In this week’s column I want to continue with the stories and folklore that are a big part of Richmond and lower Richmond County, now known as Scotland County.
In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, most of our residents lived in one room log cabins. A few people managed to build two room ones that had their kitchen off to the side in case of fire. Fireplaces, candles and oil lamps were the only inside lights they had. Traveling at night was very limited because small lanterns and pine torches were the only artificial lights available.
Farm life was about the only thing going in our area and people took it serious because their lives depended on it. Folks would work six days a week on the farm just trying to feed their families and their livestock. Some people that lived close to Pee Dee River and Drowning Creek supplemented their income and diet with fish caught with seines and homemade mechanical fish traps placed in the rivers.
Religion and morals played a big part in most of our ancestors’ lives. Most people considered it a sin to work on Sunday unless the ox fell in a ditch and couldn’t get out. Why a lot of folks considered it a sin to even fish on Sunday and would tell you so in a heartbeat. They said if’n you did, the Devil would surely have your soul and take you straight to Hell.
This following story was handed down through generations of a well-known family who lived in the Grassy Island Section of upper Richmond County, not far from Pee Dee River.
It seems most of the family were hard working and very religious folk. Why it would take a mighty big storm or illness to keep this family from going to church every time the doors were open. They tried their best to bring up their children in a Christian manner.
But you know, it seems there is always one black sheep in all families. In this family, it was a young man by the name of Willie. It wasn’t ‘cause Willie was a bad person or not a hard worker but Willie’s downfall was that he loved to fish more than anything in the world. Why he’d be on the river bank fishing way before the church bell rang on Sunday morning and stay till the sun started to set over the trees on the Anson County side of the river. This went on for years while people in the community prayed that Willie would soon come to his senses about attending church.
Finally, early one Sunday morning just before Willie started to go to the river his Ma told him,” Willie, if’n you don’t stop that fishing on Sunday the Ol’ Devil’s going to take you straight to Hell.” Well, Willie just nodded his head; kissed his Ma on the cheek and ran out the door to get his fishing poles.
As Willie got down to the river, the sun was just coming up behind him and it looked like it was going to be a perfect fishing day. All day he fished and even caught a nice mess of fish, but during the day his conscience was bothering him somewhat that he had skipped church and gone fishing against his Ma’s wishes.
As the sun started to set over the tree line across the river, Willie wound up his poles and began to wrap up his day of fishing. Just as he started up the river bank with his fishing poles and his fish, there to his disbelief stood the Devil himself. Well, you can imagine how startled Willie must have felt; being eye to eye with Ol’ Satan himself.
Why the Devil looked Willie up one side and then the other with his firey eyes just a sparkling. Finally the Devil said, “Willie, I’ve been thinking about coming to get you for a while now. You have disobeyed your Ma and skipped church for the last time and I’ve come to personally take you straight to Hell.”
Well this really upset Willie as you can imagine and he began to plead with the Devil not to take him. But the Devil said, “even though you were brought up to be a good Baptist, you have broken your faith with your Lord by skipping church and going fishing and I’m going to take you to Hell this very day.”
Willie pleaded more and more about how he would turn his life around if’n he had just one more chance. Finally, the Devil decided that maybe he might bargain with Willie; for he just knew he could win. So the Devil told Willie that he would enter a contest with him and if’n (Willie) won, he wouldn’t have to go to Hell with him that day. Willie then asked what the contest might be, and the Devil told him that the contest would be who could tell the biggest lie. So the Devil said, “I’ll get this show started, since I’m an expert at lying and deceiving,” and Willie agreed. So the Devil smiled and said, “okay, my lie is that I caught a fish out of this here river yesterday as big as the earth.”
Well, Willie thought that was the biggest lie he had ever heard and couldn’t be topped. After a little bit of stomping around and looking up toward Heaven, Willie looked the Devil straight in the eyes and said, “that’s a pretty good lie Ol’ Son, but I just want you to know, I have a frying pan at home that will hold two of them fish you caught yesterday.
This of course was a bigger lie than the Ol ’Devil told, so the Devil allowed Willie to go home and not have to go to Hell that day. Although Willie still liked to fish, he gave it up on Sundays and was a steady church goer and believer for the rest of his life.
I hope that some of you might just have learned a little lesson from this here story from the past and meet me at church this very Sunday morning.
J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Anson County Writer’s Club, Richmond County Historical Society and the Story Spinners in Laurinburg.