Peter Henry Hill, known as Pete, was born on December 22 sometime between 1894 and 1897 in the Stone Branch area of Logan County, West Virginia. He was the son of George H. Hill and Martha Gayheart Hill, and grandson of Hiram Hill (1834-1913) who had been enslaved by Lorenzo Dow Hill, a wealthy landowner who held a tract of rich bottom land along the Guyandotte River in Logan County.
We would know nothing of his musicianship were it not for two interviews in which Mr. Hill’s name surfaced. In 1971, John Coffey interviewed Aunt Jennie Wilson during the West Virginia State Folk Festival and she mentioned “a colored fiddler by the name of Pete Hill” that Dick Justice used to play with, one of the few Black fiddlers she knew of in Logan County at that time. And in 2008, I interviewed Dick’s daughter Ernestine Smith and she told me about her father’s fondness for playing with Mr. Hill; at one time Pete lived next door to Dick’s mother. Ernestine remembered that Dick and Pete would get together in the evenings and drink beer and play music.
He seems to have been an excellent fiddler but unfortunately he was never recorded so we’re unable to hear his music.
Pete Hill lived virtually all of his life in the
Chapmanville district of Logan County, along the Sawmill Road and the Guyandotte
River at Stone Branch, Kitchen, and Big Creek. At the time of his World War I draft registration, he was working at Kitchen as
a miner for the Guyandotte Coal Company, before enlisting in the army in early
1918. He was honorably discharged in
December 1918. In 1930 he was living
with his father and both of them are listed in the census as “farm helpers” at
a truck farm in Chapmanville district. On
April 22, 1958, he died at a hospital in Huntington of a cerebral hemorrhage,
eleven hours after being admitted.
Little else is known about Mr. Hill’s life, but in late 2019 Mr. Jamie Bell, a long-time resident of Big Creek, told Chris Haddox that his father remembered “old timers” talking about him, and he told Chris that “he was renowned on Sawmill for his speed in dressing and butchering hogs.” In February of 2021, Chris spoke with two other residents of Big Creek, Nora Sparks and Anny May Adkins. Both women were in the 90s and both recalled Pete's hog killing and dressing skills.
Mr. Hill is buried in the Lorenzo Dow Hill Family Cemetery in Stone Branch, near the graves of his father and grandfather and a few yards from the grave of his grandfather’s enslaver.
—Gloria Goodwin Raheja, with assistance from Chris Haddox and Brandon Kirk in visiting Pete Hill’s grave. February 2021.
New Information surfaces on 3/6/2023
On Monday, March 6, 2023, I made a call to William C. Surgoine, Jr. in Stone Branch, Logan County, WV. Mr. Surgoine is the son of William C. Surgoine, Sr.--a witness to the final legal papers of Pete Hill. Hoping that Mr. Surgoine had perhaps heard some stories about Pete from his dad, I was more than excited to hear that Mr. Surgoine remembered Pete. He confirmed that Pete was indeed a great hog killer and dresser, hired by many in area, and that he didn't take pay, but just took a portion of the meat. He told me that Pete and others, including Dick Justice, would gather at his grandparents (Burt and Mollie Surgoine) house at the mouth of Stone Branch Hollow for music, political discussion, and that there was usually some liquor involved. He told me that Pete had a best friend, D. (Dorsey) Moon, and that those two were always running around together (Dorsey is buried near Pete on Sawmill, and was married to Pete's niece, Mattie....daughter of Della Ferguson). Mr. Surgoine also told me that Pete was "a bulldog of a man with little hair, " which seems to agree with Pete's 1917 military draft card describing his height as 'short.'
The Search for Pete Hill's Grave
In June of 2019, Chris Haddox went on the search for Pete Hill's grave. With directions acquired from Brandon Ray Kirk, he found the cemetery and located Pete's headstone. While he had no first hand knowledge of the fiddle tunes in Pete's repertoire, he chose to play an old standard, Miss McCloud's Reel (aka Hop Light Ladies, Muskrat Sally Ann, Did You Ever See the Devil Uncle Joe), as it was, and still is, a popular tune in West Virginia, and because Dick Justice recorded a version of it with fiddler Reese Jarvis during his 1929 recording session in Chicago, so perhaps Dick and Pete played it around Logan, too! Here is a video of that afternoon. The video goes a bit crazy at the end...the only time the video camera has ever done that...perhaps Pete is communicating from the beyond?
Click here to join Chris for a fiddle tune at Pete's gravesite (click back arrow to return to this page).