John Hardy [Laws I2]

DESCRIPTION: John Hardy, a "desperate boy... who carried a (gun) every day," threatens to kill any man who wins his money. Finally he does lose his money and shoots the other. Hardy flees, but before he can leave the state he is taken, tried, and hanged
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1916 (Cecil Sharp collection); +1909 (JAFL22)
KEYWORDS: homicide gambling execution
Jan 19, 1894 - Execution (in Welch, WV) of one John Hardy, convicted for committing murder during a gambling fight
REFERENCES (27 citations):
Laws I2, "John Hardy"
Randolph 163, "John Hardy" (3 texts, 2 tunes)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 244, "John Hardy" (3 texts)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore4 244, "John Hardy" (1 excerpt, 1 tune)
Chappell-FolkSongsOfRoanokeAndTheAlbermarle 103, "John Henry" (1 short text, which despite the title appears to have two "John Hardy" verses and only one of "John Henry")
Morris-FolksongsOfFlorida, #42, "John Hardie" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 759-761, "John Hardy" (2 texts)
Friedman-Viking/PenguinBookOfFolkBallads, p. 393, "John Hardy" (2 texts)
Roberts-SangBranchSettlers, #30, "John Hardy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax/Lomax-FolkSongUSA 85, "John Hardy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 141, "John Hardy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax/Lomax-AmericanBalladsAndFolkSongs, pp. 124-126, "John Harty" (1 text, 1 tune)
Dunson/Raim/Asch-AnthologyOfAmericanFolkMusic, p. 50, "John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cohen/Seeger/Wood-NewLostCityRamblersSongbook, p. 142, "John Hardy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hodgart-FaberBookOfBallads, p. 246, "John Hardy" (1 text)
Burton/Manning-EastTennesseeStateCollectionVol2, p. 54, "John Hardy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cox-FolkSongsSouth 35, "John Hardy" (9 text, some of John Henry, some of John Hardy, some mixed: A is John Hardy with a John Henry second verse, B, C, and G are John Hardy with a John Henry opening verse, D, F, and I are pure John Hardy, E is John Hardy with material from John Henry and a "Pretty Little Foot" song, H is John Henry)
Gainer-FolkSongsFromTheWestVirginiaHills, pp. 114-115, "John Hardy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Boette-SingaHipsyDoodle, pp. 52-53, "John Hardy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Bush-FSofCentralWestVirginiaVol1, pp. 50-52, "John Hardy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 87, "John Hardy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cohen-AmericanFolkSongsARegionalEncyclopedia1, pp. 217-218, "John Hardy" (1 text)
Courlander-NegroFolkMusic, p. 179, "(John Hardy)" (1 fragment)
Cray-AshGrove, pp. 7-8, "John Hardy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NewAmericanSongster, pp. 235-236, "John Hardy" (1 text)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 197, "John Hardy" (1 text)

Roud #3262
Clarence Ashley, "Old John Hardy" (Columbia 15654-D, 1931; rec. Apr. 14, 1930; on Ashley04)
Dock Boggs, "John Hardy" (on Boggs3, BoggsCD1)
Ted Boyd, "John Hardy" (on FarMtns1)
Carter Family, "John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man" (Victor V-40190, 1930; Zonophone [UK] 4294, n.d.; rec. 1928; Bluebird B-6033/Montgomery Ward M-4741, 1935; on AAFM1)
Eva Davis, "John Hardy" (Columbia 167-D, 1924; Harmony 5097-H, n.d.; Velvet Tone 7036-V, n.d.; Diva 6010-G [as Eva David], c. 1930)
Buell Kazee, "John Hardy" (Brunswick 144, 1927; on BefBlues1, ConstSor1) (on Kazee01)
Leadbelly, "John Hardy" (Musicraft 311. 1945)
Frank Proffitt, "John Hardy" (on Proffitt03)
J. W. Russell, "John Hardy" (AFS 3163 A3, 1936)
Mike Seeger, "John Hardy" (on MSeeger01)
Pete Seeger, "John Hardy" (on PeteSeeger16) (on PeteSeeger27)
Ernest Stoneman, "John Hardy" (OKeh 7011, 1925); "Justin Winfield" [Ernest Stoneman, Willie Stoneman, and the Sweet Brothers], "John Hardy" (Gennett 6619, 1928; on RoughWays1)
Dan Tate, "John Hardy" (on FarMtns1)
Fields Ward, Glen Smith & Wade Ward, "John Hardy" (on HalfCen1)
Walter Williams, "John Hardy" (AFS, 1937; on KMM)

