Jesse Adams, or The Cause and
Killing of Jesse Adams

clippings transcribed by Steve Green

Cratis Williams, who grew up on Blaine Creek in Lawrence county, Kentucky, seems to be the only person to have collected and published a full text for this ballad, although Shearin and Combs mentioned it in their 1911 Syllabus of Kentucky Folk-Songs (p. 18), where they described the plot: "A detailed recital of a domestic tragedy on the Brushy Fork of Blaine. Adams, overhearing his wife and her paramour, shoots her and attempts suicide."

In 1937, Cratis Williams included a text in his M.A. Thesis for the University of Kentucky. There, he offered these notes:

"The events told about in this somg happened on Brushy Fork, Lawrence County, Kentucky, about 1900. Adams' wife, who had been Lucy Thompson before her marriage, gave him reason to be jealous, One day he returned stealthily from his work and found Andrew Kitchen with his wife. He rushed into the house, shot his wife twice, and then shot himself. His wife died, but he recovered. He was acquitted in court. The circumstances regarding this murder were related to the editor by Mrs. David Williams who was present at the funeral. Although Mrs. Williams had forgotten most of the song, she recalled having heard it sung when she lived on Brushy Fork.

This ballad differs from traditional ballads with a cuckold motive in one important respect: The cuckold does not wish to avenge his wrong done by another man. This view of cuckoldom places all the responsibility of faithfulness in marriage upon the wife and may be considered the result of the move for emancipation of woman. There is not one traditional ballad in which the cuckold slays his wife and permits the man who cuckolds him to escape.

This ballad is reported by Shearin and Combs, A Syllabus of Kentucky Folk-Songs, p. 16. They report twenty-five stanzas. So far as is known, it has never appeared in print. The author is unknown."

Malcolm Laws listed "Jesse Adams" (dF 54) in Native American Balladry (p.270) but considered it "of doubtful origin."

In 1962, a full text was published in Kentucky Folklore Record (8:1, Jan-Mar, 1962:19-20). The headnote says "contributed by Lindsey Adams, Daniels Creek, Lawrence Co." It's not clear if Lindsey Adams was the singer of the ballad or the person who sent it to KFR for publication—the note credited Cratis Williams' M.A. thesis as the source. The headnote in KFR used the first paragraph reprinted from William' 1937 thesis (omitting the discussion of cuckolding).

The ballad runs as follows: [Note: This fits very well to the tune of "The Drunken Driver." —SG]


1. Come all you noble people
Within our land do dwell;
Be careful who you marry,
It might send your soul to hell.

2. There was a man the other day
Who killed his darling wife:
He turned around and shot himself
To lose his own dear life.

3. The cause of this cruel murder
Was jealousness you all know:
They say that Ande [Andy] Kitchen
Was the cause of this fatal blow.

4. Jesse started to work
All on one summer day:
Turned back to John Elkins's
To hear what his wife would say.

5.He placed himself behind the house
And dropped his drooping head;
And when he heard her call Ande's name,
To the door he quickly fled.

6. He said to her, "O, dear Lucy,
What does this only mean?"
"Nothing, nothing, Jesse!"
And the pistol she had seen.

7. She started for the door,
And made a dreadful alarm;
He lifted up the pistol
And shot her through the arm.

8. She threw her hand upon her arm,
"Lord 'a' mercy!" she had said;
He lifted up the pistol
And shot her through the head.

9. The people on Brushy Fork
Who rate themselves so high
Says they are in favor of justice
And Ande must die.

10. I suppose they have forgotten
They have sisters too;
That law and right should be their aim
And protect their sisters too.

11. While Adamses stand around
For to spy,
For to hear what Thompsons would say:
They was afraid the rope would tie.

12. While Thompson stand around
With sickness and pity's sake;
They first day they did find out
That Jesse had made his escape.

13. Adams and his wife
Has two darling babes to weep;
And we hope that they will
In death's cold arms sleep.(1)

NOTE: (1) The poet wishes the babes to die while they can get to heaven. With the stigma of their mother's behavior upon them and without the care of parents, it is expected that they will be wicked, or at least so miserable that they will wish they had died.

SG NOTE: There are several things to mention about this ballad. As will be seen below, newspapers reported that Adams shot himself and died, whereas Cratis Williams indicates that he stood trial and was acquitted. This discrepancy needs further investigation. Williams did not mention that verses 9 and 10 are modeled on "The Ashland Tragedy" dating from the early 1880s. Presumably, the meaning is that the deaths of Jesse Adams and his wife were due to the indiscretions of Andrew Kitchen and therefore Kitchen should be held accountable.There is a slight implication that mob justice should mete out a sentence on Kitchen—a sentiment parallel to the one underlying the verses in "The Ashland Tragedy." The issue of who to blame when such tragedies occurred can be seen in other songs, such as "Fuller and Warren." It was not uncommon for a murderer to be acquitted when the killing was considered justifiable according to a social code—such was the case when Gordon Fulton killed his wife and her paramour, Arch Brown, in a Louisville house of ill repute and later was acquitted by the court. In verse 11, there is a suggestion that inter-family strife might arise in the wake of the incident. Lastly, the two verses borrowed from "The Ashland Tragedy" suggest that perhaps "Jesse Adams" was sung to the same tune, whatever it was.

Maysville Daily Public Ledger (KY) ~ July 26, 1899

Uxorcide and Suicide.

Louisa, Ky., July 26.— Joss [Jess] Adams Monday night shot and instantly killed his wife and then turned the weapon on himself, inflicting wounds from which he died Tuesday morning. Adams overheard his wife and another man planning an elopement and the shooting followed.

Newport News Daily Press (VA) ~ July 26, 1899

Murder and Suicide.

Kenova, W. VA., July 25.—Jesse Adams, aged 30, living on Tug river, last night killed his wife, aged 24, and then killed himself. Jealousy is given as the cause of the tragedy.

Saint Paul Globe (MN) ~ July 26, 1899

Kenova, W. Va., —Jesse Adams, living on Tug river, last night killed his wife and then killed himself. Jealousy is given as the cause of the tragedy.

Stanford Semi-weekly Interior Journal (KY) ~ July 28, 1899

Jess Adams, of Lawrence county, overheard his wife planning with her paramour to elope. Adams pulled a pistol, killed his wife and shot himself, inflicting wounds from which he died a few hours later.

Beaver Herald (Oklahoma Territory) ~ August 3, 1899

Because he heard that his wife was about to elope with another man, Jesse Adams shot and killed her and then fatally shot himself near Louisa, Ky.

Hocking Sentinel (OH) ~ August 3, 1899

Jesse Adams, aged 30, living on Tug river, West Virginia, killed his wife, aged 24, then killed himself. Jealousy is given as the cause of the tragedy.


Last Update: August 26, 2011