Skip to main content

Darkey Superstition



"The Conjure Woman," by Charles W. Chesnutt, is one of the new books sent out by Houghton. Mifflin & Co. Boston and New York, that afford glimpses of the life of the strange confiding and transparently cunning race. The particular superstition illustrated in this book is one that affects the great unlettered portion of the colored people, and yet in most of the different narratives given there is always a purpose beyond that is being served which indicates the insincerity of the story-teller, whose plantation dialect fittingly clothes Mr. Chesnutt's contribution to current literature. This story-teller is an old negro coachman who was encountered by a Northern viniculturist whose wife had been ordered to a warmer and more equable climate by a physician. He warns the Northerner not to buy Mars. McAdoo's "vimya'd," because it's "goophered–conju'd, bewitched.

Mars Dongal, who owned the McAdoo place, it then appears, had a fine vineyard of scuppernong grapes, and the colored people couldn't resist temptation until he had resort to Aun' Peggy, the conjure women, who accommodatingly arranged a "gopher" that provided for the death within a year of any darkey who had the temerity to eat the scuppernongs.

Thenceforward they let the grapes alone, but a strange driver who came along and had an opportunity, stole some–"and de gemmen's runned away and kill de coachman." An old darkey named Henry, who had been purchased, did eat before the regular people had a chance to tell him, and his terror was so great that the master determined to procure a counter-spell to save him. He consulted Aunt Peggy, who gave a decoction, and directed him to anoint his old bald head with the sap that oozed from the vines when they were pruned in the spring. This Henry did, and grew a peculiar curled wool, and became young and supple until the grapes ripened and leaves fill in the fall, when rheumatism and baldness were his portion again. A few years of these alternations and Mars. McAdoo sold the "nigga" in the prime of the season for $1,000 and bought him back in winter time for half the money. "He kep' dat sellin' business up fer five year er mo' –"and then a Yankee undertook to make the vineyard more productive–and killed the vines. And "when de big vime whar he got de sap withered and turned yeller en died. Henry died too–des when out like a cannel."

The Northerner nevertheless bought the place, and then he found out that Uncle Julius, the coachman, occupied a cabin on the place and obtained a good revenue from the neglected grapevines. He took Uncle Julius into his employ, and other stories, equally good, and some better, rewarded him–the last one being the diversion of a carriage from the "short cut" to a depot by means of a "ha'nt" to the long way round, thereby bringing two estrayed lovers together and effecting a reconciliation–by prearrangement with the young man.