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
AUTHOR: Stephen C. Foster
EARLIEST DATE: 1848 (copyright)
KEYWORDS: death mourning slave
FOUND IN: US(MW,SE,So)
REFERENCES (8 citations):
Randolph 261, "Uncle Ned" (1 text, 1 tune)
Randolph/Cohen, pp. 223-225, "Uncle Ned" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 261)
BrownIII 420, "Uncle Ned" (2 texts plus an exaggerated parody, "There was an ancient colored individual, and his cognomen was Uncle Edward")
BrownSchinhanV 420, "Uncle Ned" (2 tunes plus text excerpts)
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")
Stout 92, pp. 116-117, "Old Uncle Ned" (2 short texts)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #2389, pp. 160-161, "Uncle Ned" (4 references)
Emerson, p. 5, "Uncle Ned" (1 text)
ST R261 (Full)
Elda Blackwood, "Uncle Ned" [fragment] (on USWarnerColl01)
Fiddlin' John Carson, "Old Uncle Ned" (OKeh 40263, 1925; rec. 1924)
Al Hopkins & his Buckle Busters, "Old Uncle Ned" (Brunswick 300, 1929; rec. 1928)
Uncle Dave Macon, "Uncle Ned" (Vocalion 5011, 1926)
Harry "Haywire Mac" McClintock, "Darkie Uncle Ned" (on McClintock02)
Chubby Parker, "Uncle Ned" (Silvertone 25103, 1927; Supertone 9192, 1928)
Leake County Revelers, "Uncle Ned" (Columbia 15470-D, 1929)
Oscar Seagle, "Uncle Ned" (Columbia A-3582, 1922)
Murray, Mu23-y4:0048, "Uncle Ned," unknown, 19C
cf. "Johnny Walk Along to Hilo" (floating lyrics)
cf. "Way Down on the Old Peedee" (plot)
Uncle Ned's Ghost (broadside Murray, Mu23-y1:011, "Uncle Ned's Ghost," J. Bristow (Glasgow), no date; a sequel to this song describing Ned's afterlife)
"Dere Was a Little Man, and His Name was Stevy Dug" (Campaign song for Abraham Lincoln, 1860, quoted in Bruce Catton, _The Coming Fury_, p. 93; Paul F. Boller, Jr., _Presidential Campaigns_, second revised edition, Oxford University Press, p. 112)
"We've a noble rail splitter, and his name is Honest Abe" (Campaign song for Abraham Lincoln, 1860, quoted in Paul F. Boller, Jr., _Presidential Campaigns_, second revised edition, Oxford University Press, p. 103)
There's a Land of Bliss (words by N. C. Brook) (cited in John Tasker Howard, _Stephen Foster: America's Troubadour_, p. 398)
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 DeVoto, p. 134, 'in March of  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. Peters (until then, best known for publishing "Jump Jim Crow"; Milligan, p. 44), who proceeded to sell thousands of copies without giving Foster royalties. It was also one of his earliest compositions in dialect; according to Emerson, pp. 104-105, Foster's first attempt at a dialect piece (in 1845) was "Lou'siana Belle," now mercifully forgotten, with "Uncle Ned" following a week later.
The Peters songs were said to be sung by Jim Murphy of the "Sable Harmonists." There were five songs in this collection, all uncredited; four were Foster songs ("Lou'siana Belle," "O Susanna," "Old Uncle Ned," and "Away Down South"), with George Holman contributing "Wake Up Jacob, or the Old Iron City" (Milligan, p. 44).
According to TaylorEtAl, pp. 39-43, Foster wrote "Lou'siana Belle" for a small group of friends called "The Knights of the S.T.," and the group liked it so much that they called for another song; "He came with the manuscript in his pocket, put it on the piano and invited his friend to sing with him Old Uncle Ned." On p. 49, TaylorEtAl give the words to "Onkel Ned," a German translation (called a "Negerlieder") issued by Max Brockhaus of Leipzig.
For a very interesting version with additional verses, supplied by Marguerite Frost in 2013, see the Supplemental Tradition.
There is some evidence that the song had entered oral tradition even before Peters published it; Milligan, p. 45, notes two other versions published in 1848, one of which appears to have been an arrangement by someone who knew only half the melody and faked the rest!
Emerson, p. 107, suggests that "Uncle Ned" has "more than a hint of [Thomas Haynes] Bayly's 'Long, Long Ago," as well as links to the works of Henry Russell and of "The Fine Old Colored Gentleman," which Dan Emmett wrote in parody of Russell.
The parodying went both ways. Emerson, p. 108, says that Martin Delany wrote a novel, Blake, in which it is Master rather than Ned who dies and who is memorialized in a rather bitter song.- RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
- DeVoto: Bernard DeVoto, The Year of Decision: 1846, Little, Brown and Company, 1943
- Emerson: Ken Emerson, Doo-Dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture, Da Capo, 1997?
- Milligan: Harold Vincent Milligan, Stephen Collins Foster: A Biography of America's Folk-Song Composer, 1920 (I use the 2004 University of Hawaii reprint)
- TaylorEtAl: Deems Taylor et al, A Treasury of Stephen Foster, Random House, 1946
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