Specters of the Mythic South

How Plantation Fiction Fixed Ghost Stories to Black Americans

Alena Pirok, art by John Alleyne

“Claiming a ghost story originated from a Black southerner provided evidence of an imagined fraternity between Black and white southerners.”

In 1890 The Richmond Times declared that Virginia had developed “uncanny mania.” The symptom was simple: residents’ ability and willingness to “tell more ghost stories than those of any other state.” The mania quickly spread to every neighborhood, each having its own “story of the supernatural, its haunted houses, its lonely road” with “strange sights and sounds.” One writer surmised that if all the ghost stories told around the state were written down, the “literature on the subject would be greater than all the Virginiana” that had been published to that day. Another journalist, simply called Felix, wrote that the wealth of ghost lore in the Old Dominion was not a mania but rather “purely” in the “eternal fitness of things.” Our twenty-first-century eyes may read these reports as celebrations of the region’s ghost story tradition, but nineteenth-century readers understood that the message was more about race than folk traditions.1

For wealthy white southerners at the turn of the twentieth century, knowledge of ghost stories was the surest way to illustrate that they had a friendly relationship with their Black neighbors and the people their families once enslaved. Belief in superstitions like ghosts was frowned upon in middle- and upper-class white circles, but sharing stories allegedly collected from Black southerners was not. Claiming a ghost story originated from a Black southerner provided evidence of an imagined fraternity between Black and white people. Far from being innocuous, white business leaders and former planters used the image of cordial race relations to demonstrate that the South had moved past the Black political power of Reconstruction and the violence of Redemption, had returned to an imagined past time of racial harmony, and was ready for investment and business.

This use of ghost stories is obscured, though, as it is far more common to recall the names of well-known Gothic writers of the twentieth century, like Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Toni Morrison, who used hauntings as a tool to explore suppressed discussions of racial inequality and other lingering wounds. However, most commercially available ghost stories in the South today have their roots, not in the Gothic, but in an older ghost story tradition. It was put on paper by Thomas Nelson Page, John Pendleton Kennedy, Marion Harland, Joel Chandler Harris, and many others who sought to obscure racial inequality and maintain white cultural and economic supremacy in the South.2

This connection has gone unrecognized, due in large part to the continued belief in the false notion that ghost stories are culturally and intellectually specific to Black southerners. The idea that Black people as a group have a stronger connection to a spirit world than white people is still a quiet but ever-present assumption, especially in historical tourism. Historically, storytellers of both races told tales of hauntings and ghosts, but who was credited with holding that knowledge mattered immensely.

In a Perfect World, I Would Be Perfect, World, 2021. Monotype on arches 88 paper.

Gathering without criticisms, or the critical eye, 2021. Monotype on arches 88 paper.

Nineteenth Century Race Politics of Ghost Lore

One’s comfort with ghost stories was related more to class than race, but the white assumption that Black southerners were intellectually inferior and more inclined toward superstition was useful for maintaining southern racial and class hierarchies. Early white folklorists adopted the idea as well, seeking out slave quarters—and later freedpeople’s villages—to ask residents to share the large “volume of ghost and witch tales” that they were confident the residents knew. Scholars then used their interviewees’ knowledge of ghost lore and tall tales to claim that that they were an “uncivilized” or “primitive” people “ruled by their imagination and emotions.” Elite white people then rationalized their knowledge of superstitious stories as the product of either folklorists’ research or the overwhelming influence that Black “nurses and house-servants” had on them when they were young.3

After the Civil War, elite white southerners found these studies exceptionally useful in their quest to reassert cultural superiority outside of the plantation hierarchy. An interest in ghost stories allowed white elites to collect, own, and evaluate African American culture and tradition. Though many fashioned themselves as altruistic researchers, their reports are patronizing in their judgment that the lore they collected was evidence of the “belief among savages.” The relationship between interviewer and subject was reminiscent of other colonial relationships of the same era, such as those between white Americans and Native populations in the American West, or between white Americans and residents of the newly acquired former Spanish colonies in the Pacific and the Caribbean. The main difference was in the elite researchers’ ability to claim a lifelong rather than emerging relationship and a familiarity with their subjects, having been raised as their enslavers from childhood.4

