John Henry

A "Steel-Driving" Man


The John Henry Ballad was based of a real person. He was a freedman born in New Jersey with the name of John William Henry. He was one of the many convicts (yes, he was a convict) released to work on the Big Bend Tunnel for the C & O Railway.

John Henry raced against a steam drill and won in the song. In reality, there were no steam drills used for the making of the Big Bend Tunnel.

John Henry's misfortune was used as a reminder for those who worked without proper pace. Work to fast, entrails fall out. Work to slow, you'll be shunned.

John Henry has a statue made after him and an annual festive ceremony.

Passed Down Via Oral Tradition

John Henry's story was passed down through song and served as a tale for people who worked on the rails. The song was also a reminder not to work in a nonrhythmic pace. Otherwise, your entrails will fall out and you'll die.

Teaches A Moral Or Lesson

Perseverance would be the lesson. John Henry worked and worked to death to beat the steam drill. He persevered and won while the steam drill broke.

A Final Note

John Henry (along with numerous amounts of folktale heroes) may not be real, but they teach us a lesson about life. How not to give up when the odds aren't in your favor. How to do right. The list goes on. They may be old (or ancient) but even today, they serve as a reminder of true qualities.
Saifullah Noor

7th Period