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John Christopher Haddox
Associate Professor, School of Design and Community Development

Tom Whitt

On August 27, 1940, Thomas (Tom) Whitt of Kirk, Mingo County, WV, provided twenty-two selections for Louis Watson Chappell.   The selections consist of several unaccompanied singing songs, as well as fiddle tunes (several to which he adds singing tidbits) to Chappell. 

Tom Whitt was born on August 11, 1876 to Mary Smith Whitt in Wayne County, WV.  Some sources list his father as Mose Marcum, while others say the identity of the father is unknown.  Little is known about Tom’s life other than what can be gleaned from Federal Census records and a few family trees on Ancestry.  Census records provide conflicting information, but it appears that by 1928 Tom was married to Celia Ann Dillon, and by 1930 he was living in Mingo County, WV, where it appears he spent the remainder of his life.  Various records have a Tom Whitt from the same area and general time frame  living on a farm, working as a logger, and working as a coal miner.  While we cannot be certain at this point exactly what Tom did, it is likely a safe bet to say that logging and mining were his likely occupations. 

Regardless of what we don’t know about Tom, what we do know is that he was a wonderful singer and fiddler.  One of the songs he sang, Catherina, is a pure tongue twister that Whitt pulls off quite nicely.  Contrast that to his version of Waxford Girl, a song he sings in a more somber tone.  It is an all too common tale of a grisly murder of a young woman by her male companion.  The Waxford Girl mirrors the Cruel Miller (Roud 264).  The song has made its way into the contemporary bluegrass song book as The Knoxville Girl.   

On the fiddling front, Witt plays several tunes, such as Sourwood Mountain, Forked Deer, Mississippi Sawyer, Soldier’s Joy, Old Joe Clark, and Wild Horse, for example.  A few tunes are more common to the southwest Virginia area, Black-Eyed Susie, Old Molly Hare, and Sugar Hill.  One tune of particular interest, Come Back Boys, is often identified as Come Back Boys and Let’s Feed the Horses—a tune from the Hammons family of fiddlers generally associated with Pocahontas County, WV.  The Hammons family does have southern WV roots in Wyoming County, which borders Mingo, so perhaps that tune has a more southern WV origin, as well.

Tom Witt died on August 9, 1941, slightly less than a year after his encounter with Chappell.  A definitive gravesite has yet to be located.  His wife, Celia, is buried in what is known as the Whitt-Mullins Cemetery in Kirk, Mingo County, WV, and until evidence to the contrary surfaces, the assumption put forth by Zach Fitzpatrick seems plausible--that  Tom likely rests in one of the several graves near Celia that have only field stones for markers. 

 

Sources:

- Ancestry.com

- U. S. Federal Census Records

- Zach Fitzpatrick (Whitt-Mullins Cemetery information)

 Listen to Tom play and sing for Louis Watson Chappell in August, 1940

Tom Whitt sings Catherina for Louis Watson Chappell

Tom Whitt sings Waxford Girl for Louis Watson Chappell

Tom Whitt fiddles Come Back Boys for Louis Watson Chappell

Tom Whitt fiddles Wild Horse for Louis Watson Chappell

Tom Whitt fiddles Forked Deer for Louis Watson Chappell

Tom Witt fiddles Black-Eyed Susie for Louis Watson Chappell

-recordings used with permission from the West Virginia and Regional History Center

  A Visit to Tom Whitt’s Grave—Maybe! 

Visit to the Whitt Mullins Cemetery in Kirk, Mingo County, WV to offer up a tune for Tom Whitt

I mistakenly said Tom played Fly Around for Chappell.  I didn't have my list with me and as Fly Around has words that reference a 'blue-eyed miss,' I was thinking of Tom's 'Black-Eyed Susie' and jumped into the wrong tune!  Oh, well...here's hoping Tom enjoyed it anyhow.  I'm guessing he would appreciate anyone remembering his musical offerings.