Mrs. Ely (Paulina) Cole

Paulina Ellen Watts Adkins Cole was identified only as Mrs. Ely Cole when West Virginia professor Louis Chappell recorded her unaccompanied singing on 14 August 1940, in Big Creek, Boone County.  She sang a fairly full version of Maid Freed from the Gallows that she called The Hangman’s Song (Child ballad #95), and hers is close to a version that the collector Patrick Gainer found at Dry Creek in Raleigh County; she lived in Raleigh County for some time so she might have learned it there.  She also sang fragmentary versions of The Cruel Brother (Child #11), Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender (Child #73), Pretty Polly, and a verse or two identified as The Miner’s Song. On that day in 1940 she sang a few verses of The Lowlands of Holland, a song dating back to the seventeenth century about a woman’s husband being conscripted into the navy to fight on the seas; it’s been found in Scotland, England and Ireland and like the Child ballads it traveled with eighteenth century emigrants to the New World. 

Little is known about Mrs. Cole’s life. Often known as Pliney, she was born in West Virginia in 1882, mostly likely in the Laurel Hill district of Lincoln County; her parents were there in 1880 where her father Jackson Watts was a farmer, and in 1900 she was still with them there.  In 1915 she married J.H. Adkins in Logan County and in 1923 she married Eli Giles Cole, who had been living at Fireco in Raleigh County and working as a laborer for the Virginian Railroad; it was a second marriage for him as well.  In 1930 they were living at Cabin Creek in Kanawha County, where Mr. Cole worked as a coal miner. In 1940 they were in Big Creek, Boone County and on his 1942 draft card he indicated that he was a farmer there.  He died on 4 January 1949 and was buried at the Jasper Workman Cemetery at Bald Knob in Boone County.  Paulina Cole died on 13 February 1957 and is buried there as well.

 —Gloria Goodwin Raheja, February 2021.

 Sources:  Raheja’s research for her book Logan County Blues: Frank Hutchison in the Sonic Landscape of the Appalachian Coalfields, assistance from Chris Haddox in locating Mrs. Cole’s grave, and the Louis Chappell Collection at West Virginia University’s West Virginia and Regional History Center.


A Visit to Mrs. Cole's Grave

On Friday, May 7, 2021, I made the trek to find Mrs. Cole's grave.  Ronald Nelson of Danville, WV, provided excellent directions to the Jasper Workman Cemetery at Bald Knob in Boone County, WV.  Ronald was an engineer for the railroad and said that the trains had to stop near that cemetery while awaiting permission to proceed to the Madison/Danville train yards.  It was during those stops that Ronald took time to wander through both the older and newer sections of the cemetery.  

Travelling Rt. 85 south out of Madison, I went through Van, where both of my grandmothers had taught school, then past Wharton, and soon made the right hand turn onto Jasper Workman Branch.  

Just as Ronald had indicated, there was a small bridge across the creek, then a railroad crossing, then a dirt road would leave from the right and lead me up the hill to the cemetery.

Driving to Mrs. Cole's grave in the Jasper Workman Cemetery

The cemetery sits on a little knoll above the railroad tracks.  As is the case with many of these old cemeteries, the trees are larger than many in the surrounding forest, making for a very pleasant scene.  It didn’t’ take long to locate Mrs. Cole’s grave, as there were not a great number of graves to inspect.  Once I found her, I set up my chair, took out the banjo and proceeded to offer up a little tune, the Twin Sisters, in honor of her and her musical endeavors.   

 Playing the Twin Sisters at Mrs. Cole's grave

Listen to Mrs. Cole sing The Hangman's Song for Louis Watson Chappell in 1940

Hangman's Song by Mrs. Ely 'Paulina' Cole

- recording used with permission from the West Virginia and Regional History Center


Listen to Mrs. Cole's complete collection: 

Mrs. Ely Cole Music Collection