12 December 2010

Come All You Tender Hearted

compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
December 2010

By now all my readers should be aware of my love of ballads and how they can be used in genealogy and history.

My families genealogy includes the sad story of Floyd Alson McCormack [1836-1906] and wife Francis Jane Ratliff McCormack's two daughters deaths in Carter County,Kentucky..

A few years ago a family cousin, Robert McCormack, asked if I knew of a ballad sang by the Stanly Brothers. I immediately sent him the copy from Ballad Makin in the Mountains of Kentucky by Jean Thomas. What is interesting about her publication is that she says the ballad "came to Jilson Setters' ears..." It did not say that Jilson Setters aka William Day was the author.

Over the years Robert has collected several versions of the ballad and now has a web page that is a true delight. Simply titled The Fire Tragedy, I am sure my readers will enjoy it.

As the snow storm moves into Eastern Kentucky, I am scanning McCormack items in my collection and refreshing my memory concerning the ballad. Among my items is a copy of the Carter County Herald, Olive Hill, Kentucky, dated 26 October 1922. The article is titled "A Sad Recollection."

This article has a few inconsistencies and states that Mrs. Francis McCormick was a widow residing in Flat Woods, Carter County and suffered from rheumatism. After putting her little girls to bed, she went to the neighbor's house to get some liniment and while there the house caught fire and burned. This article states the the affair happened in 1867.

The newspaper version follows:
Come all ye tender hearted
Your attention I will call;
I'll tell you how it started,
Come listen one and all.
On Wednesday night there was a light
Saw shining on the hill;
A mother ran with all her might,
While everything was still.
Two little girls had gone to bed,
While mother ached with pain;
"I'll get some liniment," she said,
"And soon return again."
Don't stay too long, dear mother,
For well be lonesome here,"
And then mother might have seen
Them drop a silent tear.
She went into a neighbor's house,
Some hundred yards away,
Twas there she sat and talked with them
Bud did not mean to stay.
They hear a noise life thunder
As the flames began to roar;
Ain't it an awful wonder
They never went to the door?
Time passed on much longer,
But still she did not go;
Ain't it an amazing wonder
The mother acted so?
When she started home again
Her house was in a flame;
She cried, "My babies, you're gone,
I am the one to blame."
She burst the door asunder
The flames rolled over her head.
She cried aloud, "No wonder."
She found her babies dead.
The little ones had gone to sleep
Before their mother came.
Oh how still they slept,
Wrapped in the red hot flame.
Their little bones lay on the ground,
They both lay face to face,
Their arms they were entwined around
Each other they did embrace.
Don't grieve for them, dear mother,
For they are now at res,
Ain't it an amazing wonder
How soon they both were blessed?
If they had said with you, ma,
Till they had both grown old,
They could not have purchased what they have
Though they had a world of gold.
We know they are gone from you, ma,
It's their eternal gain;
They're beyond the curtains of the sky
Where they'll never know no pain.
We know they're gone from you, ma;
God will it so to be;
Just put your trust in him, ma;
Your babes you soon shall see.

This version published in the Carter paper states that it was composed by M. J. Williams in 1888. The version published by Jean Thomas varies in many ways and never uses the word ain't or ma.

The story has some twists. In 1870 Francis was living in Greenup County, Kentucky working as a seamstress with her children and an Elizabeth Williams age 67 born in East Virginia. The little girls vary in ages from 8 years old to 6 months. Husband Floyd is not in the household. However he reappears in 1880 in Lawrence County living with a younger wife Martha [Haney]. Thus she was not a widow in 1870. Floyd did not die until 20 June 1906.

Looking for M. J. Williams who composed the ballad in 1888, I found Montraville J. Williams, the son of Jefferson Brooks Williams living next door to John Q. A. Davis, a violin and dulcimer maker in 1880 in Olive Hill, Carter County, Kentucky. Williams is 22 years old working on his fathers farm but was certainly influenced by John Q. A. Davis and his music.

Kentucky Vital records show that Montraville J. [spelled a variety of ways] was born 24 February 1858 in Smokey Valley, Carter County to Jefferson B. and Mary Griffith Williams.

By 1900 Montraville Williams is living with a sister's family and is selling organs. Montraville appears to have never married and is found in 1920 living as a boarder in Eagle, Carter County with no occupation, just two years prior to the writing of the article in the Carter County newspaper.

I was able to to locate the obituary of "Mont J." Williams published 17 January 1929 in the Carter Herald. With a special thanks to James Powers at the Boyd County Library, I did not have to make the drive on this snowy day to obtain the obit. We discussed what a wonderful genealogy find the obituary was because it lists when each of the siblings pre-deceased Montraville. Sadly the article does not state the one thing I had hoped - which was his occupation and involvement with music and musical instruments. According to the obituary Montraville J. Williams died 12 January 1929 and was buried at Globe, Kentucky.

Anyone with further information on any other ballads that M. J. Williams may have compiled is encouraged to contact me.

clip art by: www.clker.com


  1. This is a wonderful yet so sad post. You are a wonderful blogger. I'm so glad you commented on Facebook so that I took a look. It's great stuff that you write!

  2. sad song, love those old death and murder ballads

  3. I haven't sung this one in years (indeed, I could never sing any of these dying children songs, after my own children were born) but used to sing it in the '60s & '70s with my group the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys. I treasure the memories of the times I heard Carter Stanley sing it. Thank you for filling in some of the song's history.