Hard Twenty Years
A LABORIOUS AND LEAN twenty years
followed Jim Jordan’s marriage in 1900. They also were
his more restless ones, covered the time when he seemed
to crave the joys of the common man but was pressed by
an urge to rise above him to recognition.
He and his growing family
share-cropped no less than six farms, shifted from one
to another. As his boys matured he devoted more of his
time and head crew man for several logging men and
His father Isaac died unexpectedly
July 3, 1904. He had been plowing during the afternoon
heat. His younger daughter Jennie Mae, then fourteen,
brought him a half-gallon pitcher of water; he sat on
his plow beam, drank most of the water, fell backwards
and was dead within a few minutes.
Isaac had bought of T. E. Vann the
148-acre Darden tract in 1902; but the family’s move
from tenant status was checked. The farm was bought by
Jordan and Parker of Winton when it was auctioned for
subdivision among Isaac’s heirs.
JIM’S CONJURE PRACTICE remained
insignificant the first ten or more years of the twenty.
Even his respected Uncle Allen was conjure doctoring as
a sideline. The patrons, says Allen’s son Jim, were
“ignorant people who got scared when they had a little
pain.” The conjure would “give them medicine to ease the
pain and pull the tricks to ease the mind.” Allen
usually charged $1.00 for each job, and the most he was
known to receive was $5.00.
Aging Allen and his wife moved into a
small house on the Will Snipes place at Menola to raise
their garden and look after their chickens.
The conjure man was poor even though,
as Tom Sharpe Majette (1893_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _) says,
“Allen could do anything; he never had any of his
doctoring to come back on him.”
Jim Jordan had some following. His
sister Jennie Mae says neighbors was calling him a root
doctor by 1906. “I was sixteen when I heard people tell
of his strange powers. I got shy of him” although he had
played with her when she was a small girl.
She was married to Horace Eley in
1909, and soon afterwards Jim asked, “Why don’t you come
to see me?”
“I will,” she promised.
She did visit him at times, but when
he wasn’t at work at other jobs he was usually busy at
conjure, had patients and “I soon went on.”
MORE POWER came to the conjure
doctor; he gained great professional respect after he
went crazy and his Uncle Allen Vaughan restored his
Still prevalent was the ante-bellum
belief that witches drive people out of their minds and
it requires a more powerful force than theirs to void or
turn the trickery.
Jim created a spectacle when he lost
his mind, and the incident became the talk of the
community. Elbert Boone (June 11, 1892_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
_ _ _) then a neighbor on the Barrett farm three miles
north of Murfreesboro, tells the story:
It was in 1912, and Jim had been drinking heavily for
One night while a group of his friends were with him he
went wild for no apparent reason at all. He went for old
man Nicholas Gary who lived on the Cype Whitley farm
nearby. Gary was so frightened he jumped over a
three-foot-high yard fence backwards. Jim grew more
threatening until several other men helped me hold him
0and rope him to the bed. We sat with him after midnight
when he calmed down.
Next day Jim went around the neighborhood on horseback
singing religious songs.
Son Rand says his father threatened
the family with violence, and, “We hid all the guns,
axes and knives, even the horse’s harness. But he made a
rope halter for old Blind Mary and rode her to
Jim went to Franklin, Virginia, and
sought help from his Uncle Allen. The wise old conjure
doctor was near 90 and living with his daughter, Mrs.
Allen had carried both his reputation
and dignity with him to his new home and was still
doctoring. He was more singular in appearance than ever
and possessed the strong mind needed to help his nephew
out of difficulty.
Allen’s small frame had grown thin;
high cheek bones that he said came from Indian ancestry
stood prominently upon his wrinkled face; a shiny bald
plateau crowned the grey straight hair that rimmed his
head; grey whiskers dropped bushily from his chin and
tapered to a point near his waistline.
Jim was back home within two weeks.
He sent his son Rand to collect worm dust from the rails
of the zig-zag fence. “He made a tea of the dust, mixed
it with some other stuff, drank it and got alright.”
Jim tossed aside his whiskey bottle
for several years … until about 1920 when he bought his
first Model-T car and drove it recklessly to his sister
Emma Williams’ home at Spier’s Quarters.
His son Carey kept whiskey from his
reach several days until his strong mind returned.
AUNT JO(SEPHINE) MINTON (1873–1927)
of the Diamond Bridge area on the Nottoway River a short
distance in Virginia from Como began to collaborate with
her first cousin Jim Jordan as Allen grew old. She was
recognized as a good mid-wife, herb doctor and conjure
woman. Her husband Bill told Mrs. Annie Mae Stancil, who
lives on the old homeplace, “Your grandma was on the go
so much she rode out four horses and wore out three
buggies in seven years.”
