Cotton Eye Joe is a tradition american dance. It is usually associated with the South around the time of Civil or even before it. The author or the time of its conception is unknown. Accounts have been recorded of the slaves in plantations singing it in unity. Lines from its original lyrics such as “been sol’ down to Guinea Gal” have caused the speculation that it refers to a slave. Many minor debates have been placed on the meaning of “cotton eye”. The most popular theory is that it was because “Joe” had been drinking a alcohol, Moonshine, which makes pupils smaller and the overall eye white.
An surprisingly popular theory with the song is that it refers to STD. The name “cotton eye joe” symbolizes the cotton picks used to treat such diseases. With no clear time period or writer, these speculation on many parts of the song have continued till this date. The song began its debut in the late half of the 1800s during and after the Civil War. Dorothy Scarborough recounted in her book On the Trail of Negro Folk-songs that she had been told of people hearing before the Civil War had even broken out. She claims to have heard a recount from her sister who had been taught it by slaves further adding to the theory that “Cotton Eyed Joe” is a slave.
The first version that was published was in 1882 shown in Louise Pyrnelle’s novel Diddie, Dumps, and Tot, or Plantation Child-Life. This book based on the childhood experiences of the author on her father’s plantations in the South. The book contains seemingly horrendous descriptions of Joe as a slave who had buck teeth, a flat nose, and was cross eyed.
He ran away with the women who presumably the songwriter wanted to marry with the words “I’d been married long’ time go”. Many Southern newspapers have also possessed records of the song.An issue of The Saturday Evening Post in 1874 has a story which refers to the song. In 1884, The Firemen’s Magazine called the song “an old, familiar air.” This magazine described the song as something that a fiddler knew well. At this point in time, the song was already a square dancing favorite in South culture and was played in parties everywhere.
The 19th century truly shaped the song and caught it enough traction to be made into the classical, iconic american song it is today.The 20th century was the year that it truly flourished. In 1922, Fisk University chemistry professor who was a noted black cultural historian, Thomas Talley, shared a different explanation in the book Negro Folk Rhymes. The son of Mississippi slaves, Talley came across a version where “Cotton-Eyed Joe” isn’t just a person, but also a dance substantiated by the following line in yet another version: “I’d a been dead some seben years ago / If I hadn’t a danced dat Cotton Eyed Joe.”