This research was reflected in the popular culture by white southerners’ anecdotes about their Black neighbors and employees telling them ghost stories. One journalist stated, “It is difficult to find a negro who does not believe in ghostly visitations. Perhaps therein lies the explanation of the fact that Virginia has more than her share of ghostly tales. The Negros have fed upon stories of local ghosts for generations.” He added that “white boys and colored boys,” especially in rural areas, shared stories while growing up together, and “the negro boy” didn’t “know a ghost story long” before he “told it to his white playmate.”5

One white Virginian surmised that Black children were born with a fear of ghosts because their parents told them ghost stories every night. Another white writer said that the belief in the supernatural was so strong among Black households that removing the “restraining hand of the white man and the influences of Christianity” from the Black community would result in their “relapse into barbarism” and renewed practice of “voudouism, witchcraft and other superstitions” that were, he argued, “characteristic of their African ancestry.” As these ideas were firmly established in scholarship and within the culture, white Americans equated their knowledge of Black culture, and their own ability to take in superstitious ideas without adopting them, as a sign of their perfectly brotherly, if not paternalistic, relationship with Black Americans.6

Surrender to ya Crown, 2021. Monotype on arches 88 paper.

The New South’s Old Ghosts

Nowhere was this clearer than in the pages of the popular plantation fiction that redefined the antebellum South as a land of myth and fantasy. In the years after the Civil War and Reconstruction, white southern leaders were eager to reframe and redefine the region. Business boosters knew that postwar violence had created instability and made investment in the region seem riskier. To combat the perception of unprofitable chaos, they dedicated themselves to the South’s present and future potential. In 1886, journalist Henry Grady proposed the region move beyond the antebellum world of “agriculture and slavery” and embrace a “New South” of “diversified industry.” The rural economy held only memories of slavery and the war for Grady. He assured listeners that the South had “nothing for which to apologize” and “nothing to take back,” that it was “enamored” with its “new work” far more than the old. In place of the old rural planation order, Grady’s New South was stronger, “less splendid,” and urban, like a living symbol of the Protestant work ethic. Boosters agreed and tried to will southern metropolises into being by making them out to be new promised lands of able and willing workers.7

The majority of popular southern writers had a different plan. At the same time businessmen were trying to create an urban South, writers like Thomas Nelson Page, John Pendleton Kennedy, Marion Harland, and Joel Chandler Harris produced story after story treating readers to aristocratic tales of love, adventure, and peril set in the old rural South. While writers like Charles W. Chesnutt and George Washington Cable pushed back against this depiction in their writing, most stories coming from southern writers promoted and spread the Lost Cause mythology. By and large, they depicted the antebellum world as outdated but unproblematic, transforming the Civil War into a battle between tradition and progress. Avoiding discussion of either side’s morality, popular plantation fiction promoted interpretations of the past that allowed white northerners and white southerners to come together in fantasizing about the lives and adventures of the noble American gentry, the few wicked planters, and their dedicated and amiable enslaved sidekicks.8

Unlike Grady, who saw the future in an industrial South, writers of plantation fiction saw the cure for the region’s woes in a storybook southern yesterday. Thomas Nelson Page, a leading figure in the transformation of the real past into an American fairy tale, wrote that a mythic southern yesterday would help white southerners heal and move on after Reconstruction. Equipped with this new narrative, white southerners could construct a historical identity that protected them against any feelings of shame for their or their ancestors’ antebellum cruelty, loss, or contemporary Black southerners’ growing wealth in cities like Atlanta and New Orleans. Plantation fiction allowed them to slip away into a world where their homes and communities were living proof of the honorable and romantic past, and their knowledge of Black ghost stories was evidence of racial harmony.9

