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The Marengo Jake Stories

The Tales of Jake Mitchell and Robert Wilton Burton

Written by Jake Mitchell and Robert Wilton Burton, collected and with an introdu

Publication Year: 2008

Between 1885 and 1894 The Montgomery Advertiser, The Birmingham-Age Herald, and The New Orleans Times Democrat featured a series of about 80 humorous black-dialect sketches by Robert Wilton Burton, a bookseller and writer from Auburn, Alabama.  According to Burton, these tales were based on various characters in the black community of Auburn, and 36 of them were devoted exclusively to a character called "Marengo Jake."  Probably originally from Virginia, Jake Mitchell was brought to the Drake Plantation in Marengo county as a boy in the 1850's.  After the Civil War, the Drake family moved to Auburn and many former slaves followed, forming a fairly large expatriate Marengo County community.  The theme of the stories, usually related by Jake, centers on the superiority of all things from Marengo County, especially over those in Lee County, in which Auburn is located.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Front Matter

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pp. 1-20

In Auburn, Alabama, in the late nineteenth century lived two unusually talented men. Except for residence in this small college town and the possession of extraordinary gifts for storytelling...

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A Note on the Texts

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pp. 21-24

The texts of the thirty-six Marengo Jake tales that follow are reproduced as they first appeared in newspapers; however, due to the poor condition and fading of some of the original copies, we have sometimes had to complete punctuation...

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pp. 25-30

Jake is now a citizen of Auburn. He confesses as much, and he would not deny that his present estate is lowly. His clothes hang in picturesque tatters about his person; his wool rises in a grizz[l]y shock above his crownless hat; his walk is an apologetic shambling; his smik, though broad, discloses but a solitary...

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M'reener: How Uncle Jake Interviewed a "High-Drawin'" Ram

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pp. 31-37

As Jake was shuffiing along the street, carrying a spade and a hoe, he was accosted by the postmaster and informed that there was a letter in the office for him. "Law! Moss Billy, I knowed you was gwine to tell me dat. Me an' Majane was a talkin' 'bout you las' night, an' Majane said ef dey was ar letter in de office for me you'd sho tell me 'bout it. I speck hit's a reddish letter, aint it, Moss Billy?"...

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Marengo Mud: Old Jake's Story of the Bottomless Slough

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pp. 38-45

During the recent spell of rainy weather as Jake was perambulating the streets of Auburn and congratulating himself, per chance, on the solid footing that the sand and gravel afforded, he ran upon Moss Hodge sitting under an umbrella in his buggy, vainly waiting for the mails to come and as vainly trying to dry...

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Three Little Boys and Three Little Fishes

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pp. 46-51

Grave-digging is one of Jake's avocations. It might be his vocation if his lot were cast in a less healthful region, where work in that line would be more abundant, for he has frequently been heard to express a decided preference for the employment...

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Marengo Jake Plays Another Trick on the Three Boys

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pp. 52-58

Early one morning, as Jake was going to work, he espied the same three little boys from whom he had obtained the fishes. Their faces were set toward the country, and appearances indicated that they were off for a day's sport...

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Seismic Phenomena-Explained by a Marengo Scientist

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pp. 59-63

A few days after the great earthquake Jake was seen armed with a scythe and on his way to a certain plat of grass which he had been engaged to mow. His blade bore tokens oflong use and hard service, and was so stained and battered that it might have passed for an ancient relic-a chariot blade...

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Christmas in Marengo

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pp. 64-70

"Do you expect to have a good time Christmas, Jake?" "I aint a studdin bout havin' no Chris'mas in dis yer Auburn, Moss Hodge. Hit aint in de back side O' my haid. Dese yer folks don't know nothin bout Chris'mas. Dey has what dey calls Chris'mas, but dey aim quaimed wid Chris'mas. Ole Sandy Claus don't know...

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Jake and Miss Emmer

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pp. 71-76

When Jake is working in Miss Purreleen's garden his nostrils are often regaled with the most appetizing odors which are wafted from the Squire's kitchen just opposite. The odors have to cross a barbed wire fence, which is no great feat for an odor...