Aunt Jo, as everyone came to know
her, got into financial difficulties and was about to
lose her farm. Jim bargained, “Alright Jo, if you teach
me what you know, I’ll help you.”
Jo saved her farm and Jim learned
They exchanged visits several years.
Jim’s son Isaac said she often would come and spend the
day when the Jordan family was living at the Ed Sears
place on the Meherrin River about 1916.
Isaac remembers Aunt Jo as “an old
timey looking stout woman who had grey hair and wore
DOCTOR JORDAN status was at hand for
Jim. His practice grew more mature. Soon before and
after 1900 he had been making love potions to win fickle
hearts of men and women while he advanced slowly into
the more complicated aspects of conjure work.
Now he, like Aunt Jo, began giving
emphasis to herb doctoring and supplementing with
conjure work. He abandoned card cutting taught him by
his Uncle Allen and turned to his cousin’s palm reading
technique. His association with Aunt Jo seems to have
given him a more specialized knowledge of patient
diagnosis and enabled him to administer effectively a
greater variety of herb and patent medicine remedies.
Nephew Olie Cooper observed the
marked change. At times now Jim would remark that if he
could find a certain root or medicine “I can help this
patient.” Sometimes while a patient waited the root
doctor “would go into the woods, stay an hour or more;
come out, stop in the field and look into the sky in a
study about fifteen minutes.”
While in long years past he and
brother Paul enjoyed the bark of their coon dog from the
swamp hollows, he now walked in the solitude of night.
People said he was thinking.
Olie observed, “While others would be
carrying on with ordinary talk Uncle Jim looked to me
like he was in a deep study. Someone might speak to him;
he’d say something back but wouldn’t strike up a
Yet Jim’s son Rand recalls that his
father would join his brother Paul in singing made-up
songs. They seemed to enjoy those bearing on the fear
people held for conjure
Maybe de wind,
Maybe de door,
Maybe de keyhole;
if dat (conjure) man
in dis house,
I’m going out.
Old Edloe, feared as one of the
greater conjure men of all times, lived four miles north
of Como at Riverdale. A made-up song honored him soon
after his death about 1900. It was sung a quarter of a
century or more. Rand’s aunt, Mrs. Jennie Mae Eley,
helps fill out the song:
woke up dis morning
Edloe knocking on my door;
bet you five dollars
don’t knock dere any mo’.
don’t have ter wear
salt en pepper in my shoes …
Since old Edloe’s gone.
Jim told his son Rand that he learned part of his
conjure knowledge from old Edloe.
IN EARLIER YEARS Jeremiah Gibbons,
Jr. (1891_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _) and Willie Barnes as
boys helped “Cousin Jim” look for roots. Later as the
doctor’s sons grew of age he showed them the roots he
needed and they frequently searched the woods for them.
They sought out High John the
Conqueror known as Mo Jo, the tree climbing vine,
holding to the high ground whenever possible for “high
ground roots prevail over the low ground ones.” Jim
diced the roots into small wheels and dropped the
sections into bottles of perfume. When Mo Jo had swelled
the perfume possessed the power of white magic. A
courting man needed only put the liquid on his necktie
to become irrestible to the lady fair. Some people used
the same potion to win friends, to “make them friendly
and nice to you.” Few sales were beyond Como and nearby
communities, but “many people wanted it.”
(Brodge Watson of Murfreesboro says
black snake root had the same power as Mo Jo.)
Jim and the boys sought Low John or
Lo Jo, the low vine. He prepared it like Mo Jo. The
potion, however, possessed negative power; “driv folks
from you;” if not used cautiously, it would turn friends
into enemies. Folks bought it to “keep other folks off
you.” Few people asked for Lo Jo.
Jim sold the Running John root as a
charm. A section was to be carried in a person’s pocket
to bring good luck.
Jim was frequently asked to make a
“hand” to bring back a wayward wife or to soften a
MAIL ORDER HOUSES began to sell ready
prepared love powders (male, pink; female, white), Mo Jo
incense, perfume, sachet and other concoctions with
names like “Follow Me Boy” and “Kiss Me Again.” Yet
these didn’t enjoy the popularity of the portions
prepared and dispensed by the powerful conjure doctor.
Some conjure doctors were
recommending chewing of “heart’s root” to soften a
person’s heart and for better luck in trading and
courting. “Shame-weed,” a kind of vetch considered
highly “sensitive,” was still better. A person would
chew it, spit the juice on his or her ands and shake
hands with the coveted one.
