Delia's Gone [Laws I5]
DESCRIPTION: Tony/Coonie shoots Delia (for breaking her promise to marry him). Delia's mother grieves. Coonie writes a letter from prison, where he has been sent for life, asking the governor for a pardon
EARLIEST DATE: 1927
KEYWORDS: homicide prison punishment
FOUND IN: US(SE) West Indies(Bahamas)
REFERENCES (8 citations):
Laws I5, "Delia (Holmes)"
Joyner, pp. 59-61, "Delia Holmes" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cohen-AFS1, pp. 309-312, "Delia Holmes (1 text)
Botkin-AmFolklr, pp. 911-912, "Delia Holmes" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, pp. 238-239, "Delia" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 177, "Delia's Gone" (1 text)
DT 657, DELIAGON* DELIAGO2 (DELIA2 -- heavily adapted)
ADDITIONAL: John Garst, _Delia_ (Occasional Papers in Folklore Number Two), Loomis House Press, 2012, prints all or parts of half a dozen texts (although no tunes) and gives extensive background notes including two newspaper articles on the murder trial of Moses Houston
Blind Blake Higgs, "Delia Gone" (on WIHIGGS01)
Blind Willie McTell, "Delia" (on USWMcTell01)
Pete Seeger, "Delia's Gone" (on PeteSeeger04)
cf. "Mister McKinley (White House Blues)" (tune, some versions)
NOTES: In oral tradition this ballad has split into two texts which are so distinct that they can hardly be recognized as one. (Indeed, I wasn't sure until I came across an unusually full Bahaman version.)
"Delia's Gone," from the Bahamas, tells only the bare facts of Delia's murder, which is committed by Tony.
"Delia" ("Delia Holmes") provides a motive for the shooting (Delia Holmes had broken her promise to marry Coonie), and gives details about the murderer's conviction.
One theory has it that this story is based on a murder committed in Georgia around 1900.
If this is true, then Tony/Coonie is Moses Houston (variously called "Mose" and "Cooney/Coony" in the newspapers). His age is uncertain; he gave it as fourteen, and the papers estimated it at fourteen to sixteen.
Delia Green was fourteen year old whom he had been dating. He claimed there was a sexual relationship; she denied it. He killed her in 1900, at a rowdy party in which they argued, apparently over whether their relationship was sexual. He was tried in 1901. Found guilty (in a trial which, in retrospect, does not sound very fair), he was sentenced to prison but parolled in 1913; a later request to overturn his sentence does not seem to have been acted upon. (Information compiled by John Garst.)
Almost all that was known about this song is summarized by Chapman J. Milling in Volume 1, Number 4 of Southern Folklore Quarterly (December 1937); Botkin excerpts several important paragraphs. This has now been superseded by the John Garst book cited in the references.
Garst has a number of interesting notes on the case; he observes (p. 15) that there must have been extensive perjury in the trial testimony, notes that Coonie escaped from a chain gang in 1904 but got in trouble with the law again, resulting in him being shipped back to Georgia (p. 13), and speculates (pp. 15-16) that the place where Delia died was a house of ill repute, leading him to wonder if Delia was a prostitute (I would have to say that that is reading too much into the facts; even brothels can have girls who help clear up).
Garst, pp. 14-15, makes an interesting point: Moses Houston was eventually granted parole by Georgia governor Slaton. Slaton later would commute the sentence of Leo Frank, convicted of murdering Mary Phagan, from a death sentence to life imprisonment. It ended his political career. It tells you something about politics at the time that Slaton suffered no political consequences at all for paroling a man clearly guilty of murder in some degree, but saw his career end for merely canceling the execution of a man who was undeniably innocent of murder.
On pp. 21-22, Garst points out that the chorus line "Delia('s) gone, one more round" originated in the Bahaman versions, and was not found in the U. S. until American singers started copying those versions. The typical American version is "one more rounder gone." - RBW
McTell's version keeps one of the usual tag lines -- "She's all I've got is gone" -- but tells none of the story. Instead it combines floating verses from murder blues like Stagolee, Frankie and Albert, and Louis Collins. - BS
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