The memory jug

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 11, 2015

Here’s a memory jug from the collection of Melver Jackson Hendricks (1867-1933) who served in the North Carolina House of Representatives in the early 1920’s. Memory jugs made from bottles, urns, bowls and other vessels have been found on graves, particularly in the South, and almost always on African American graves. Often they are decorated with trinkets including seashells, glass shards, jewelry, coins, mirrors or other visual reminders of a loved one.

The memory jug shown here is currently in the North Carolina Museum of History. The museum’s information on the provenance of the jug is a bit sketchy. Its creation date is estimated at about 1900, probably because of the gray salt glaze used on it and the specific items attached to it, and the museum assumes it was local to Davie County, where Hendricks lived.

North Carolina memory jugIt’s easy to conclude that memory jugs existed as inexpensive memorials for poor families who couldn’t afford headstones for loved ones. But that explanation too easily overlooks the influence of Africa’s Bakongo culture on slaves brought to America.

The Bakongo culture believed that the spirit world was turned upside down, and that they were connected to it by water. Therefore, they decorated their graves with water bearing items such as shells, pitchers, jugs or vases, which would help the deceased through the watery world to the afterlife. They also adorned graves with items such as crockery, empty bottles, cooking pots and/or personal belongings of the deceased that he/she may need in the afterlife. Items were placed upside-down, which symbolizes the inverted nature of the spirit world.

Items were also broken to release the loved one’s spirit and enable it to make the journey. The fragmented possessions, reconformed in the memory jug, paid homage to and simultaneously appeased the spiritual beings, encouraging them not to interfere with the lives of the living. The container could be placed on a grave or held in the home to contain the unquiet spirit.

A memory jug can be any type of vessel or container that has first been covered with a layer of adhesive, such as putty, cement, or plaster. Then, while the adhesive is still damp, a variety of objects are embedded into the surface, including beads, buttons, coins, glass, hardware, mirrors, pipes, scissors, seashells, tools, toys and watches. The endless variety of adornment causes the surface to take on such importance that the form becomes secondary. Memory jugs are also called forget-me-not jug, memory vessel, mourning jug, spirit jar, ugly jug, whatnot jar, and whimsy jar.

A grass-roots revival of ‘Memory Jug Making’ swept through Appalachia and the African-American south in the 1950’s and 60’s.


Sources: Martin, Frank, Mosaic as Community Culture: The Art of the Memory Vessel, Groutline (Quarterly Newsletter of the Society of American Mosaic Artists), Vol. 1 No. 4, Winter 2000
Botsch, Carol Sears, African-Americans and the Palmetto State, South Carolina State Dept. of Education, Columbia, 1994
South-Price, Tammy S., An Archaeological and Historical Study of the Bradford Cemetery at Paris Landing State Park

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The WV family that brought us Mother’s Day

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 8, 2015

It took the individual effort of each Jarvis, mother and daughter, over two generations to forge the Mother’s Day we recognize today. And it’s a story with a twist, so buckle up!

Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, of Grafton WV, had attempted starting a series of Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in Webster, Grafton, Fetterman, Pruntytown, and Philippi in 1858 to improve sanitation. She continued to organize women throughout the Civil War to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides.

Ann Jarvis. Courtesy  West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection.

Ann Jarvis. Courtesy West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection.

In the summer of 1865, Jarvis organized a Mothers’ Friendship Day at the courthouse in Pruntytown to bring together soldiers and neighbors of all political beliefs. The goal was to work in conjunction with local doctors to provide health care to war veterans plagued by diseases such dysentery, small pox, and tuberculosis.

The event was a great success despite the fear of many that it would erupt in violence. Mothers’ Friendship Day was an annual event for several years.

Ann Jarvis’ daughter, Anna Jarvis, would of course have known of her mother’s work. Much later, this second Jarvis started her own crusade to found a memorial day for women.

After her husband’s death in 1902, Ann moved to Philadelphia to live with her son Claude and daughters Anna and Lillian. Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis died in Bala-Cynwyd, west of Philadelphia, on May 9, 1905 at the age of 72.

