, in 1894 and is the subject of his own ballad. By the mid-1920s the ballad “John Henry” was being recorded commercially by Riley Puckett (1924), Fiddlin' John Carson (1924), and other white “hillbilly” performers, and shortly thereafter recordings by such African American bluesmen as Henry Thomas (1927) and Mississippi John Hurt (1928 began ...