Jack and his Lump of Silver

Collected by R. Rex Stephenson
from Raymond Sloan

Originally published in Blue Ridge Traditions.
And in ALCA-Lines:  Journal of the Assembly on the Literature and Culture of Appalachia, Vol. VI (Fall 1999): 6-7.

Background on the Tale:

I collected “Jack and his Lump of Silver” from Raymond Sloan in the 1970s. Sloan had been part of the WPA Federal Writer’s Project in Franklin County, Virginia. When the Writer’s Project started, Mr. Sloan was working in the WPA office as a typist, and he always told me that he thought he had been recommended as a folklore collector primarily because he was such a good typist. During the next two years he collected materials about the “Old Order Dunkers,” then later he branched out into folk songs, tall tales, play party songs, and tales of ghosts and witches. However, unlike Richard Chase and James Taylor Adams, who were also with the WPA Writer’s Project, he collected no Jack Tales.

I met him in the 1970s, and while he was a bit frail in body, his mind was insightful and full of stories about a time long past. I asked him if he knew any Jack Tales and at first he told me that he did not. I encouraged him to check through his notes or to try to remember any stories that his father or grandfather might have told him, that could have the character of Jack in them. I was convinced that there had to be some Jack Tales on the Eastern slope of the Blue Ridge although no one, including Chase, had been able to find any.

About a week after this Mr. Sloan called and said that he had been looking over some notes and he found a story that his father had told him entitled “Jack and his Lump of Silver.” Raymond’s father’s name was Pedro Sloan and he had taught in a one-room school in Franklin County at the turn of the century. Raymond believed his father had probably heard this story from one of his students. Raymond said that his father always allowed the students in his one-room school to tell him stories on Friday afternoon, if they had been well behaved and done their lessons during the previous four days. Raymond said that the boys in his father's classroom were “pretty big and strapping,” and the Friday afternoon storytelling session was the best way to keep the class in order. Here is the story of “Jack and his Lump of Silver” as Raymond Sloan remembered it.

There is another version of Jack and his Lump of Silver in AppLit, from Wise County. See also the bibliography page Foolish Jack - or - Jack and his Lump of Silver.

Sloan told this tale to Kip Lornell in Ferrum, VA, in 1979. He also discussed his folktale collecting in an interview with Lornell in Ferrum in 1976. He said he mostly looked for haunted house tales and weird, psychic happenings, rather than Jack tales, but he realized once that he had known a Jack tale and mentioned having told it to Mr. Stephenson. These recorded interviews are available in the Appalachian College Association's Digital Library of Appalachia. In the 1979 recording, Jack trades his lump of silver for a cow, which turns out not to be a good milker, then a donkey that talks, a pig, and a grindstone. Sloan comments that when he told the story to Stephenson, he put in a part about the donkey saying "bray tell me" instead of "pray tell me."


Jack and his Lump of Silver

This is the story about Jack and his lump of silver. Jack lived in a village that had a few shops. As I recollect it was called Ferrum. Anyway, there was an apothecary shop, a tavern or two, a carriage shop, a bakery, a rooming house, and a market place. Both of Jack’s parents were dead, and a kindly silversmith, who lived at the edge of the village, took Jack into his home and tried to teach him the trade. But in the metal shop, Jack could only learn to fire the furnace and sweep the floor. Even though the silversmith was discouraged that Jack was dull, he was fond of him and did indeed need his willing service around the shop. A last test was customary in those days, and Jack couldn’t seem to pass it, so Jack remained working for the old silversmith for seven years. That was the period in which he should have learned the trade.

At last, Jack, felt the urge to go to the big city, and he asked the old silversmith if he could pay him for his services during the seven-year period. He wanted to take his small fortune and go to the big town where he could find a job and do what he wanted to do. He was mightily tired of silver smithin’.

The old silversmith, since he was ready to retire anyway and had no relatives to whom he could leave his fortune, as small as it was, decided he would do something real nice for Jack. In the shop he found bits and pieces of silver that had accumulated over the years. These bits of silver had been thrown into the drawers, until it was quite an accumulation of silver. These pieces he put into the furnace and melted it into a huge silver lump. When it was cool, he called Jack in and said, “Jack, here is your fortune. You can go to the big city now and trade it in for whatever you want. You should get a lot of money for this big lump of silver.”

So Jack told the old silversmith good-bye. Both of them had tearful eyes, and Jack promised to come back to visit him sometime.

Well, Jack put the lump of silver in his sack which he slung over his back, and under his arm he put a loaf of bread and started out on his journey. He hadn’t gone very far when he met up with a man leading a donkey. The man said, “Good morning, my young friend. Where are you going?”

Jack said, “I’m going to the big city.”

The man said, “ Well, would you like to ride? I have a donkey here that I’d be willing to trade for whatever you might have, and then you could ride the donkey and wouldn’t have to walk.”

Now to Jack that sounded pretty good and he had that lump of silver. When the man looked at the lump of silver he realized what a huge fortune it was. He readily agreed to let Jack have the donkey. Now the donkey looked around and realized what was going on, but didn’t speak until the man had gone on his way with Jack’s lump of silver; Jack climbed up on the donkey’s back.

Then the donkey turned around to Jack and said, “Hee Haw, you sure made a terrible trade there. I’m worth a lot, but I’m not worth that lump of silver that you let the man have.” And Jack said, “Well, I needed the ride.”

And the donkey said, “Pray, tell me why you decided to trade for me.”

He replied, “Well, it’s just like the man said. I wanted to ride.”