NOTES [619 words]: Cox prints a copy of the execution notice for John Hardy, who was convicted of first degree murder. He follows this with assorted personal reminiscences about Hardy. Unfortunately, the texts he quotes are very confused (most include John Henry verses among the stanzas about John Hardy), and one has to suspect that the reminiscences are also confused.
We also note that Sharp was finding North Carolina texts of the song only 20 years after the murder -- a surprisingly quick diffusion. I was initially tempted to wonder if Cox's John Hardy is indeed THE John Hardy.
I think these doubts can now be set aside. John Garst, who has done so much for John Henry scholarship, has also turned his attention to John Hardy, as has Norm Cohen.
Garst found the following:
"Census records report a John Hardy who was born in Virginia and who was 13 years old in 1880, when he lived in Glade Springs, Washington County, Virginia, with his parents, Miles and Malinda Hardy. If this is the John Hardy who was hanged in 1894, then he would have been about 27 years old, an age that fits some eyewitness descriptions.
"According to the Wheeling Daily Register of January 20, 1894, the trouble over the craps game was a pretext for Hardy to kill Thomas Drews. 'Both were enamoured of the same woman, and the latter proving the more favored lover, incurred Hardy's envy.' There was testimony to the effect that Hardy enlisted a confederate, Webb Gudger, who was also tried in connection with the crime.
Cohen and Garst both examined the data in Richard Ramella, "John Hardy: The Man and the Song," (Goldenseal 18, Spring 1992). Garst notes the following from that source:
"'Hardy's cohort Webb Gudger was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. After serving four years in the state penitentiary, he returned to McDowell County and later died in a railroad work accident near Elkhorn.' Gudger hid behind a rock during the game of craps and had agreed to shoot Drews if Hardy failed to do so.
"Hardy and Gudger were captured at the same time, a few days after the killing."
Ramella also states, "...Hardy's mother attempted to pay bail, but bail was not allowed for persons accused of capital offenses. There were possibly two other women connected with Hardy, his wife and a woman friend."
Garst has now established with high probability the existence of the wife, quoting the following news clip:
"Shot From Ambush.
"HUNTINGTON, W. Va., April 16.--
'Mrs. Mary Hardy was shot from ambush fifty miles south of this city last Saturday night while on her way home, by an unknown assassin. Her husband, John Hardy, was hanged in McDowell county several months ago. She was a desperate character."
Garst also found data on Gudger from the 1880 census:
Name: Webb Gudger
Home in 1880: Old Fort, McDowell, North Carolina
Age: 19
Estimated birth year: abt 1861
Birthplace: North Carolina
Occupation: Prisoner - Raleigh
Marital Status: Single
Race: Mulatto
Gender: Male
Garst observes that "his 'occupation' as a prisoner, at age 19, makes him a pretty good candidate" for Hardy's co-conspirator.
It all adds up to a pretty convincing case.
Other details: The shooting took place in Elkhorn, which at some time in the past was known as Shawnee Camp (see Richard Polenberg: Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales That Inspired Stagolee, John Henry, and Other Traditional American Folk Songs, Cornell University Press, 2015, p. 122); some versions say that Hardy killed a man "in Shawnee town" or similar. Both Hardy and his victim were Black. The trial records, although not the execution order, are missing. But the execution certainly happened; Polenberg, p. 126, has a photo of Hardy on the gallows shortly before he was hung. - RBW
Last updated in version 6.0
File: LI02

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2021 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.