Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Death of Tom Keene

The Marietta Tri-Weekly Register, February 25, 1890

Last Saturday morning Tom Keene died peacefully in his chair in the Scott House. He came to Marietta after the close of the war with Andy Wagner, from Parkersburg. He was a colored man, aged about 68 years. He was a great banjo player and singer of comic negro melodies. While in the army he accompanied those celebrated troopers, the "Black Horse Cavalry." One of his more favorite pieces was the "Charge of the Cavalry," in which he gave the sound of cannon, clash of arms and rattle of sabre and musket on his banjo.

Tom was a nervy, brave man, and was nearly killed, some years since, while preventing the escape of prisoners from the county jail. A burly fellow hit him over the head with an iron bar, but Tom defended the door and drove the whole gang back to their cells.

For years past he has been in bad health and amused the public from place to place, for a small sum, on his banjo. 

But Tom is dead. He was born in slavery and his relatives are unknown. Often, when singing his song of "The Swanee River," and of his old Southern home, a tear would gather in his eye and the big, brawny fist would wipe it away, as he tuned his instrument and sang humorous ditties to his patrons.

Tom sang many a song in his most hilarious mood when his heart was sad and mournful. There was a grief which burdened him beneath the film of a genial word to all he met. It was this: He was once sentenced to the State penal institution for shooting a colored man who had wronged him and who had compelled him to do an act to a bully who had overborne him, until, in his desperation he sought his own revenge. But he was soon pardoned out.

He served as jailer under ex-Sheriffs Hicks and Steadman, when his strength was herculean and his nerves were those of steel. But Tom, like many white men, yielded to his love of liquor and many a song went to pay the price of a drink.

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