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Tripping Jake

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pp. 77-81

A gentlem[a]n recently had occasion to go to the depot to meet a train which reaches Auburn at a quarter past ten o'clock at night. There was a trunk to be brought up, and the services ofMr. Smith (ofcolor)...

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The Marengo Prestidigitator

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pp. 82-86

"No, sah, dey never will." Jake spoke with unusual energy and emphasis. He was thoroughly convinced of the correctness of the position he had taken. There was not a shadow ofdoubt on his mind-no more than there was in his tone or in the attitude he immediately assumed...

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Marengo Jake: A Romance of Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds

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pp. 87-93

"Whar y'alilittle boys gwine wid dat little bitty ole gun?" The question was asked by Jake. It was addressed to his three little white friends who on former occasions had contributed somewhat [t]o his larder. The time was...

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Jake Cornered

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pp. 94-97

"Moss Wilbur, I year tell Moss Frank done sont a letter up yer all de way f'om Greenville, an' he [']low he want to know how dat little boy what de blackbirds cyad off could see de seben stairs an' de helenyards wid bofe his eyes out....

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A True Story: How Marengo Jake Elected Cleveland

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pp. 98-104

"Moss Hodge, dey tells dey gwine to have a big fa'r in Munggomry nex' week[.]" "Yes: they're going to have the biggest fair they ever have had. Are you going?" "I was des a stud'in' 'bout its sah. I yeared...

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Marengo Jake: He Tells About a Famous "Dry Drought"

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pp. 105-109

Jake was making a great show of digging a hole in the ground for a fence post, but the earth was very dry and hard, and more than once as persons passed he manifested a disposition to stop and talk. But every one seemed intent on his own business...

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Marengo Jake: An Incident ofthe Wet Drouth in M'ringer

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pp. 110-115

After "Moss Tom" had passed on Jake resumed his digging, but the earth was so dry and hard that the crowbar rebounded at every stoke as though it had struck a solid rock. Once it bounced so high that it struck his chin, for Jake is not a tall man...

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A Marengo Runaway: Old Jake Recalls an Antebellum Incident

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pp. 116-121

Jake took his pipe out ofhis mouth and laid it on the corner of the fence. It was a small earthen pipe with a short reed stem. Both bowl and stem were black with nicotine, and the stem was partially chewed up also...

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Dick and the Devil

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pp. 122-127

A hand-organ man appeared in Auburn the other day, and that set Jake talking about music and musicians. "I don't see no fiddlers dese days, like I use to see down dar in M'ringer previous...

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A M'ringer Rat Story: Old Jake's Midnight Adventure in a Corn Field

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pp. 128-133

A party of cadets, dressed in gray uniforms with bright brass buttons, happened to pass the spot where Jake was at work. "Umph-ph!" grunted Jake. "I never is seed sich a pooty passel o' young gentemens. I wouldn't be sprised ef dey aint got some backer or sumpin dey wants to give way."...

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Old Time Christmas: M'ringer Jake Recalls a Famous Celebration

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pp. 134-141

"Ole chrismus is a comin', but dat idee don't pester me," said Jake the other day. "Chrismus aint what hit use to be." "I've been hearing that sort of talk all my life," said an elderly white gentleman.

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A Pig Tale

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pp. 142-146

Jake is in fine spmts. He considers his reputation as a truthful man firmly established in Auburn. A great many persons, in times gone by, have questioned his veracity, have accused him of exaggeration, prevarication and downright mendacity...

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An Assin a Lion's Skin

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pp. 147-151

Not long since, as Jake was doing som[e] work in a garden, he espied a colored ma[n] of distinguished appearance walking in th[e] direction of the experiment station. Now Jake is quite accustomed to seeing farmer[s] from various parts of the state who come to Auburn to inform themselves...

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Birmingham Dirt: A Widespread Idea Illustrated by Old Jake

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pp. 152-157

"Moss Wilbur, is you yeard de news f'om Burnin'ham[?]" inquired Jake. "No. What is it?" "Moss Raif's done got plum rich up dar." "I'm glad to hear that. How did he make his fortune?"...

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Looking Backward

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pp. 158-164

The half man was recently exhibited in Auburn, and every negro that could raise a quarter went to see the wonder. Ever since then the talk amongst the colored population has run largely on human monstrosities and deformities of one kind...

