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Sam and The Mermaid

Mermaid image Copyright © 2002 Chloe Hedden. It may not be reproduced in any way without permission of
African American tale (Michigan)

Before they had any steam, ships were sailing by sails, you know, across the Atlantic. The Atlantic was fifteen miles deep, and there were mermaids in those days. And if you called anybody’s name on the ship, they would ask for it, say, “Give it to me.” And if you didn’t give it to them they would capsize the ship. So the captain had to change the men’s name to different objects -hatchet, ax, hammer, furniture.

Whenever he wanted a man to do something, he had to call him, “Hammer, go on deck and look out.” The mermaid would holler, “Give me hammer.” So they throwed the hammer overboard to her, and the vessel would proceed on. The captain might say, ” Ax, you go on down in the kindling room start a fire in the boiler; it’s going dead”

Then the mermaid says, “Give me ax.” So they have to throw an iron ax. Next day he says, ” Suit of furniture, go down in the stateroom and make up those beds.” And the mermaid yells, “Give me a suit of furniture.” So they had to throw a whole suit of furniture overboard.

One day he made a mistake and forgot and said, “Sam, go in the kitchen and cook supper.” The mermaid right away calls, “Give me Sam.” They didn’t have anything on the ship that was named Sam; so they had to throw Sam overboard. Soon as Sam hit the water she grabbed him. Her hair was so long she could wrap him up -he didn’t even get wet. And she’s swimming so fast ha could catch breath under the water. When she gets home she goes in, unwraps Sam out of her hair, says: “Oooh, you sure do look nice. Do you like fish? Sam says, “No, I won’t even cook a fish.” “Well, we’ll get married.” So they were married.

After a while Sam begin to step out with other mermaids. His girl friend became jealous of him and his wife, and they had a fight over Sam. The wife whipped her, and told her, “You can’t see Sam never again.” She says, “I’ll get even with you.” So one day Sam’s girl friend asked him didn’t he wont to go back to his native home. He says yes. So she grabs him, wraps him in her hair and swum the same fastness as his wife did when she was carrying him, so he could catch breath. When she come to land she out him onto the ground, on the bank. “Now if he can’t do me no good he sure won’t do her none.” That was Sam’s experience in the mermaid’s home in the bottom of the sea.

Then ho told the others how nice her home was, all fixed up with the furniture and other things. There weren’t any man down there -guess that’s why they ain’t any mermaids any more. Sam said they had purple lips just like women are painted today.

You see pictures of mermaids with lips like that. In old days people didn’t wear lipstick, and I think they got the idea from seeing those pictures.

Sam told the people the mermaid’s house was built like the alligator’s. He digs in the bank at water level; then he goes up -nature teaches him how high to go- then digs down to water level again, and there he makes his home, in from ten to twenty feet long. The mermaid builds in the wall of the sea like the alligator. Sam stayed down there six years. If he hadn’t got co`ting he’d a been there yet, I guess.


Dorson R. M. Folktales Told around the World, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London 1975 pp.484-485.

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