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The Tale of the New Year Shoot
(the following article appeared in Greensboro Daily News January 6, 1946)

 

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Speech of the "Speech Crier" is an especially interesting feature of the North Carolina custom. Such is not mentioned in the accounts of the Bohemian, the German, and the Pennsylvania German practices. So far as the present writer knows, it has only one recorded American parallel, to be discussed later. The "Speech" itself would seem to be a genuine specimen of folk poetry. Curiously enough, it imparts to the custom as it is described a religious tone, of which both the participants and the reporter were conscious, and this is not entirely antithetical to the primitive idea of driving away evil spirits and, perhaps, of invoking fertility for orchards and fields.

The report is from W. Kays Gary, in the Greensboro (NC) Daily News, Jan. 6, 1946, sec 2 page 1.

"Over in Cherryville, Gaston County, they have a method of celebrating the arrival of the new year that is probably the oldest and certainly the most unique in the country. They call it "The New Year's Shoot," when all the descendants of this German settlements oldest families get together with the 'muzzle loaders' over 100 years old and for 18 continuous hours blast out explosive greetings to the new year.

"This tradition is known to be 150 years old and perhaps older. No one knows. It was going on when the grandfather's of Cherryville's oldest citizens were in knee pants. For a very particular reason it has never been highly publicized. That was because a radio engineer was heard to remark, 'Who in hell wants to hear an old gun over the radio?' When the shooters were all set for a broadcast. They wouldn't fire a shot after that and the radio station was left in the lurch.

"When this reporter first heard of the celebration on New Year's Eve he clattered over to Cherryville just before midnight and found some 25, or 30 fieldclad men leaning against Civil War muskets, squirting tobacco juice, smoking cigars, and waiting for their 'H' hour. When the reporter's mission was made known, 'Uncle' A. Sidney Beam came over and introduced himself as "The Speech Crier. " When asked about his part in the celebration, Uncle Sidney said he had chanted the New Year's Speech for 57 years handrunning and that the reporter would hear it later.

"Came the stroke of midnight, and a blast that must rival that of a bomb, lifted the reporter's hat and plopped it in the mud. Everybody howled and the 'shoot' was on. Piling into cars carrying the reporter in the rush, the crowd headed for the country, stopping several minutes later at a home on a wooded hill known as 'the Carpenter place.' It was then that Uncle Sid called out the names of the houses' occupants and launched into his New Year's chant. It sounded weird and great and beautiful like something out of old England. .. "

The following is a complete version supplied to me by Mr. Beam himself adding, in a postscript, "I am having a record made and will send you one. The speech is meaningless unless you hear it."


Blaine Beam & A. Sid Beam

The New Years Chant

"Good morning to you, Sir.
We wish you a happy New Year,
Great health, long life,
Which God may bestow
So long as you stay here below.
May he bestow the house you are in
Where you go out and you go in
Time by moments steal away
First the hour and then the day
Small the lost days may appear
But yet they soon amount to a year.
This another year is gone
And now it is no more of our own
But if it brings our promises good
As the year before the flood
But let none of us forget
It has left us much in debt
A favor from the Lord received
Since which our spirits hath been grieved.
Marked by the unerring hand
Thus in his book our records stands.
Who can tell the vast amount
Placed to each of our accounts?
But while you owe the debt is large
You may plead a full discharge.
But poor and selfish sinners, say'
What can you to justice pay?
Trembling last for life is past
and into prison you may be cast
Happy is the believing soul.
Christ for you has paid the whole.
We have this New Year's morning called you by your name
And disturbed you from by your rest.
And if it be your desire
Our guns and pistols they shall fire.
Since we hear of no defiance
You shall hear the art of Science.
When we pull trigger and powder burns
You shall hear the roaring of guns.
Oh, daughters of righteousness, we will rise
And warm our eyes and bless our hearts,
For the old years gone and the New Year's come
And for good luck we'll fire out guns

Mr. Gary's account continues:

"Then once more came the booming of the guns followed by a moment of silence. There was something religious about it, one 'shooter' said, and the reporter could agree. With the firing of the last gun, one stood stock-still there on the wooded hill at 3 o'clock in the morning and saw the rising of the mists from the bottom lands heard the rumbling echoes from the rolling hills and swamplands and dying away unchallenged in the distance. Howell Stroup, tall and rugged, leaned in silence against his old blunderbuss and stared after the rumblings, his bony, powerful face silhouetted in the half moonlight, reminding an old-timer of 'Uncle' Eph', Howell's grandfather, who had years ago been an ardent follower of the shoot.

"That was the way it went all night the speech, the guns, the silence, then the food over swampland and mudgummed roads until 6 p.m. on New Year's Day, when, tired and happy with a job well done, the townspeople crowded into the 'Square' and boomed out their last salute to the New Year."