Memories of Uncle Jake & Aunt Nancy

Told by Rebecca Yancey Williams in "The Vanishing Virginian", pages 214-215

Looking back, it seems to me that all of my childhood was entangled with the past. Grandma had at her place some of the old colored servants who had remained with her from slavery times, and chief among these were Aunt Nancy and her husband, Uncle Jake. Aunt Nancy was long and lean, black as an ace of spades, and neat as a pin. She was head man, as far as we children were concerned. She was entirely respectful to Mother and "Old Miss" as she called Grandma, but she ruled us children and Uncle Jake with a rod of iron.

Mother always referred to Uncle Jake and Aunt Nancy as the Darby and Joan of the African race. She said their devotion to each other was a poem. However, all of us children understood perfectly that the secret of their married bliss lay in the fact that Uncle Jake, in all things, seemed absolutely submissive to Aunt Nancy.

But Uncle Jake was a clever old Darby at handling his Joan. He suffered from rheumatism a good deal, and Aunt Nancy made him wear red flannel drawers and undershirts all summer. Even when he was plowing in the garden in the hot sun, he had to wear them. Uncle Jake would go, most obediently, out to the garden to plow; and the very first thing he did there was to hide behind some tall bushes and take off his red flannels. He would conceal them quite carefully under the leaves of the bushes. When Aunt Nancy called him in the evening, he would put on his red flannel underclothes and go innocently home to his cabin.

Dear old Jake had the most beautifully venerable face I ever saw. We were little devils and we often hid his red flannels so that, when Aunt Nancy called him, he couldn't find them anywhere. He would go muttering around, "What dem chillun done wif my clo'es?" and poking patiently in all the bushes until we finally burst, laughing, upon him with the missing garments in our hands.

We caused Uncle Jake no end of trouble, trailing behind him and coaxing him to let us help milk the cows, or ride his horse to water while he trudges along in the dust. But he never held anything against us; and he kept each and every one of us from just punishment almost every day.

Once he threw himself between my small sister Mary, and a maddened charging cow, and he saved her literally by a gnat's nose from being tossed into the air. All of us older children had fled quickly to the fence, where we sat as safe and excited as if we had ring-side seats at a bull-fight. We did not even think of the danger to which the old man had subjected himself as we rushed home to tell Mother of the thrill we had experiences in seeing Mary rescued. And we regarded Mother with surprise and curiosity when she shed tears over the beautiful faithfulness of Uncle Jake.


"Aunt Nancy" with one of the Yancey children.


(the exact identity of Jake & Nancy - outside of the family story - is unclear
There is a Jacob & Nancy Ross on the 1880 census of Bedford County, Virginia.
Whether this is the same Jake & Nancy is uncertain.
Whether they descend from slaves once held by the Yancey Family is also uncertain.

Excerpts from the movie "TheVanishing Virginian" 

(in the movie certain names were changed - such as the name of Jake to Joshua).