Page, in particular, masterfully used secondary Black narrators and witnesses to create a sense of racial unity in plantation stories. His work “Marse Chan” brought together all the elements of the plantation-fiction writing style and helped sharpen the edges of the genre after the Civil War. In this iconic story, a white traveler finds himself surrounded by abandoned lands that had once been the “seat of wealth” in old Virginia. An older Black man named Sam catches the traveler’s eye, and the two strike up a conversation. Sam offers the man an epic tale about the large old house in the distance, where his beloved master, Channing, once lived.10

The story Sam shares illustrates the mythic dream world of white elite antebellum southerners. It is what would become the typical antebellum tale of young lovers and struggles between the just and unjust, all set on a backdrop of contented enslaved people who were protected and cared for by their white owners. Though employed as the narrator, Sam spends very little time talking about his own experience and none talking about ghost stories. In this genre, Sam’s experiences do not matter. His character is a tool that white southern writers used to proclaim the mythic fraternity of the antebellum world. As such, Sam’s Master Channing did not approve of beating enslaved people and tried his best to avoid war. The other white people in town were equally kind. Sam recalled these days fondly, calling them the “good ole times” and the best times he had ever seen. He added that the enslaved people “didn’ hed nothin’ ‘t all to do” beyond feeding animals, cleaning the house, and doing what Master Channing told them to do. His description of Master Channing as beloved by his family and friends, and the enslaved people on the plantation as happy and unburdened, made readers more willing to accept the vision of a more innocent antebellum South. Though a fictional character, Sam was the kind of person that the plantation system would have hurt, and this small drop of contradictory evidence was all white elites needed to craft their dream world of innocence and racial fraternity.11

The ghost stories set in the mythic plantation world were more like the “Marse Chan” story than any Southern Gothic tale. Despite the modern interpretation of ghosts as oppressed voices made known, the haunted tales of the postbellum South were key to quieting the reality of the plantation world. We see this even in the more gruesome or traditionally scary tales that came out of plantation fiction and Page’s typewriter.

In his ghost story “No Haid Pawn,” Page’s main white narrator begins with an explanation that the parents of turn-of-the-century white southerners had tried to disabuse their children of beliefs in ghosts and hauntings, but the younger generation’s “comrades,” the “old mammies and uncles” who raised them, fully believed in ghosts. The narrator, like many others, argues that as their caretakers and friends, Black southerners passed their knowledge of ghosts on to the white children, who in honor of their friendship kept and shared the stories. The idealized, and frequently fabricated, familial relationship that white children had with Black children ensured that by the twentieth century every graveyard, old house, and “peculiarly desolate spot” was haunted by ghosts.12

Page’s white narrator in “No Haid Pawn” introduces the tale by asserting that the Black southerners who lived near his childhood home had told him about the ghosts. According to the secondary Black narrators and witnesses, the house at “no head pond” was constructed under occult auspices on the remains of numerous mutilated enslaved Black builders. The house was haunted by both the enslaved workers, who would go “rowing about” in “their coffins,” and the cruel master who buried them alive on the property. The enslaver had been tried for the murder of one of the enslaved men and was hanged for his crime. The southern justice system, however, had no power over the occult. After his death, his ghostly form continued to drag his headless victim up the porch steps and into the old swampland house. Adding superstitious authority to the tale, the white narrator explains that the local white children were just as convinced of the “reappearance of the murderer and his headless victim” as the “negroes themselves.”13

Page’s story shares monster imagery with Gothic literature, but his telling of a man-turned-monster does more to uphold the idea of the “good master” than it does to reveal the monstrosity of man. The master of “No Haid Pawn” is a foil—the one bad egg. His actions illustrate that in the world of plantation fiction the qualification for “bad slave owner” was astronomically high and distinctly occult. Other more popular ghost stories like those about women in white, and Revolutionary- and Civil War-era soldiers, share a tone more like the “Marse Chan” story and are not monstrous. Ghosts were too vital for reshaping the memory of the elite antebellum world to simply be warnings of bad men.

