Council Harmon, 1807 – 1898
Council Harmon, known locally as “Old Counce,” was the progenitor of much of Watauga County’s oral tradition. The styles and stories of many of the great 20th-century Appalachian storytellers, such as Ray Hicks, Jane Hicks Gentry, Sam Ward, and others, likely descended from Council Harmon.
As the grandson of one of the first families to settle the area, Council laid the foundation for much of the local lore. In that lore, Council’s grandfather, Cutliffe Harmon, a Revolutionary War veteran, came to what was then Wilkes County in the employ of none other than Daniel Boone. As the story goes, Cutliffe, his wife Susan, and their seven children, made the move together from Randolph County, in Piedmont North Carolina, for the purpose of establishing trade with and purchasing land from the local indigenous people. As one might imagine, such an adventurous tale would have been enticing to the young Council.
The best-known aspect of Harmon’s legacy is the cycle of Jack Tales that still live on in the area. These stories – of which “Jack and the Beanstalk” is the most widely known – star Jack, a plucky everyman, who finds his way out of countless seemingly impossible fixes by outwitting villains and using clever tricks.
Much of what we know about Council Harmon’s storytelling has come down the generations through his many talented descendants, who include members of the Hicks family, notably Ray Hicks and Jane Hicks Gentry, both of whom recalled their grandfather’s love of sharing stories with his grandchildren. Another relative, Miles Ward, told collector Richard Chase,
Ever-when I’d see Old Counce a-coming, I’d run to meet him so I could walk with him back to the house. Then he’d sit and take me up on his lap, and I’d ask him right off for a Jack Tale. He’d tell me one, too: never did fail me. He loved to tell about Jack.”
– TJ Smith
Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Traditional Artist Directory profile