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Fisher's River
(North Carolina)
Scenes and Characters (1859)

  
 

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II.--"FAMUS OR NO FAMUS."

Fisher's River was one of the last places for the importance of militia musters, in the expressive language of that section, "to give up the ghost."  I account for it from the fact that a few old Revolutionary soldiers lived in the community, and kept the "militeer sperit" always at blood heat in the rising generation.

Their musters were semi-annual, held in May and November, and the old "Revolutionaries" were ever present.  The "capting," "leftenant," "sargint"---all the "ossiffers"---were proud to perform "revolutions" before them.  "They knowed a thing or two about militeer tacktucks, just as well as old Steuben ur Duane tharselves."  And the "cap'en" never thought for once of giving the word "Right face!  dimissed!" till they were gravely reviewed by the "old sogers."

There was another matter of powerful attraction to the old "'Lutionaries" and the "'Litia"---the "knock-'em-stiff"---that was as punctual in attendance as any of the "patriots."  "Nigger Josh Easley" with his "gingy cakes," and Hamp Hudson with his "licker," were men and things as much looked for as "Capting Moore with his militeer uniform."

Hamp Hudson was the only man in that whole country who kept a "still-house" running all the year; the weaker ones would "run dry."  Of course, Hamp and his still-house, and all the "appurtenances thereof," were well known to the whole country.

Hamp also had a noted dog, named "Famus," as famous for being in the distillery as Hamp himself, and quite as well known in that entire region as his master.

Now it came to pass in the course of human and dog events that Famus fell into a "mash-tub" and was drowned.  It was "narrated" all through the country "that Famus was drownded in a mash-tub, and Hamp had distilled the beer in which Famus was drownded, and was gwine to carry it to the May muster to sell."  This report produced a powerful sensation in the community, and was the only topic of conversation. All appeared to believe it, and there was a general determination "not to drink one drap uv Hamp's nasty old Famus licker."

The auspicious muster-day arrives, and the people collect from Stewart's Creek, Ring's Creek, Beaver Dam, Big Fisher's and Little Fisher's Rivers, form the "Hollow," "the Foot uv the Mounting"---from the Dan to the Beersheba of that whole country.  I, too, was there---though but a lad, deeply interested in the action of that important day---to see who would triumph, Hamp and Famus, or an indignant community.

As soon as they collect they meet in little squads to debate the grave question.  The old "Revolutioners" are there, and their sage counsels decide all questions.  "They fout for our liberties, and they must be hearn."  "Uncle Jimmy Smith," a leading man among them, particularly on "licker questions," makes a speech to the crowd just before Cap'en Moore tells the "orderly sargint" to "form ranks."  Uncle Jimmy lisps, but he is clearly understood by his waiting and attentive audience.  They are "spell-bound" by his nervous and patriotic eloquence.  What if he has a slight impediment in his speech?  his eloquence is in his subject.  Hear him:

"Now, boyith, I'm an old man---wath at the storming uv Stony Pint, under old 'Mad Anthony Wayne, 'ath we boyith allers called him; and I've marched and countermarched through thick and thin; hath fout, bled, and died nairly for seven long years;  I hath theen many outrages, but thith Famus business caps the stack and saves the grain.  Jist think uv thith feller, Hamp Hudson, to 'still the beer uv that mash-tub that Famus---that nathty, stinkin', mangy dog---was drownded in; and fur to think fur to bring it here fur to thell the nathty, stinkin' whisky to hith neighbors, Cap'en Moore and company, and to the old sogers, what fout for yer libertith.  I tell you, boyith, you can do ath you pleath, but old Jimmy Smith---old Stony Pint---ain't a-gwine to tech it!"

"Nur I!" "Nur I, Uncle Jimmy!" shouted hundreds.

The voice of the sergeant is now heard like a Blue Ridge cataract:

"O-yis! o-yis!  The hour of muster have arrove!  O-yis!  All uv ye what b'longs to Cap'en Moore's company, parade here!  Fall inter ranks right smart, and straight as a gun-bar'l, and dress to the right and left, accordin' to the militeer tacktucks laid down by Duane in his cilebrated work on that fust of all subjecks."

They fall into ranks with precision, order, dignity, and gravity, prompted by their patriotism.  Besides, the old "'Lutionary sogers" are looking at them.

Cap'en Moore now appears in his old-fashioned uniform, worn probably by some "'Lutionary cap'en" in many a bloody fight.  'Tis an odd-looking affair; the collar of it repulses his "ossifer hat" from the top of his "hade;" the tail, long and forked, striking his hams at every step, and two great rusty epaulets on his shoulders---enough to weigh down a man of less patriotic spirit, and on a less patriotic occasion.

Thus equipped, "as the law directs," he commences the "drill accordin' to Duane."

I had seen every muster on that patriotic spot from the time I was able to get there and to eat a "gingy cake," but never had I seen as poor a one as that was.  There was no spirit nor life in the "militeer."  Instead of following Duane, they were whispering and talking about Hamp and Famus.  Indeed, they greatly needed the inspiration of Hamp's barrel.  Cap'en Moore bawled till he was hoarse; is "leftenant" and "sargint" were exhausted, but it all did no good.  They performed no "revolutions" according to Duane, Steuben, nor any other author extant.  The old "Revolutioners" could render them no assistance, and in despair the "capting" dismissed them, in deep mortification.

But where are Hamp and Famus all this time?  Yonder he sits, under the shade of a large apple-tree, solitary and alone, astride of his whisky-barrel.

It is now one o'clock P.M., and his chances look bad; his whisky-barrel has not been tapped, nor has any man dared to approach his condemned head-quarters.  "Old Nigger Josh Easley" has sold all his "gingy cakes," and is showing his big white teeth, rejoicing at his unparalleled success.  Josh is the only joyful man on the "grit."  The rest are all melancholy, standing or sitting in little squads, debating the mash-tub question.  Hamp is quite composed, and his looks say, "Never mind, gentlemen, I'll sell you every drap uv my licker yit."

Two o'clock arrives, and no one approaches Hamp's apple-tree.  His prospects are growing worse.  But look yonder!  The crowd has collected around Uncle Jimmy Smith.  Let us approach and hear him:

"Well, boyith, I don't know tho well about thith matter.  Maybe we've accused thith feller, Hamp, wrongfully.  He hath allers been a clever feller, and ith a pity ef he ith innercent uv thith charge.  The fact ith, boyith, it's mighty dull, dry times; nuthin's a-gwine on right.  Boyith, you are free men.  I fout for your freedom.  I thay, boyith, you can do ath you pleath, but ath fur me, old Stony Pint Jimmy Smith, Famus or no Famus, I must take a little."  The speech of Uncle Jimmy was satisfactory and moving.  His audience was not "spell-bound," for they moved up to Hamp's head-quarters with a "double-quick step;" the "bar'l" was tapped, "Famus or no Famus," by the generous Hamp, who never reproached them for their severe accusations.  Soon the condemned barrel was emptied, the money was in Hamp's pocket, and he was merry as "Gingy-cake Josh."

Uncle Jimmy soon began to sing his Revolutionary ditties, spin his yarns, and was happy enough.  Cap'en Moore, "leftenant" and "sargint," soon forgot their hard day's work.  The "'Litia" and others fell to discussing questions of great moment; but the whole affair ended in skinned noses, gouged eyes, and bruised heads.  That was a Famus day in the annals of "Shipp's Muster-Ground."

 

 

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