The ghosts, or rather the idea of a ghost, in Page’s 1898 book Red Rock defined and illustrated the important role that hauntings played in bringing the imagined southern past to the lived landscape. This book takes a sympathetic and imaginative look at white southerners coming to terms with Reconstruction or, as Page describes it, being “subjected to the greatest humiliation of modern times”: the fall of their empire and their enslaved workers being “put over them.” In Page’s story, characters are haunted by the steely eyes in the seventeenth-century portrait of the “Indian Killer,” Jacquelin Gray, founder of the “feudal domain” at the center of the story, and the original owner of the plantation house where his intimidating portrait hangs. Little is known about Gray beyond the tale of tragedy and triumph that all the “old negros” believe and, Page argued, “the whites” did “too, a little.” In the story, Gray was a former soldier in Oliver Cromwell’s army who married the daughter of a loyalist and ran off with her to North America. After they settled in the colonies, a land dispute led to a Native American chief killing Gray’s wife and child. He in turn killed the unnamed leader—spilling his blood upon the rock of the book’s title and giving the boulder its legendary hue.14

These eyes tell no lies, 2021. Silkscreen monotype on arches 88 paper.

Throughout the story, Gray’s ghost remains largely metaphorical, casting critical looks from his portrait, reminding his descendants that they live under his judgment. This distance shrinks in the late nineteenth century, when the Gray family sells their land to a couple of greedy former employees. These white workers take hold of the property and hatch a plan develop the area that had been used by the Gray family as a graveyard for generations. This potential disruption of the sacred burial ground calls Gray’s “ghost” to his portrait’s room, in the form of his namesake, a flesh-and-blood look-alike descendant. The blended spectral-human Jacquelin Gray warns the would-be desecrators that their ownership of the property was limited. “We are coming back here,” the ghost warns, “the living and the dead.”15

In doing so, Gray’s ghost, human or spirit, asserts that the chivalric planter, who stands up for family legacy and represents all that readers loved about the mythic antebellum past, did not need plantation slavery to exist. For the Gray family and those who identified with them, the region’s constant element was not the plantation system but the heritage and landowner-ship of the planter class. The ghosts helped separate the grand old planter from the untidy contradictions of the past by superimposing him in the postbellum world. The tale is nearly a how-to-guide for using the rhetoric of ghosts to apply the mythic past to the present, while creating distance from yesterday’s ills.16

Importantly and without fail, the story ends with an assertion that though the white narrator of the story recognized that the “ghost” was in fact a living relative of the actual “Indian Killer,” a Black servant who witnessed the events believed the figure to be the ghost of the man in the portrait. As in Page’s previous stories, the presence of this Black witness allows the white narrator to use the haunting to validate myths while maintaining a distance from a belief in ghosts. The attribution of ghost stories, beliefs, and sightings to Black southerners in formal plantation fiction and informal popular culture reinforced the notion that Black southerners had created the region’s ghost stories, and that their friendly relationships with white southerners were what made the tales so ubiquitous in the region.17

Ghost stories worked so well to further these ends that even when untethered from plantation fiction or the study of folklore they continued to play a major role in spreading and codifying the Lost Cause myth. By the 1920s, southern journalists were still using ghost stories to pine for the antebellum world. One lamented that the abolition of slavery had broken the “kindly links that bound the children of planters to the black slaves,” causing “superstitions” to remain in the Black community, out of the reach of white children. The only ghost stories this specific author claimed to have access to were those told to him by elderly white people who, he argued, benefited from those dear relationships with enslaved Black southerners. To this author and countless other elite and nostalgic white southerners, ghost stories were the last remnant of a shared culture that could be referenced to illustrate white and Black people’s loving and familial relationships before the Civil War. To lose the ghost stories would be to lose evidence of cordial race relations in the South and yield to what Southern Gothic writers identified as an ever-lurking sinister reality that challenged white southerners’ past and present innocence. Not surprisingly, the ghost stories Black southerners told portrayed the antebellum South differently than the nostalgic mythmaking of elite white southerners. This distinction becomes abundantly clear when looking at the ghost lore collected specifically from Black southerners in the 1930s and 1940s under the New Deal’s Federal Writers’ Project (FWP).18

Theatre of Vulnerability, 2021. Monotype on arches 88 paper.