The donkey said, “Well, I’m hungry. Do you have any money to buy me some oats?” Jack said, “No. No. The only money I had was the lump of silver.”

So the donkey said, “Well, I can’t get by on just a few blades of grass that I can nibble along side the road. And, besides I don’t think you’re a very good master and you’re not a very good trader, either, to trade a lump of silver for me.”

So he and the donkey argued and fussed a little bit. Finally the donkey said, “Jack, I think maybe you’re a little bit too heavy. You ought to get off my back and walk along side of me and see how it feels to be back on the road again, 'cos after all, I’m getting hungry and you don't have any oats and nothing to buy any with.”

Jack was pretty dissatisfied with the trade, and so was the donkey. Pretty soon in the distance they see’d a man walking along, coming toward them leading a cow. As they approached each other, the donkey turned around to Jack and said, “Now here’s a man you can trade with. I’m sure he’ll treat me better than you 'cos he probably will take me to his farm and give me plenty of oats and corn and things for me to eat. You’re going to the big town and you won’t be able to feed me after you get there.”

Jack said, “Well, alright. We’ll see what sort of a trade we can strike up.”

When Jack got close enough he said, “My good man, would you like to trade your cow for my donkey?”

And the man studied the donkey and said, “Yes, but I don’t have anything to pay extra. No boot to give ya.” Could we swap even? I could use a donkey on my farm to pull a plow and ride around the farm a little bit.”

The donkey seemed to be pleased with the arrangement 'cos he wanted to get off the highway, and he certainly didn’t want to go to the big city. So they made an even swap and the man with the cow said, “Now, let me show ya. In the first place, you got a back to ride on, but when you get hungry, you can milk her. So you’ll have milk and a ride, too.”

Jack thought that sounded VERY good.

Well, Jack led the cow on down the road; before long he tried to climb up on the old cow’s back, but the cow bucks and bucks until Jack fell off.

The cow said, “Moo, I don’t like for people to ride on me. I’ll tell you what. You just might as well take me on down here and trade me to somebody else 'cos I don’t think you’re gonna be a very good master. Besides, I heard the donkey say that you don’t have any corn or oats to feed anybody on.”

Jack said, “Well, I don’t but I thought maybe you could give me some milk.”

The cow said, “Welp, you can try but I don’t know whether you’ll find much milk or not.”

So Jack took off his hat and sat underneath the cow and tried to milk her. Finally, the cow turned around and said, “Look, Jack, it’s not my time of the year to give milk.”

Jack couldn’t get any milk in the hat at all. “It looks like I’ve made another pretty poor trade here.”

The cow said, “Well, you sure did. You’d better trade me off to somebody else you meet along the road.”

Pretty soon a man come up the road pulling a hog by the neck; the man had tied a rope around the hog’s neck and was pulling him along. It wasn’t an old hog; it was a young shoat. So when he got up close to Jack, Jack said, “What’ve you got there?”

And the man said, “This is a young shoat that I’m taking on over to the farm. Want to do some tradin’? I could use a cow.”

Jack said, “ Yeah, I guess so. Would you wanta swap even?”

The man said, “Sure. we can swap even. You take the young shoat and when you get to town you can sell it for a good price.”

So they swapped even and Jack started on down the road. But it wasn’t long before the shoat said, “Jack, I don’t want to go to the town. When we get there I’m afraid someone will take me over to the butcher’s shop, and I certainly don’t want to go there. What I’d like to do, Jack, is to live on the farm somewhere, someplace with a bunch of little pigs and have me a family, and have a happy life. And here you’re taking me to the big city where I don’t know what might happen to me.”

“Well, that is true. What would you suggest that I do?”

And the shoat said, “First farmer you meet up with, trade me for something or other and then maybe he’ll take me on to the farm, and I’ll be happy there for a long time and raise a family of little pigs.”

Now Jack was real sympathetic about that so he said, “All right, we’ll see who we can run into.”

A little further down the road came a man carrying a grindstone on his back. And as they get closer together, they both look at each other hard and the man puts his grindstone down and said, “Jack, what have you got there?”

And Jack said, “Well, I got a young shoat that would like to live on the farm if he could. I’m going to the city, and I don’t know what I’d do with a young shoat after I got into town.” And the farmer said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll swap you this grindstone for the pig, and I’ll give that pig a good home.”

Well, the pig was pleased to death. He said, “Oink, oink, thoink you , thoink you.”

So Jack picks up the grindstone and the man goes on down the road with the pig. The further Jack goes, the heavier the grindstone got. He hadn’t realized how heavy a grindstone could be. In the distance Jack could see the steeples and all the buildings in town. He knew he was getting close to the big city, but he had walked so far with only had a loaf of bread, to eat. He had shared that with the donkey and now he was really hungry and thirsty. In the distance he spied this well, all walled up in rock and brimmin’ full of water. As he got closer and closer to the well and he said, “Somebody has already put a nice fresh bucket of water on the edge.” And sure enough, there was a bucket of water, just within reach. Jack walked over and set his grindstone down. But when reached over to get a drink of water that grindstone slips and WHAM!! It falls right down into the bottom of that well. Jack looked down at the bottom of the well and said, “Good riddance, grindstone. I don’t have a thing in the world now to worry about. I never was good at tending property in the first place. I’ll jest walk on into town and see if I can find something to do there.”

I don’t know what ever happened to Jack. He probably got a job working for some other silversmith, firing furnaces and sweeping floors and making a living that way.


copyright 2001 R. Rex Stephenson
all rights reserved

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