“So you’ll know when it’s your time to go.”

John G. Thomas’ “Wilsonia” column appeared in the Daily Times regularly during the 1930s and ’40s. A raconteur of human-interest stories, Thomas — typically, for the times — was drawn to tales of picaresque negroes living in Wilson’s colored section. In his 8 January 1937 column, Thomas introduced his readers to the sad and curious tale, derived via hearsay, of the “conjuration” of Duncan Hargrove. Just 11 months later, on 11 February 1938, Thomas revisited the story, adding considerable detail to the plight Hargrove, now called “Jake,” and augmenting his  armchair anthropologist’s analysis of rootwork, a deep-rooted African-American spiritual practice. (“You probably won’t believe that in this day and age a simple thing like a hole bored in an oak tree could kill a person by itself. Now would you? But 1938 isn’t such a far cry after all, when it comes to superstition among the negroes of the south. It was several years back when I became interested in such things over here.”)

In a nutshell: Hargrove, who lived on Carolina Street, had a “leaky heart” (valve regurgitation.) After an argument, a friend cursed Hargrove by boring a hole into a tree and pronouncing that Hargrove would live only until the tree’s bark had grown over the hole. After watching the hole with fearful obsessiveness, Hargrove traveled to Georgia and Florida searching for a conjurer to lift the “hand” placed on him. He failed and, as the old folks used to say, after “going down slow,” he died.

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Wilson Daily Times, 9 February 1937.

Now the remix, EP version, with Duncan as “Jake,” the friend as a rootworker in his own right, and the maple as an oak:

Wilson Daily Times, 11 January 1938.


  • Duncan Hargrove — in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Vance Street, D. John Hargrove, 28, fireman at machine shop; wife Vina, 25, laundress; children D[illegible], 8, Willie, 6, Jacob, 4, and John Ben, 4; mother Adline, 50, widowed laundress; brother Esaias, 30, machine shop fireman; and niece Melia A. Hargrove, 15, cook.
  • Toussaint L’Ouverture
  • Dr. Devil and Dr. Buzzard — For another story of rootwork in Wilson County, this one also involving Dr. Buzzard and a hole bored in a tree, see here.
  • Note Hardy — Note Hardy died 12 April 1977 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 4 September 1900 to Charlie Durham and Annie Hardy in Wayne County; was never married; was handicapped; and resided in Goldsboro, Wayne County.
  • Harvey Green
  • John Moore
  • John the Conqueror
  • Adam & Eve
  • mojo — see also here and (another of Thomas’ columns) here.
  • John McGill

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