Black Southerners’ Stories

The Federal Writers’ Project, unlike the work of early folklorists or plantation fiction writers, sought to collect histories and lore, among them ghost stories, to create a common cultural foundation for all people in the United States. The FWP was a softly nationalistic project but was not seeking to uphold white supremacy as openly or obviously as its folklore progenitors. Many white Americans still claimed their nostalgic plantation-era ghost stories originated from their Black neighbors, but now that they were given the opportunity to speak for themselves, Black Americans demonstrated that the ghost stories they told were far less concerned with presenting a rosy image of plantation life.

It is important to note that when the FWP recorded stories from Black Americans, they were labeled and filed as such. They were not secondhand tellings from white Americans, and they are much more convincingly attributed to actual Black southerners because the FWP treated their interviewees as knowledge holders in the records. Additionally, the content of their stories was in no way concerned with protecting a memory of the antebellum South. The stories that the FWP attributed to Black Americans were, in most cases, very casual, lacking formal story structure, without a desire to establish a narrative of antebellum race relations, and indistinguishable from stories told by white Americans of similar classes in the same locales. For example, Richard Slaughter recorded a story in 1939 from Ant Carney, a nearly one-hundred-year-old midwife, that could have come from the lips of any grandmother. Ms. Carney told Slaughter that one morning she heard her friend Sandy’s distinctive steer call as her wagon pulled up outside her house, so she quickly whipped her children into a frenzy trying to clean up for company. But just as the family’s rush finished and Carney opened the door to greet their surprise guest, she found no evidence of Sandy or anyone having pulled up near the house in a wagon. She reasoned that “it musta been a ghost.” Not a threatening ghost, or anything to be fearful of, just “somepin Gowd” showed her and “dat’s all.”19

Of course, not all the ghost stories recorded from African American informants were short, casual reports like Carney’s tale. Many were more akin to tall tales, and some even included characters that had enslaved people, but the impulse to protect the mythic South was notably absent. FWPresearcher Sue K. Gordon recorded a story in 1938 that John Turner had made into a grand big fish tale. Turner had shared the story with a few people and had become a name in town for his especially contemporary sighting of John Spotswood’s ghost before Gordon came calling. Turner claimed that while clearing a gravel pit on Charles Ruffin’s Nottingham Farm, just outside of Fredericksburg, Virginia, he looked up from his work and saw “the figure of man” not too far off in the distance. Squinting in the sunlight, Turner said he could clearly make out the image of a man “dressed in a blue suit with brass buttons” and “a shirt with square black spots.” Turner thought the vision was strange, but he did not put too much thought into it and went back to work. In the proceeding days, “graveyard flowers” and “pieces of china” began to emerge from the gravel. When the figure of the man returned, and none of his workmates seemed to see him, Turner gave in and walked off the job.20

A few days after Turner quit, the workers at Ruffin’s gravel site turned up an eighteenth-century casket. The city buzzed with excitement as news began to pour in that the graveyard and property of John Spotswood, the son of colonial Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood, had been found. Mr. Turner concluded that John Spotswood’s ghost had been trying to warn him about the casket the whole time.21

Both plantation fiction ghost tales and the stories recorded from Black southerners share a ghostly element and are stories meant to be shared. Blending them together into a singular slurry of Southern Gothic ghost tales, however, as popular tours and ghost story books sold to tourists often do, risks obscuring the South’s past and ghost stories’ function. Knowing that what Tennessee Williams described as the “something in the region” that gives writers a sense of an “underlying dreadfulness in modern experience,” and what Flannery O’Connor called a “preoccupation with everything deformed and grotesque,” was not some untraceable uncanny mania, but rather the long-term effects of the Lost Cause, gives us a richer understanding of ghost stories’ place in southern culture.22


This essay was published in the Gothic South issue (vol. 29, no. 4: Winter 2023).

