Saturday, December 22, 2012

Campfire Stories---Faithful Slave Searching for Lost Master

Perhaps the most enduring legend of the BMLs has to do with the spirit of a faithful slave searching for his lost master.  The legend first appeared in print in 1961 with Scotty Wiseman’s folksong, the Ballad of the Brown Mountain Light.  Over the next few years the song became very popular and was recorded by various groups, while local newspaper reporter John Parris wrote the full story of Scotty’s Great Uncle, Josiah Lafayette “Fate” Wiseman (1842-1932) in 1966, 1971 and 1972 articles.  According to Parris:

About 1854, Fate Wiseman, then a young boy, camped on the rim of Linville Gorge and saw the BMLs---long before electric lights.  Fate Wiseman bacame a veteran of the Civil War and he  kept cattle on his land below the cliffs in Connally’s Cove in Linville Gorge.  On a return trip with his father to sell goods in Salisbury, they camped at today’s Wiseman’s View and he could see the lights over BM.  Later he would often watch the lights from the same spot and it came to be called Wiseman’s View.  Fate told of a faithful slave with a lantern searching for his missing low-country hunter master. The spirit of the salve and his lantern still wander the mountain today.
In 2002, J. Baldwin elaborated on the story:

                “Brown Mountain was named after a Brown family, who owned a lot of land during the 19th century
                  that included this mountain.  The family owned slaves, and enjoyed the reputation of treating
                  them well.

“During the Civil War, one of the men in the Brown family fought in the Confederate army as a colonel.  He was wounded in 1863 and came home.  When he was well enough, he went for a day’s hike and hunting on Brown Mountain, a place he knew well.  He took a little food and water, and two lanterns.

“Midnight came and the colonel had not returned.  His faithful slave Jim took a lantern and went to Brown Mountain to look for him.  Neither Jim nor the colonel ever returned.  The family and their slaves searched the entire surface of Brown Mountain, but no trace of either of them has ever been found.

 “Shortly after the colonel and Jim disappeared, bobbing lights appeared on the mountain.  The lights had never been seen before, and the family believed the lights were from the lanterns the colonel and Jim carried.  They are trying to find their way home.”

In 2012, J. Betts reported the following words of the popular song:

The Legend of the Brown Mountain Light by Scotty Wiseman

Way out on the old Linville Mountain,
                Where the bear and the catamount reign;
There’s a strange ghostly light, can be seen every night,
Which no scientists nor hunter can explain.


In the days of the old covered wagons,
Where they camped on the flats for the night;
With the moon shining dim on the old highboard rim,
They watched for that Brown Mountain light. 


Many years ago a southern planter
Came hunting in this wild world alone.
It was then so they say that the planter lost his way
And never returned to his home.
His trusting old slave brought a lantern
And searched day and night but in vain.
Now the old slave is gone but his spirit lingers on,
And the lantern still casts its light. 

High, high on the mountain, and deep in the canyon below
It shines like the crown of an angel, and fades as the mists comes and go.
Way over yonder, night after night until dawn,
A lonely old slave comes back from the grave,
Searching, searching, searching, for his master who’s long gone on.

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