Taking the Census
(Excerpt from Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs: Late of the Tallapoosa Volunteers; Together with Taking the Census and Other Alabama Sketches (Library Alabama Classics)
by Johnson Jones Hooper1
We rode up one day to the residence of a widow rather past the prime of life—just that period at which nature supplies most abundantly the oil which lubricates the hinges of the female tongue—and hitching to the fence, walked into the house.
“Good morning, madam,” said we, in our usual bland, and somewhat insinuating manner.
“Mornin’,” said the widow gruffly.
Drawing our blanks from their case, we proceeded –‘‘I am the man, madam, that takes the census, and –
“The mischief you are!’” said the old termagant. “Yes, I’ve hearn of you; Parson W. told me you was coming, and I told him jist what I tell you, that if you said ‘cloth,’ ‘soap,’ ur ‘chickens,’ to me, I’d set the dogs on ye.—Here, Bull! here, Pomp!” Two wolfish curs responded to the call for Bull and Pomp, by coming to the door, smelling at our feet with a slight growl, and then laid down on the steps.
“Now,” continued the old she savage, “them’s the severest dogs in this country. Last week Bill Sto necker’s two year old steer jumped my yard fence, and Bull and Pomp tuk him by the throat, and they killed him afore my boys could break ’em loose, to save the world.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said we, meekly; “Bull and Pomp seem to be very fine dogs.”
“You may well say that: what I tells them to do they do—and if I was to sick them on your old hoss yonder, they’d eat him up afore you could say Jack Roberson. And its jist what I shall do, if you try to pry into my consarns. They are none of your business, nor Wan Buren’s nuther, I reckon. Oh, old Van Banburen’ I wish I had you here, you old rascal! I’d show you what—I’d—I’d make Bull and Pomp show you how to be sendin’ out men to take down what little stuff people’s got, jist to tax it, when its taxed enough a’ready!”
All this time we were perspiring through fear of the fierce guardians of the old widow’s portal. At length, when the widow paused, we remarked that as she was determined not to answer questions about the produce of the farm, we would just set down the age, sex, and complexion of each member of her family.
“No sich a thing—you’ll do no sich a thing,” said she; “I’ve got five in family, and that’s all you’ll git from me. Old Van Buren must have a heap to do, the dratted old villyan, to send you to take down how old my children is. I’ve got five in family, and they are all between five and a hundred years old; they are all a plaguy sight whiter than you, and whether they are he or she, is none of your consarns.”
Report her to the Marshal
We told her we would report her to the Marshal, and she would be fined: but it only augmented her wrath.
“Yes! send your marshal, or your Mr. Van Buren here, if you’re bad off to—let ’em come—let Mr. Van Buren come”—looking as savage as a Bengal tigress —“Oh, I wish he would come”—and her nostrils dilated, and her eyes gleamed—“I’d cut his head off!”
“That might kill him,” we ventured to remark, by way of a joke. “Kill him! kill him—oh—if I had him here by the years I reckon I would kill him. A pretty fellow to be eating his vittils out’n gold spoons that poor people’s taxed for, and raisin’ an army to get him made king of Ameriky—the oudacious, nasty, stinking old scamp!” She paused a moment, and then resumed, “And now, mister, jist put down what I tell you on that paper, and don’t be telling no lies to send to Washington city. Jist put down ‘Judy Tompkins, ageable woman, and four children.’”
We objected to making any such entry, but the old hag vowed it should be done, to prevent any misrepresentation of her case. We, however, were pretty resolute, until she appealed to the couchant whelps, Bull and Pomp. At the first glimpse of their teeth, our courage gave way, and we made the entry in a bold hand across a blank schedule—“Judy Tompkins, ageable woman and four children.”
We now begged the old lady to dismiss her canine friends, that we might go out and depart: and forthwith mounting our old black, we determined to give the old soul a parting fire. Turning half round, in order to face her, we shouted— “
Old ‘oman o’
“Who told you to call me old ‘oman, you longlegged, hatchet-faced whelp, you? I’ll make the dogs take you off that horse if you give me any more sarse. What do you want?”
“Do you want to get married?”
“Not to you, if I do!”
“Placing our right thumb on the nasal extremity of our countenance, we said, “You needn’t be uneasy, old ‘un, on that score—thought you might suit sorelegged Dick S –up our way, and should like to know what to tell him he might count on, if he come down next Sunday!”
“Here, Bull!” shouted the widow, “sick him, Pomp!” but we cantered off, unwounded, fortunately, by the fangs of Bull and Pomp, who kept up the chase as long as they could hear the cheering voice of their mistress—“Si-c-k, Pomp—sick, sick, si-c-k him, Bull—suboy! suboy! suboy!”
1Johnson Jones Hooper was an American Humorist and author who lived in Dadeville, Alabama in 1835 where he edited a newspaper and practiced law. His first published work, in 1843, was Taking the Census in Alabama, which was from his own experiences as a census taker in Tallapoosa County.