ALENA PIROK is associate professor of history at Georgia Southern University. Her research explores the intersection of historical interpretation, memory, ghost lore, and dissonant heritage. She is the author of The Spirit of Colonial Williamsburg : Ghosts and Interpreting the Recreated Past (University of Massachusetts Press, 2022).
NOTES
  1. Felix, “More Real Ghost Stories,” Richmond Times, June 29, 1890; “Virginia Ghosts,” Richmond Dispatch, December 9, 1900; “Some Virginia Spooked,” Washington Weekly Post, February 6, 1900.
  2. Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: New University of Minnesota Press, 2008).
  3. Rosan Augusta Jordan and Frank De Caro, “‘In This Folk-Lore Land’: Race, Class, Identity, and Folklore Studies in Louisiana,” Journal of American Folklore 109, no. 413 (Winter 1996): 40; Claude F. Jacobs, “Folk for Whom? Tourist Guidebooks, Local Color, and the Spiritual Churches of New Orleans,” Journal of American Folklore 114, no. 453 (Summer 2001): 309–330. Also see “Virginia Ghosts,” Richmond Dispatch, December 9, 1900, for a clear, and period, explanation of this argument. For more on the silencing of Black characters and figures in white southern culture, see Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, “Every Child Left Behind: The Many Invisible Children in The Help,” Southern Cultures 20, no. 1 (Spring 2014): 65–76. Mrs. Fanny D. Bergen, “On the Eastern Shore,” Journal of American Folklore 2, no. 7 (October–December 1889): 295–298; E. Sidney Hartland, C. Staniland Wake, Henry B. Wheatley, and G. L. Gomme, “Folk-Lore Terminology,” Folk-Lore Journal 2, no. 11 (November 1884): 340; Charlotte S. Burne, Antonio Machado y Alvarez, and E. Sidney Hartland, “The Science of Folk-Lore,” Folk-Lore Journal 3, no. 2 (1885): 97–121; W. H. Babcock, “Folk-Tales and Folk-Lore,” Folk-Lore Journal 6, no. 2 (1888): 85.
  4. Jordan and De Caro, 40. For more information on how researchers collected and understood African American folklore, see the Journal of American Folklore. Louis Pendleton, “Notes on Negro Folk-Lore and Witchcraft in the South,” Journal of American Folklore 3, no. 3 (July–September 1890): 207. Anthropologists and other early social scientists made similar arguments in the late nineteenth century concerning Native Americans and those in the US colonies in the Philippines and the Caribbean. E. M. Backus, “Negro Ghost Stories,” Journal of American Folklore 9, no. 34 (July–September 1896): 228–230. This is a classic example of a ghost story told through the voice of a Black nanny to children.
  5. “Virginia Ghosts,” Richmond Dispatch, December 9, 1900.
  6. “Virginia Ghosts,” Richmond Dispatch, December 9, 1900; “Ante-bellum Southerners Imbibed Superstitions Early,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, October 10, 1921, 9.
  7. Henry Grady, “New South” (speech), New England Society in New York, December 21, 1886, Life and Labors of Henry W. Grady, His Speeches, Writings, Etc. (Atlanta: J. C. Hudgins and Co., 1890), 99–116; The American Yawp Reader, https://www.americanyawp.com/reader/18-industrial-america/henry-grady-on-the-new-south-1886/. For a look at southern boosterism more broadly, see William D. Bryan, The Price of Permanence: Nature and Business in the New South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2018); Reiko Hillyer, Designing Dixie: Tourism, Memory and Urban Space in the New South(Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014); James Michael Russel, Atlanta 1847–1890: City Building in the Old South and the New (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988); Anthony J. Stanonis, ed., Dixie Emporium: Tourism, Foodways, and Consumer Culture in the American South (Athens: University of Georgia Press). For an example of how labor factored into boosterism, see Alena Pirok, “Plant’s Folly and Tampa’s Treasure: Boosters and the Creation of a Tampa Icon,” Florida Historical Quarterly 95, no. 4 (Spring 2017): 505. See also Diane Roberts, “The Great-Granddaddy of White Nationalism,” Southern Cultures 20, no. 3 (Fall 2019): 133–155.
  8. K. Stephen Prince, Stories of the South: Race and the Reconstruction of Southern Identity, 1865–1915 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); David Blight, Race and Reunion: the Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).
