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The Legend of John Henry, Summers county, West Virginia

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The Legend of John Henry, Summers county, West Virginia
Not all American folk lore are tall tales. John Henry was born in 1840’s as an enslaved person and was liberated after the civil war. He relocated to Virginia to find work in the reconstruction effort. In Virginia he was arrested for burglary and sentence to the state penitentiary. The warden of the penitentiary was a Quaker from Pennsylvania. He had been appointed to his position as part of the reconstruction effort and he was shocked by the horrible conditions there. To save the inmates from having to live in the penitentiary he began leasing them as labor to private contractors. Later he became as opponent of inmate labor.
John Henry was leased to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (C and O). He was a giant of a man, standing over 6 foot and weighing in at over 200 pounds. His strength was legendary. The workers would often sing to help keep cadence as they swung their hammers. They would often make up their own songs about each other and these songs began the legend of John Henry. The songs spoke of his superhuman strength like how he could swing a 20-pound hammer in each hand. Other songs described his softer side, like being kindhearted and having good morals.
By the time the railroad reached the Great Bend Mountain, John Henry was the leader of his work crew. Leveling grade and laying track turned into driving holes into the rock, which would then be stuffed full of dynamite, and the rocks blown up and hauled away. The Great Bend tunnel is 6,450 feet long and was completed in 1872.
The famous story about John Henry happened here in 1870. The C and O railroad had used a steam drill at the nearby Lewis Tunnel. John Henry was impressed when he saw the machine and challenged it to a race. When the dust cleared after the hour long contest, the drill had only gone 9 feet while John Henry had gone 14 feet. It was reported that the steam drill had hit a seam of harder rock which had cost it time.
In 1929 John Henry researcherGuy B. Johnson interviewed witnesses to the race. Most of the men agreed that John Henry didn’t die after the race, but later in a rock side or of disease. The last time that John Henry was noted in documents from the Virginia State Penitentiary was in 1873. This was before his sentence discharge date and there is no record of a pardon.
May be an image of outdoors and text that says 'GREAT CEND TUNNEL The real Hood in the Woods'
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Just now, Red Gauntlet , SASS 60619 said:

John Henry is not short for John Hancock; three syllables both. The saying is spoken, not read.


An old [minor] crochet of mine. I always say, "John Henry was a steel drivin' man!" That solves it.

My point was on the phrase used in regard to signing documents only.

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