Master Appalachian Mountain Storyteller

Jerry Harmon is a seventh generation Master Appalachian Mountain Storyteller.

Jerry Harmon is keeping alive a tradition that has been in his family since his great great grandfather – Council Harmon – shared the ‘Jack’ tales in the Southern Appalachian mountains of North Carolina in the early 1800’s. These tales have been passed on through the Harmon family for over 200 years, and are suitable for both adults and children.

 

 On the one side of the void lies a rich tradition, both written and oral, reaching across an ocean and back through centuries. On the other side stands one book, by Richard Chase; one family, the Harmons of North Carolina, and a company of contemporary storytellers in their thousands and listeners in their millions who have been influenced by this book and this family. 

-Linhadl, Carl in ‘Jack in Two Worlds’, University of North Carolina Press

 

What are the ‘Jack Tales’?

 

The early origins of the Jack Tales are shrouded in mystery, earliest documentary evidence being the texts commonly called Marchen by students of oral traditions. These were rhyme-based mostly, copied by hand in manuscript form. The oldest known Jack Tale is the early fifteenth-century English poem “Jack and the Stepdame”. Jack reappears in sixteenth and seventeenth-century texts and in English Renaissance drama.

The oldest surviving texts of Jack as the boy hero is “The History of Jack and the Giants” (Newcastle, 1711) and “The History of Jack and the Bean-stalk” (London, 1734) Similar tales of a boy hero, using his wits to defeat enemies and trick his way into a comfortable life, yet demonstrating moral undertones, populate the folk traditions of Ireland, Scotland and Germany.

 

The Jack tales cycle in America is originates with the tales of the Harmon-Hicks family of North Carolina. John Hixe, born in England 1658, emigrated to North America. His descendants intermarried with the Hartmann/Harmon family of German extraction who brought with them the Germanic oral narrative tales. The Harmon family settled in the Beech Mountain region of North Carolina.

 

Jerry is the great-great grandson of Council Harmon (1803-1896) who was the first credited by historians as the original teller of Jack Tales in America, handed down as a family tradition by his combined English/German family. These stories, a repertory of more than fifty traditional Märchen, have been preserved and passed on by these families for over two hundred years in the Appalachian mountains.

 

There are striking similarities with the same stories known from Ireland, from eighteenth century English chapbooks, from travelling people in Scotland of which Cutliff Harmon, Jerry’s third great grandfather, was one when not farming in England, and from the Germanic tradition. The Appalachian Jack Tales, related with quirky mountain humour, are very easily adapted for telling to children or to older audiences, containing more adult themes and saltier humour.

 

Jerry Harmon is the last tradition bearer, authentic teller and preserver of these classic tales. 

In our opinion, Jerry Harmon, better known as

"The Smoky Mountain Gypsy"

is not only a tradition bearer, he is a national treasure.

 

 

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