  9. Christopher Bundrick, “Return of the Repressed: Gothic and Romance in Thomas Nelson Page’s Red Rock,” South Central Review 25, no. 2 (Summer 2008): 63. For a look at the development of the South after the Civil War, see Karen Cox, Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011); Rebecca C. McIntyre, Souvenirs of the Old South: Northern Tourism and Southern Mytholog (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011); Rebecca C. McIntyre, “Promoting the Gothic South,” Southern Cultures 11, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 33–61; K. Stephen Prince, Stories of the South: Race and the Reconstruction of Southern Identity, 1865–1915 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); Nina Silber, Romance and Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1864–1900 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993).
  10. Matthew R. Martin, “The Two-Faced New South: The Plantation Tales of Thomas Nelson Page and Charles Chesnutt,” Southern Literary Journal 30, no. 2 (Spring 1998): 17; Thomas Nelson Page, “Marse Chan,” in In Ole Virginia or Marse Chan and Other Stories (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1892), 2.
  11. Page, “Marse Chan,” 8–9, 10, 15–16.
  12. Thomas Nelson Page, “No Haid Pawn,” in In Ole Virginia, 164, 165. See also Micki McElya, Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth Century America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).
  13. Page, “No Haid Pawn,” 169–170, 185.
  14. Thomas Nelson Page, Red Rock: A Chronicle of Reconstruction (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1900), viii, 2, 27, 29, 43–44.
  15. Page, Red Rock, 429.
  16. Bundrick, 69.
  17. Page, Red Rock, 185.
  18. “Ante-bellum Southerners Imbibed Superstitions Early,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, October 10, 1921, 9. For details on the directions given to New Deal–era federal researchers, see Henry G. Albers, “American Guide Manual Federal Writers’ Project: Manual and Procedural,” 10/1935, Box A 7, Folder “Manual and Procedural,” Administrative File, Federal Writers’ Project: American Guide File, 1524-1941, United States Works Progress Administration records 1524-1941, Library of Congress.
  19. Ant Carney, “Ghost Story,” recorded by Richard Slaughter, May 15, 1939, Box 1, Folder 2, “Misc., Folktales, Black,” Virginia Folklore and Folk Song Collection, 1936–1940, Accession #1547, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA. The spelling in the quote reflects an early twentieth-century attempt to preserve a distinctive way of speaking English. The guidebook instructed researchers to transcribe interviews “exactly as heard” and to “record, not to correct or improve” what they heard from their contact. The 1930s recording and interpretation process was rich with assumptions and biases, but the Folklore project directors’ choice to encourage researchers to use dialect spelling was a well-intended attempt to preserve regional dialect. The exact guidelines directors made for researcher can be found here: “Supplementary Instructions #9-F to The American Guide: Manual for Folklore Studies,” 10/1938. Box A 7, Folder “Procedural Instructions, Projects Other Than the American Guide,” Administrative File, Federal Writers’ Project: American Guide File, 1524-1941, United States Works Progress Administration records 1524-1941, Library of Congress.
  20. Sue K. Gordon, “John’s Narrative,” September 1, 1938, Box 1, Folder “Misc. Prose,” Virginia Folklore and Folk Song Collection, 1936–1940, Accession #1547, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA.
  21. Gordon, “John’s Narrative”; Donnie Johnston, “Finally, a Final Resting Place,” Freelance Star, July 22, 2002, 1, 10.
  22. Tiya Miles, Tales from The Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015); Tiya Miles, “Haunted Waters: Stories of Slavery, Coastal Ghosts, and Environmental Consciousness,” in Coastal Nature, Coastal Culture: Environmental Histories of the Georgia Coast, ed. Paul S. Sutter and Paul M. Pressly (Athens: Georgia University Press, 2018); Tennessee Williams, Where I Live: Selected Essays, ed. Christine R. Day and Bob Woods (New York: New Directions, 1978), 42; Flannery O’Connor, “The Fiction Writer and His Country,” in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, ed. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 28.

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