The Old Man and His Seven Sons

Reprinted in AppLit with permission, from the James Taylor Adams Collection
U of Virginia's College at Wise/Blue Ridge Institute of Ferrum College

Collected by James M. Hylton

Wise, Virginia

NOTE: This text was recopied directly from a typewritten copy in the archives of the Blue Ridge Institute. James Taylor Adams (1892-1954) kept typewritten copies of the folktales he and others collected during the last thirty years of his life, while he lived in Wise County, VA. Apparent typographical mistakes in the archive manuscript have not been altered. See below for an edited version with typographical corrections, and a few changes in punctuation and wording to enhance readability. This tale has been adapted in 148 words and 8 pages for primary grade readers by Gretchen Ostheim in The Old Man and His Seven Sons: An Appalachian Folktale. Illus. Johanna van der Sterre. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. The plot about the old man, his sons, and the bundles of sticks is as ancient as Aesop's Fables. For details on other Appalachian tales, see AppLit's Annotated Index of Appalachian Folktales.


(Folk Tales-Belief)                                           450 Words

Related to this writer by Mrs. Emily (J.W.) Thompson, aged 63 years and a lover of old tales and Folklore in general. During a recent visit to her own home with her in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. She related the following old Folk Tale that her parents told her many times when she was a young lady growing up. She is the mother of the wife of this Writer and being aware of the fact that he is interested in such Tales and Folklore she considers old tales and legends that she hears from older friends and neighbors and holds them in readiness when she sees this writer for use in this work if suitable. On the big roomy porch of her home she sat and swung in the porch swing as she related this old yarn of the man with the seven sons and the bundles of sticks. This visit lasted through the two days of May 18th and 19th, 1942 and she recounted other items as the following pages will show.

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"The Old Man and His Seven Sons)

"Once upon a time there was an old man who had seven sons. He lived with them in their good farm and they were considerably well fixed as to money and the other necessities of life. He had worked hard all of his life and had bee[n] a man of means always. A good fortune was yet at his hands and as he was now growing old he wished to make some kind of a settlement before going into the great beyond and he gave it much thought. But as he thought about the matter he had to come to no other conclusion that his sons were always quarelling @ and never could seem to aggree on anything between themselves. This worried the old man a lot and at last he thought he could try and find some method of showing them where they would not gain anything by arguing among themselves as it would only encourage others to gain what little they might have. So at last he called them all before him as they came in from the field at work. In time they all arrived and they placed themselves around him as he sat in his big chair out in the yard under a spreading tree. He had the younger of them all to go gather him seven round sticks of small size and he placed them all together and tied them. Then he asked them all to come by him one at a time and try to hold the bundle in their hands and break them with only the hands. As they passed by one at a time they soon saw that they could not break the bundle and all took their positions back as they had before the test. Then he took the bundle himself and untied it and one by one he broke the sticks with his hands easily. "Now, you see", he said to them all, "By keeping them all together they hold fast. You cannot break them. But when they become each as a one by itself they are easy to destroy. Like you sons of mine. Neighbors and friends are just waiting to see me die so you boys will get my fortune and afterrthat they know you all will be arguing and dissenting and they will win all you have at little price in order to settle the dispute so you see how I have shown you that it will be best for you to all stick together when I am a dead man and leave you by wealth. The all of you can do well if you will stic together, but one by one you will be lead to sell your interest and disrupt the others, you see." Thus saying the old man made his will and soon after die he did but the boys had learned their lesson and they stopped arguing and went to work and thrived better than the neighbors that had been wishing for the day to come when the old man would die so they could use their weaknesses to beat them out of the fortune. They were disappointed very much for they had been taught by the lesson of the seven sticks".

[JTA-1157]

Replaced Copy Made by the Blue Ridge Institute to Replace Unstable Original


The Old Man And His Seven Sons

Retold by Emily Thompson, edited by Tina L. Hanlon

Once upon a time there was an old man who had seven sons. He lived with them in their good farm and they were considerably well fixed as to money and the other necessities of life. He had worked hard all of his life and had been a man of means always. A good fortune was yet at his hands, and as he was now growing old, he wished to make some kind of a settlement before going into the great beyond, and he gave it much thought.

But as he thought about the matter, he had to come to no other conclusion than that his sons were always quarrelling and never could seem to agree on anything between themselves. This worried the old man a lot, and at last he thought he could try and find some method of showing them how they would not gain anything by arguing among themselves, as it would only encourage others to gain what little they might have.

So at last he called them all before him as they came in from the field at work. In time they all arrived, and they placed themselves around him as he sat in his big chair out in the yard under a spreading tree. He had the younger of them all to go gather him seven round sticks of small size, and he placed them all together and tied them. Then he asked them all to come by him one at a time and try to hold the bundle in their hands and break them with only the hands.

As they passed by one at a time, they soon saw that they could not break the bundle, and all took their positions back as they had before the test. Then he took the bundle himself and untied it, and one by one he broke the sticks with his hands easily. "Now, you see," he said to them all, "by keeping them all together they hold fast. You cannot break them. But when they become each as a one by itself, they are easy to destroy. Like you sons of mine. Neighbors and friends are just waiting to see me die so you boys will get my fortune, and after that they know you all will be arguing and dissenting, and they will win all you have at little price in order to settle the dispute. So you see how I have shown you that it will be best for you to all stick together when I am a dead man and leave you my wealth. All of you can do well if you will stick together, but one by one you will be led to sell your interest and disrupt the others, you see."

Thus saying, the old man made his will, and soon after die he did, but the boys had learned their lesson and they stopped arguing and went to work, and thrived better than the neighbors that had been wishing for the day to come when the old man would die so they could use their weaknesses to beat them out of the fortune. They were disappointed very much, for they had been taught by the lesson of the seven sticks.

copyright 2005 U of Virginia's College at Wise/Blue Ridge Institute of Ferrum College/Tina L. Hanlon
all rights reserved


"The Bundle of Sticks" from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by students at University of Massachusetts Amherst

"The Bundle of Sticks" in Walter Crane's beautifully illustrated The Baby's Own Aesop (1887, p. 50) in International Children's Digital Library


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