Anna led a small tribute to her mother at St. Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church back in Grafton, where her Mother had spent 25 years teaching Sunday School, on May 12, 1907. Then on May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day celebration took place at both that church and also at the Wanamaker Store Auditorium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

John Wanamaker was one of the founders of today’s modern day department store.  He no doubt recognized the profit possibilities of a potentially national event that could generate lots of gift sales, and he had the finances to push it. And as a former U.S. postmaster general, he had the political weight to advance it.

That same year, Elmer Burkett, a U.S. Senator from Nebraska, proposed making Mother’s Day a national holiday at the request of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The proposal was defeated, but by 1909 forty-six states, as well as parts of Canada and Mexico, were holding Mother’s Day services.

Anna Jarvis devoted herself full time to the creation of Mother’s Day, endlessly petitioning state governments, business leaders, women groups, churches and other institutions and organizations.  She did have her ticks: she incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association, and claimed copyright on the second Sunday of May.

Anna Jarvis. Courtesy West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection.

Anna Jarvis. Courtesy West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection.

She finally convinced the World’s Sunday School Association, a key influence over state legislators and Congress, to back her. In 1912 West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize Mother’s Day, and in 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed it into national observance, declaring the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

By the 1920s, Anna Jarvis had become soured on the holiday’s commercialization. She and her sister Ellsinore ultimately spent themselves into poverty campaigning against the holiday.

In 1943, the 79 year old Jarvis, partially deaf and blind, entered a sanitarium in West Chester, Pennsylvania. For reasons unrecorded, the Florists’ Exchange, a trade association, picked up some of her bills, unbeknownst to her. And even after she told a reporter she was sorry she ever started the whole thing, she received thousands of Mother’s Day cards each May until she died, in 1948.

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” she is quoted as saying in her New York Times obituary. “And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment!”

She never married and was never a mother.

St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton WVSt. Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church Sunday School Room, 1911, Grafton, WV. Oval portraits on wall show Anna Jarvis (left) and Ann Jarvis (right).




Ann+Maria+Jarvis Anna+Jarvis Mother’s+Day appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history Grafton+WV

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Here, then, is a group of dislocated people who know almost nothing except farming

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 7, 2015

Hearings before the Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration, House of Representatives, Seventy-seventh Congress, first session, pursuant to House Resolution 113, a resolution to inquire further into the interstate migration of citizens, emphasizing the present and potential consequences of the migration caused by the national defense program.

MAY 7 AND 8, 1942
Huntsville AL


Late in November of 1940 information was given out that some 27,000 acres of land in Talladega County bordering the Coosa River north and west of the small town of Childersburg (515 population in the 1940 census) were to be taken as site for a powder plant. The location was tentatively outlined in January and agricultural agencies, both Farm Security and Extension workers, were set to work warning people to vacate this property.

Because no certain information as to the location of boundaries could be obtained, the actual work of relocations did not get under way until the last of January and February. By the time Farm Security had made its original survey a good number of families had moved, both from the area finally taken and from land around it.

After this survey had been made, and after 80-odd families had been moved from land finally not included in the area, an accurate boundary line was established. While no official confirmation was made of the original territory marked out on maps used in the area, all indications pointed so clearly to its being taken that farmers in this territory decided to move while there was still time to find a new place, and to make another crop.

displaced farmers 1941 Talladega ALOriginal caption reads: Local family moving off of government reservation to make room for bag loading plant development. May 1941

The section of land finally taken was one containing much river land. Some of this 14,000 acres was good farm land, ideal for large farm operations. Most of it was poor, carelessly operated by Negro tenants, or lying out. Of the farm operators, almost 30 percent were receiving Farm Security aid. When the final area was chosen, 210 families were displaced.

The survey revealed that the area contains very few owners who will be financially able to relocate without some assistance. The number of cash renters, sharecroppers, and cotton renters constitute the largest group in this area.

Note these things: While 39.2 percent of Talladega County’s total number of farm operators are colored, 72.3 percent of the farm operators in this section were colored. Note also the comparatively large number of Negro landowners. In the county 22.3 percent of the Negro operators are landowners. In this section almost 32 percent were landowners.

In other words, about one-fifth of all Negro farm owners in Talladega County were in this section. Their holdings were small. The bulk of the land was owned in large tracts either by white resident operators or absentees. The comparatively small number of nonfarm workers is significant, especially since so many of these displaced families have gotten their first taste of “public works money” at the powder plant. Will they want to go back to this kind of marginal living again?

