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"The Conjure Woman," Etc.



Sketches from Interesting Book–Short Stories in Negro Dialect–A Study of Negro Folklore–Leading White Republicans–One of the Few for the Negro


The readers of these notes will please excuse me for departing from the subject of war for a short time. I am anxious to present a few items from my note book which may prove of interest.

I have just finished reading Mr. Charles W. Chestnut's[sic] very attractive book, "The Conjure Woman," a volume of 230 pages, bound in fine linen cloth with the title stamped in gold, and the unique cover design in colors. The book is published by Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston, Mass.

"The Conjure Woman" contains seven short stories, all in Negro dialect. These stories tell with unquestionable accuracy some of the race superstitions of the Negroes in the South before the war of the rebellion and especially in North Carolina. The author, it appears, was interested in grape-culture in Northern Ohio, when it was found advisable to move to a southern climate on account of the failing health of his wife. After thinking of France, Spain and Southern California, he finally decided to purchase a plantation in North Carolina, and in searching for a satisfactory one, he ran against "The Goophered Grapevine," which is the subject of his first story. The story is related by Julius, an ex-slave of the old type, who tells how a former vineyard there had fallen away and withered, because of the "hoodoo" laid upon it by a Northern expert. Julius strongly advised the writer not to purchase, but he was not to be deterred, and he learned afterward that the old story teller had long reaped a considerable return from the neglected vines. Showing that the narration did not spring from a mere foundation of faith in its truth, but from a motive of questionable selfishness. The stories are tinged with Oriental color, and while extravagant, the present a study of Negro folklore that will continue to interest students of ethnology for centuries to come; for they commemorate traditions and events which pass from one generation to another from the earliest history of the race. The second story, "Po' Sandy," illustrates the wildly preposterous imagination of the old slave class. It relates the impossible turning of a man into a tree, who after suffering various forms of torture in perfect silence, was sawed into lumber from which a kitchen was built; in which kitchen no person could remain at night owing to the hideous moaning and groaning of the boards.

"Mars Jeems' Nightmare," "The Conjurer's Revenge," "Sis' Becky's Picaninny," "The Gray Wolf's Ha'nt," and "Hot-Foot Hannibal," are the other stories. In Sis' Becky's Pickaninny, Mr. Chestnut[sic], lecturing to Julius about the Rabbit Foot superstition so prevalent among the slaves said: "Julius, your people will never rise in the world until they throw off these childish superstitions and learn to live by the light of reason and common sense. How absurd to imagine that the fore-foot of a poor dead rabbit, with which he timorously felt his way along through a life surrounded by snares and pit-falls, beset by enemies on every hand, can promote happiness or success, or ward off failure or misfortune!"

"Dat's w'at I tells dese niggers roun' heah," said Julius. "De fo'-foot ain' got no power. It has ter be de hin'-foot, suh,–de lef' hin'-foot er a grabe-ya'd rabbit, kilt by a cross-eyed nigger on a dark night in de full er de moon."

This book can be bought from the publishers at one dollar per copy.