Last week I had the opportunity to perform John M. James before the Kentucky Humanities Council. John M. James is my 4th great grandfather. See the video below.
Every year the Humanties Council contracts with five performers to add to its stable of historical performances. The Council then sends out the performers around the Commonwealth throughout the year to schools, organizations, and events, dramatizing Kentucky famed characters from the Commonwealth’s storied past.
John M. James is not as famous as some of the characters the Council usually books. Mary Todd Lincoln, Henry Clay, and Daniel Boone are the type of character stars the Council prefers. Even identifying John M. James as the grandfather of Frank & Jesse James, or the 2nd great grandfather of Walmart founder Sam Walton, or as the 5th great grandfather of J. Danforth Quayle, doesn’t carry the same historical weight the Council traditionally seeks. The Council wants characters that are instantly recognizable.
My one-act, one man play focuses on John among his community of rebel Baptist preachers. They made their exodus following the Revolutionary War from Virginia and away from its religious persecution in a Traveling Church into Kentucky. The same band of revolutionary citizens and rebel preachers then went to win the War of 1812, to secure the liberty first won in the Revolution.
After a period of prosperity following the war, Kentucky fell into economic chaos as banks proliferated and predator lenders fell upon the Commonwealth with a vengeance. Currency increasingly was devalued and near worthless. On top of that, the $7 million dollar debt America owed to Napoleon for the Louisiana Purchase was approaching, and it payment was due in specie, either gold or silver. As the full force of the economic Panic of 1819 struck, John found himself nearing death, as broke as Thomas Jefferson. However, John’s revolutionary spirit wouldn’t let him die. He prepared to take on the banks by electing Andy Jackson.
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This vidieo was made in 2002 at the Vardeman Family Reunion, held at the William Whitley Mansion in Lincoln County, Kentucky. John M. James appears in this video as a much younger man.
The opening of this video shows the re-dedication of the Vardeman Cemetery in Lincoln County, after the cemetery had been relocated and the historic Vardeman Cemetery was flooded by the creation of Cedar Creek Lake.