This was a section of old plantation holdings that had gradually been abandoned or partially abandoned by the old families who held on to them. In it, along the river and in the low places, were a few very small communities of Negro landowners who supplemented their farming income with fishing, hunting, and working for white men who came to enjoy these sports.

The average of all grants for moving totaled $37.50, which again reveals how little these people had to move.

Here, then, is a group of dislocated people who know almost nothing except farming, and of that the cruder kind. Some few of these were making a new beginning and, where they could get some of the better land, were succeeding on a very moderate scale. Some few were making a fair living from the game and sportsmen, whom the very desolation of the place had brought to the area. Only a few are going to make alone the readjustments life in a new place will call for.

displaced farmers 1941 Talladega ALOriginal caption reads: Local family moving off of government reservation to make room for bag loading plant development. May 1941

Few [Farm Security Administration loan] applications for next year have come in. The county supervisor expects many to come in during the next few weeks, because the powder plant job is “turning off” men at the rate of 300 to 600 a week. The full tide of applications will not come, he said, until late February, when many farmers (especially Negroes) who have had their first taste of public works wealth will suddenly realize there is little hope of getting more such work and will want to farm again.

Farm Security will, he said, get more than its share of these people because they have broken their relations with their old landlords, sometimes without ceremony, and in the middle of crop season, and will not be able — or will not want to — go back again.

About 90 percent of the Farm Security Administration borrowers have gotten at least a few weeks of work on the [bag loading plant] project. E. E. Wilson, county FSA supervisor for Talladega Countv, knew of only two who had paid back loans with defense-earned money (one paid $150, another $250). The rest have wasted some of the money. But not as much as people think. We’ve had practically a crop failure in here for the past 3 years. These people have gone without, all that time. They’ve had other debts and they’ve had to buy clothes and something to eat and some of the other people they’ve owed have put the kind of pressure on them [the FSA] can’t.


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Poultry capital of the world

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 6, 2015

Jesse Jewell (1902-1975) started what was to become Georgia’s largest agricultural crop—poultry. The now $1,000,000,000 a year industry has given Gainesville the title “Poultry Capital of the World.”

jesse jewell

Jewell’s business acumen was highly acclaimed. He pioneered vertical integration—the combining of all phases of the business, such as raw materials, processing, and distribution, within a single company—in the poultry industry. His feed conversion incentive plans benefited farmers, helping guide the area’s agriculture economy through and beyond the Depression. The program, from avian parent breeding to brand name marketing, is emulated worldwide today by all poultry producing firms. At the helm of J. D. Jewell, Inc. for more than twenty years, Jewell was a key national leader of the industry.

Jewell’s father, Edgar Herman Jewell, owned a feed, seed, and fertilizer business. He died when Jewell was only seven years old. After studying civil engineering at the University of Alabama and Georgia Tech, young Jesse in 1922 began working in the family feed business, along with his mother and stepfather, Leonard Loudermilk. In 1928 Jewell married Anna Louise Dorough, and the couple settled down in Gainesville. They had three daughters.

When his stepfather died in 1930, Jewell began managing the family business. As the Depression drained the company’s receipts, he tried a new approach to boost feed sales. He bought baby chicks and supplied them, along with chicken feed, on credit to cash-poor farmers. Once the chicks were grown, Jewell bought them back at a price that covered his feed costs and also guaranteed the farmers a profit. More and more Hall County farmers began to contract to grow chickens for Jewell.

By the late 1930s Jewell began adding the elements that would make J. D. Jewell the largest integrated chicken producer in the world. The first step, in 1940, was to open his own hatchery. Next came a processing plant in 1941. The booming World War II economy gave a lift to the fledgling Jewell enterprise. In 1954 Jewell added the final touches—his own feed mill and rendering plant. This vertically integrated corporation set the standard for poultry processors everywhere, as did Jewell’s trademark frozen chicken. His work created a demand for specialists in nutrition, poultry science, poultry marketing and transportation. Jewell’s hiring policies were also innovative: his processing plant was among the first factories in Gainesville to hire black workers.