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A Mule as Was a Mule

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pp. 165-170

'''Pear like to me dese yer mules roun' Auburn gits littler an' littler," remarked Jake. "Dey was no count enough de fust time I ever seed 'em, but dey're no counter now 'an dey was den. I don't see how nobody kin make a crap wid 'em. Down dar in M'ringerwe use to set wire traps...

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An Eating Match: Long Tom Rumpless and Pervidin' Elder Hollerhorn

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pp. 171-177

Some one intimated that Jake had a phenominal [sic] appetite, whereupon the gentleman from Marengo defended himself in words as follows: "'Tain't no wonder Auburn folks makes a miration w'en dey sees me a eatin', caze I was raised down dar in M'ringer whar d'is always...

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Jake's New House

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pp. 178-182

"Moss Wilbur, is you yeard de news!" "No; I can't say that I have. What is it?" "I'm done move way f'om whar I'm livin' at now." "That is news to me." "Well, sah, I wants you to put it in dat Burninham paper, so when folks comes...

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A Legend: How Clarke Played It on Marengo

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pp. 183-188

"Moss Jimmie, yo' garden sas[s] is des a humpin' hitse'f sence de rain. Hit's a gittin' dar, s[h]o'. De dry drouth was a givin' dem English peas fits. I tole Majane so, but she would[n'] believe me....

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Underground Farming

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pp. 189-195

"I say, Jake, do the crawfishes ever destroy the cotton crops down in Marengo?" "What make you ax dat question, boss?" "Because I saw something like it in the Birmingham paper not long ago. A man wrote from Faunsdale that the crawfishes were ruining the cotton in the bottom lands. He said they pulled the young stalks down into their holes...

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Jake's Senses

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pp. 196-202

"I des now made out what Mr. Winston's atter. I been a seein' him bruisin' round wid a big bag hangin' on his neck, but I never knowed what he was up to. I 'lowed maybe he done got pinted marshal agin. He is been marshal wonst...

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Jake Heard From: Marengo Melons and How They Made Mr. Humphrey's Fortune

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pp. 203-207

"Dis yer's watermillion time o' year agin," remarked Jake, halting at the corner and .. surveying a street blockaded with wagons. "Hit sho' is," assented a bystander, named Johnson....

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A Lesson in Natural History

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pp. 208-213

Marengo Jake appeared in the street the other day holding in his hand an oblong pasteboard box, in the lid of which three slots had been cut. Without saying a word, he held out the box toward a group ofmen standing in front of a store...

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Miss Mary; or, The Value ofEducation

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pp. 214-220

"De likelies' white lady whar ever made a track in M'ringer was my young mistis," remarked Jake, confidently. "Her name was Miss Mary. I rickolleck her des like I seed her yistiddy. When she was a little gal, she was dat full o' fun an' devilment...

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A Model School

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pp. 221-227

It is jake's boast that he never turns back. He occasionally gets into a bog and .. flounders somewhat, but he keeps going in some sort of fashion till he reaches firm ground. It is this indomitable...

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Mosquitoes of Marengo

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pp. 228-233

"I years folks talk lots 'bout skeeters," said Jake to a group of his friends and admirers, "but I aint never seed nairn 'bout Aubun yit. Sometimes ofa night I've yeared some little ole thing a zoonin' 'roun my years, but I never pay no...

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pp. 234-239

A gendeman was performing the menial task of currying his own horse the other day, when he was espied by Jake, who happened to be at work in a neighboring garden. Spade and hoe were dropped...

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An Abridged Nar[rjative

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pp. 240-247

Three little white boys were setting out [to] spend Christmas rabbit hunting. At their heels trotted a bob-tailed cur, upon whose swiftness and keenness of scent depended their most enthusiastic expectations. Anticipation had lent them...

E-ISBN-13: 9780817380342
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817354749

Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Auburn (Ala.) -- Fiction.
  • Alabama -- Social life and customs -- 19th century -- Fiction.
  • Marengo County (Ala.) -- Fiction.
  • African Americans -- Fiction.
  • Slaves -- Alabama -- Fiction.
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