ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The Fabled Doctor Jim Jordan
A Story of Conjure
By F. Roy Johnson
A REVOLUTIONARY CHANGE came to Doctor Jordans economic status when in 1927 he moved on the highway and opened his office in connection with a country store.
While he had been a share cropper and common laborer the first half-century of his life he now grew more prosperous and became a landlord farmer-businessman.
Rising prosperity in his conjure business and attainment of manhood of a large family of sons enabled him to invest money in several farms and business enterprises. All prospered and added greater strength to his economic status until after World War II when the southern share-cropping system that had been born in the wake of the Civil war began to crumble in the era of accelerated mechanization.
Both Jim and his sons were well qualified to do business in the turn plow-mule economy, but when this was supplanted by farm mechanization and business specialization they lost their advantage at fortune making.
The doctors sons were born and raised during his laborious and lean years, and they, too, learned of hard work on the farm and in the woodland. When the family moved to the highway son Carey remained on the large Vaughans Quarters farm.
Doctor Jordan made his first real estate investment soon afterwards buying the Betty Tyner farm in Northampton County. He immediately added a three-horse farm in Southampton County, Virginia. Within two years he had sold both farms and almost doubled his investment. He continued buying other real property in the two states, but acquired for long range use properties in the vicinity of his store. One of his more prided acquisitions was the 148-acre Jordan and Parker farm adjoining his one-acre store site. His father had purchased this farm in 1902, but it was lost to the family when sold for division among the heirs. The doctor added the Riddick, Oliver and Cooper places; and these farms extended his holdings west of the Hills Ferry road three miles to Como Wharf on the Meherrin River. He had become one of Hertford Countys larger farmers.
First the doctor directly supervised operation of his farms, but the press of professional duties eventually led him to surrender details of their management to his third son Isaac. This son seemed a natural born farmer. He liked farm work and had a large number of children useful as field hands.
Isaac says that his fathers farm holdings prospered until 1949; five farms then were supporting 75 people and cash crops grossing $15 thousand.
Doctor Jordan was unpreparted for the farm revolution of the 1950s with years of depressed produce prices and steadily increasing production costs. He and his sons, like other farmers, sought relief thought greater mechanization. While tenants were being dismissed by other farmers the doctor sought to care for his. He fed families of too many sub-standard employees and would hire people not needed.
But more damaging than all other was the mule-driver type of tenant farmer who got by too long with abusing the expensive new farm machines.
Changes were inevitable. Upon the doctors death in 1962 he had sold all except three of his farms with a combined 200 acres in cultivation. Tenants and families had dropped to 33.
LOGGING became an even larger business than farming. The doctors fourth son David Collen, popularly known as Rand, helped develop and later managed this enterprise.
Rand as a young man rejected farm life for work in the woods. He had played hookey from school as a boy but developed an intense love for the woodlands. He obtained a job with the late Wallace Sumner in 1932 and drove a log wagon three years.
Rand rated high in his fathers affections so much so that the doctor did not insist he attend school sufficiently to learn to read and write.
The sons interest in logging prompted Doctor Jordan to enter and build a logging business. The doctor went half-interest with Sumner in 1935. The partnership continued two years with one log wagon, a pair of mules, a snake mule, and a log truck; employed eight men at $2.00 for ten hours daily.
Doctor Jordan purchased Sumners interest in the business and continued to operate as a contract logger for Riverside Manufacturing Company of Murfreesboro and Camp Manufacturing Company of Franklin. The operation prospered and steadily increased in volume. By 1949 it utilized four log trucks, each with several times the load capacity of the first one. The business was grossing about $90 thousand a year.
But logging, like farming, was to become more costly. Son Rand persuaded his father to abandon contract logging, operate on his own, and purchase about $75 thousand in heavy equipment.
The two caterpillar tractors, a loggers dram and heavy trucks were operated too often by inexperienced crewmen. Equipment maintenance became expensive. The doctor lost heavily.
Doctor Jordans conjure business saved him from bankruptcy. An ever increasing tide of patrons flowed in from the cities through the mid-1950s without adding to his wealth. Professional income went to cover losses in the business enterprises.
The doctor worked seven days a week; and son Matthew quotes him as saying in the midst of financial worry, I would have made more money if I had never bought a farm or log truck.
Wesley Worthington says the doctors conjure business continued so good until shortly before his death, I just sat around the store and made an independent living hauling folks to the bus station.
A THIRD BUSINESS grew from the farming and logging enterprises. Both Doctor Jordan and his sons were skilled at breaking and handling horses and mules. They had operated Southall Lawrences livery stable at Vaughans Quarters. After World War I they broke U.S. Army branded horses and mules for farm and woodlands work.
By the late 1930s Doctor Jordans farming and logging enterprises required so many horses and mules he began buying wild western team by the car load through Thomas D. Chitty, a Murfreesboro horse trade. He normally pastured as many as 75 as his muscular sons added joy of living in breaking them.
The wild animals were bought for an average of about $75.00, and after a year on the farm or in the logwoods they would bring about four times their original cost.
Farmers and loggers had animals to trade; and while business operations were on the mule standard at Jordanville there existed an active sales and swapping enterprise.
No one knew better than Harry Hill, Murfreesboro automobile dealer, Doctor Jordans delight in horse dealing. Traditional stories indicate Hill would permit the doctor to out-deal him at horse trading. The doctor, in turn, allowed Hill long profits on car and truck sales.
The doctors love for good horses followed him from early manhood when he began acquiring fine buggies and fast horses. Son Isaac says that if his fathers horse was beaten in a race, he would swap for another.
About 1923 he bought the fastest horse that had been known to the area. He was Sterling Stallion, a retired turf horse, that trotted 2.10. The thoroughbred drawing a road cart would give the tin flivvers of the day a hard race on the muddy and rutted ways.
CLASSY AUTOMOBILES figured in the doctors late years. He moved to more expensive models when in 1948 he bought a Buick convertible from Dr. L. M. Futrell. It was sued by both the doctor and son Rand. The Cadillac era followed. A new car was purchased each year, and by 1960 there were two one each for the doctor and Rand. Financial, distress, however, prompted the doctor to dispose of one.
Source: F. Roy Johnson The Fabled Doctor Jim Jordan © Copyright 1963 Johnson Publishing Co. Murfreesboro, N. C.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 28 December 2006 / update 23 June 2008
Related File: Conjuring & Doctoring