In the spring of 1951 a majority of workers at J. D. Jewell voted to unionize under Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen. “The workers in the Jewell plant were being paid 75 cents an hour for all types of work, regardless of the length of experience of the employees,” stated the union, in an August 1951 Congressional hearing before the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. The union accused the company of organizing violent attacks on union representatives by a mob, which reportedly included members of J. D. Jewell management. The union never gained a foothold.

A leader in civic and industry affairs, Jewell was a founder and the first president of the National Broiler Council, the president of the Southeastern Poultry and Egg Association, and a U.S. delegate to the 1951 World Poultry Congress. He also gained the presidency of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which he led during the 1950s.

Drawing of the J. D. Jewell Inc. poultry plant, Gainesville, GA, made in the 1940s. Jewell became famous for producing frozen chicken that was shipped around the world. Ed Beasley Collection / Hall County Library Photo Collection, Gainesville, GA.

Drawing of the J. D. Jewell Inc. poultry plant, Gainesville, GA, made in the 1940s. Jewell became famous for producing frozen chicken that was shipped around the world. Ed Beasley Collection / Hall County Library Photo Collection, Gainesville, GA.


In the early 1960s Jewell sold his company to a group of investors. It went bankrupt in 1972, though Jewell himself never did. With his poultry fortune he established a scholarship fund at Brenau College, where he also endowed a new building for biology and home economics. By his life’s end he was inducted in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Poultry Hall of Fame. Jewell suffered a stroke in 1962 and died, after an extended illness, on January 16, 1975.



Congress, Senate, Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, J. D. Jewell Co., 82nd Congress, 1st Session on J. D. Jewell Co. and Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America, A.F.L., August 9, 1951 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1951), 2–5.

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I wish they’d a threw it in the New River sometimes

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 5, 2015

Twelve-year old William P. “Punch” Jones and his father, Grover C. Jones, Sr. were pitching horseshoes in Peterstown, WV one day in April 1928 when one of the shoes landed on an unusually beautiful stone. Believing the item to be simply a piece of shiny quartz common to the area, the family kept it in a wooden cigar box inside a tool shed for fourteen years, throughout the Depression. Punch Jones, meantime, worked his way through college during that time while his father struggled as a county school teacher to provide for his large family.

The Punch Jones Diamond was sold at auction in October 1984 through Sotheby’s of New York. It reportedly brought $67,500 from a buyer in the Orient. Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s Jewelry Department.

The Punch Jones Diamond was sold at auction in October 1984 through Sotheby’s of New York. It reportedly brought $67,500 from a buyer in the Orient. Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s Jewelry Department.

On May 5, 1943, Punch brought the stone to Dr. Roy J. Holden, a geology professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in nearby Blacksburg, Virginia. Holden, shocked at Punch’s discovery, authenticated the find as a diamond. The “Jones Diamond,” also known as the “Punch Jones Diamond,” “The Grover Jones Diamond,” or “The Horseshoe Diamond,” is an 34.48 carat alluvial diamond. It’s the largest alluvial diamond, and the third largest diamond overall, ever discovered in North America.

The bluish-white diamond measures 5/8 of an inch across and possesses 12 diamond-shaped faces. No other precious gems are known to have been found in West Virginia. Dr. Holden speculated that due to its “carry impact marks” and the size of the stone it had probably been washed down the New River into Rich Creek from a source in Virginia, North Carolina or Tennessee.

He sent it to the Smithsonian Institution, where it remained for many years for display and safekeeping. In February of 1964, the Jones family brought the diamond back and placed it in a safe deposit box in the First Valley National Bank in Rich Creek, Virginia.

When Grover died in 1976 his widow Grace and grandson Robert became owners of the diamond (Punch had been killed in World War II.) In 1984, Robert sold the diamond through Sotheby’s auction house in New York to an agent representing a lawyer in the Orient, for $74,250. “I wish they’d a threw it in the New River sometimes,” Grace Jones observed over all the controversy. She passed away in 1992.

Grover (left) and Annie (rigt) Jones' family in 1940. Courtesy Robert D. Jones/collection West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Grover (left) and Annie (rigt) Jones’ family in 1940. Courtesy Robert D. Jones/ collection West Virginia Division of Culture and History


Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, Division of Mineral Resources. “Diamonds”

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