“Shame-weed” had the power to correct
a wayward woman. Chewing was good; but the roots could
be dried, powdered and sprinkled in her path. A dried
and powdered added made the stuff “raily powerful.”
Formulas to attract and repel were
near endless and each conjure doctor had his preferred
JIM MADE CONJURE DUST during his
early practice, and it shows up at times throughout his
career. Some folks called the potent powder goofer dust,
other gummer dust. The dust was red or brown and smelled
like snuff. Jim was a chain snuff dipper, and some folks
ventured the dust was snuff mixed with other
ingredients. The stuff was either sprinkled about in
prescribed fashion or packed into a goofer-bag.
READY WITH AND MOTHER WIT belonged to
Doctor Jordan. Carl C. Lawrence of Murfreesboro says the
doctor became respected among his white friends as a man
“who possessed great natural knowledge.” Lawrence gives
About 1914 when Jim was working for my brother Southall
Lawrence one of my sows grew wild in the woods and ran
across the Meherrin River to the north where she
produced a litter of eight pigs. Loggers told me where I
could find her, but I could catch neither the sow nor
the pigs. Jim offered to help.
“Mr. Lawrence, if we can get the pigs by their tails and
not touch their bodies, they won’t squeal.”
I had never heard of such wisdom. We follow his advice,
put the pigs in the cart one by one without frightening
the others. The sow became gentle. Jim caught her by the
tail and I got her by the legs, and together we put her
in the cart.
Doctor Jordan’s sister Jennie Mae was
impressed from her early years by his power of
penetration and depth of understanding. “I sometimes
tried to play tricks on him but always failed. He used
to say, ‘I can look at you and tell when your are
telling the truth.’ ”
SECRETIVENESS in the doctor’s conjure
work and a frank and objective manner in personal and
business matters made him seem a man with a double
He was known to be accommodating and
helpful to others; fair and liberal in business.
While attending Mill Neck Church,
says Robert Riddick, “he would shake hands, talk to all
alike … floor members, deacons and preacher. He’d always
ask folks how they were getting along.”
Yet some of his friends were telling
“strange stories.” The doctor could “cast off spells,
get you out of trouble, find things, perform magic, and
treat with medicine.” If you had any problem, he could
give you relief.
A LIGHTNING BALL induced Jim to enter
the conjure business one legendary story holds.
Peter Edwards (October 16, 1895_ _ _
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _), a neighbor and lifelong
acquaintance, says that Jim found his ball as a young
man while working in a swamp. Lightning had hit a
cypress tree; the rent bark rolled into a ball. The find
was considered exceptionally rare, for lightning
normally shatters the bark of a tree it peels. The
belief prevailed a person finding so powerful a charm no
longer would have to toil at hard labor.
JAMES EDWARD LAWRENCE (March 3, 1881_
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _) of Murfreesboro says Jim’s hard
and reckless life proved a great value in his practice
as a root doctor. He had been in frequent difficulties
“and he knew what to do to get other people out of
Memory was another important asset.
Ed recalls that Methodist Presiding Elder Stroud of
Wilmington visited Murfreesboro in 1902. He spoke at the
old Negro Methodist Church on Broad Street; told a story
of how he had helped restore a fussing couple to
harmony. The husband sought his advice. The minister
told him to make some sassafras tea and fill his mouth
with it each time his wife began to “jaw.” The remedy
was effective, for the husband couldn’t “jaw” back.
Fifty years later when fabled for his
conjure power Jim was at the Red Apple Service Station
in Murfreesboro on business. One of a group of
bystanders asked him the nature of his work; and A. L.
Blanton recalls his reply:
I can’t do nothing in the tricking business, but if they
(his patients) want to believe it, that’s up to them.
He gave an example:
A man came to me and said, “I want you to stop my wife
from fussing; if you can’t, I’ve got to leave her.”
I told him I thought I could help.
“How much will it cost?: he asked.
I said twenty-five dollars.
“It sure will be worth that much.”
I went outdoors and pumped a bottle full of water and
returned with it to my office. I told him to take a
mouth full and hold it each time his wife started
“It sure did work,” the man told me later.
Jordan explained to his listeners,
“It takes two to make a fuss.” But as he motored away
one of his listeners remarked, “I bet that woman learned
her husband had gone to Jim Jordan and got scared.”
Source: F. Roy Johnson •
The Fabled Doctor Jim Jordan • © Copyright 1963
•Johnson Publishing Co.• Murfreesboro, N. C.
* * *
posted 14 May 2006 / update 23 June