Appalachia Games

Jenny Jones From Madison County

Old Game Jenny Jones

As we began our journey of games, I mentioned Play Party Games were very popular in the mountains of Appalachia. In The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore he expands on the subject:

Of the game divisions that of Courtship and Marriage Games contains by far the most material. The reason for this fact is obvious. In the mountain districts, from which most of the games of this type were collected, the “play-party” was a social institution of great importance. Residents of the localities, most of them people of simple tastes, had brought with them the folk traditions from their native land. Cut off from contact with more sophisticated centers, they were forced to find or to create their own forms of entertainment and accordingly fell back upon this folk traditions, a sizable part of which consisted of the ballads, tales, and games which were common heritage from English, Scottish, or Irish ancestors.

Dramatic games were also highly popular, this division ranking second in point of size. Children have always been and always will be actors and imitators, whether in the mountains of North Carolina or on the sidewalks of New York.

The quote from Frank C. Brown leads us to the game I’d like to share today: Jenny Jones. According to Brown Jenny Jones was one of the most popular and widely known play party games. It appears to have originated in Scotland, and is especially interesting because it portrays the courtship of Jenny or at least the attempted courtship. By the end of the game, in true ballad fashion, Jenny has died and the color of her burial clothes must be chosen.

The following version of Jenny Jones was documented in Madison County NC.

*A group of children form a line while holding hands. Two from the line act out the parts of Jenny and her mother while everyone sings the parts. Jenny hides behind her mother as the line advances singing:

I’m going to see Miss Jenny Ann Jones,
Miss Jenny Ann Jones, Miss Jenny Ann Jones;
I’m going to see Miss Jenny Ann Jones.
And how is she today?

She’s upstairs washing
Washing, washing;
She’s upstairs washing.
You can’t see her today.

Very glad to hear it,
To hear it, to hear it;
Very glad to hear it.
And how is she today?

*The verses go on with the answer being that she is upstairs ironing, cooking, scrubbing, etc. As the verses continue, the mother answers that Jenny is sick, then better, then worse, and finally dead. The dancers go back to the starting place and on their way back sing:

What color is she to be buried in
Buried in, buried in;
What color is she to be buried in
On her burying day?

*The mother says Blue-and the others answer:

Blue is for the sailors
The sailors, the sailors
Blue is for the sailors
So that will never do.

*The mother suggests red:

Red is for the army
The army, the army
Red is for the army
So that will never do.

*It continues:

Green is for the jealous,
The jealous, the jealous;
Green is for the jealous
So that will never do

Black is for the mourner,
The mourner, the mourner;
Black is for the mourner
So that will never do.

*Finally the mother suggests white:

White is for the angels,
The angels, the angels;
White is for the angels
So that will have to do.

*Then the singers retire and advance again, this time asking:

Where shall we bury her,
Bury her, bury her;
Where shall we bury her
Bury her today?

*The mother replies under the apple tree which causes the line of singing dancers to carry Jenny to a pretend apple tree where they pretend to bury her. As they begin to move away Jenny rises from the floor and the others sing:

I thought I saw a ghost last night,
A ghost last night, a ghost last night;
I thought I saw a ghost last night
Under the Apple tree.

*Jenny then gives chase to the group and whoever she catches is the next Jenny Jones.


I’ve never played the game Jenny Jones nor had I ever heard of it until I ran across it while researching for the Blind Pig. But, I can totally see the appeal the game had to children. I know it would have fit perfectly into every slumber party I ever went to along with plenty of screaming and probably some crying over poor Jenny and her lonesome beau too.

Have you ever heard of the game?


*Source: The Frank C. Brown Collection Of North Carolina Folklore

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  • Reply
    September 24, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    Is anyone familiar with “Make the broom talk? It was an old play party game she used to play with us.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    July 5, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    My mom taught that but sang “Miss Jenny O Jones…

  • Reply
    April 23, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Hi Tipper – I’m catching up on my reading and really enjoying your stories about games, and all the comments and memories folks are sharing. I haven’t heard of this one, but the questioning and answering with a list of household chores kind of rings a faint bell. And I agree with you – I can imagine this would be a very popular children’s game…lots of verses, lots of repetition with small changes, building to a big crescendo of gloom and fright? Oh yeah!
    B. Ruth wondered about the source of the name Jones…I think it is a very, very common Welsh name, more than Irish, Scottish, or English. Many immigrants from Wales in your neck of the woods?

  • Reply
    RB Redmond
    April 21, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    Can’t say I ever heard of this or any game like it. Sounds rather somber to be thought of as a child’s game.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    April 20, 2013 at 11:26 am

    I ain’t never heard of it either.
    Sure is a looong game, seems to me.
    Hope everyone is enjoying all the
    dancing. Looking forward to seeing
    a video soon…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 20, 2013 at 11:19 am

    I have never seen or heard tell of such a game. We never had enough kids to play that kind of games except at school. Even then only the girls would have played. The boys would have been playing dodge ball or looking for snakes or worms to chase the girls with.
    Did you ever play Jack in the Bush? You play it with marbles or pennies.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    April 20, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Oooooo…scary game! Can you imagine playing that game late in the evening outside!…
    I can’t recall my Mother mentioning the game. Eventhough she was from Madison County. I sure wish I could ask her. My Grandmother surely played the game!
    I had an Aunt that taught school in and around the area, but she too has passed on..She loved the history of her heritage and the mountains…I am sure she knew of the game as well..
    If there are young folks out there reading this blog or others that have elderly folks, I beg that you ask about your heritage and write down notes such as these before it is lost. At my age trying to count on my memory is very hard at 72…I do remember my Grandmother asking us why we didn’t have a play party..
    Also, my Great Aunt wanting me to sing for her…This particular cabin that I visited, was back on a lonely hollar road in the mountains…I went there with my Aunt and Uncle for a visit…
    I wanted to stay…but couldn’t, it was the first time I met her..
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…I wonder why the game was called Jenny Jones and not Jenny Smith, Brown or etc. ect…I would love to know the history of the name of the game! I know my Grandfather would probably heard of the game as he was direct Irish decendants that settled in Madison county.

  • Reply
    April 20, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Haven’t heard of this one but immediately the tune to “Here we go round the Mulberry Bush” came to mind. It also has a sequence of household chores and common activities such as washing clothes, ironing, mending, going to church, etc. as is mentioned in the first half of Jenny Jones. Seems we just “danced” in a circle for the “chorus” then acted out the activities for the verses in between until we “rested” on Sunday.
    That got me to thinking about “Ring around the Rosie” and the many stories about its history; also, “London Bridge is Falling Down”. Wonder what other long forgotten goodies will spin out of your readers’ minds.
    And, yes, please add prayers for the town of West, Texas – we heard the blast – thought it was a sonic boom – but we didn’t feel the effects of it here 150 miles away.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 20, 2013 at 7:42 am

    Wow, never, sounds like the ghost stories we used to tell each other until we were too scared to sleep

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 20, 2013 at 7:35 am

    Never heard of this game. It sounds tedious to me.
    I was most interested in Frank Brown’s comment “Cut off from contact with more sophisticated centers, they were forced to find or to create their own forms of entertainment”
    Thinking about this statement and our lives now, if we didn’t have tv and computer games we would be looking for other forms of entertainment too. We might even talk to each other and read. …might even go out side and take a walk. Times are different now!

  • Reply
    April 20, 2013 at 7:33 am

    Another new game for me! This series has been very interesting.

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