“Sing With th’ Devil in Hell”

Location: Farmland in Macon-Bibb County, Georgia
Period: 1872-1933
Dramatis personae: Bethuel “Buel” Sutton (1874-1956); May “Maysee” Sutton (1872-1879); Silas Sutton (1848-1924); Zachary Sutton (1823-1889); Richard McQuayle (1846-1933)

Richard “Slick Dick” McQuayle came from a prominent land-owning family in central Georgia. He was the heir of over 50,000 acres of rich farming land which he had partialed out to several sharecropping families. One of which was the Sutton family: Zachary (“Pap”), Silas (“Pa), and their five children/grandchildren, of four boys, Zach, Jr., Lucas, Levi, Bethuiel, and one daughter, Maysee, named for her mother’s family, the Mays.

The Sutton’s were distant kin to Pearl Robison (see songs “Between Here and Gone” and “Pearl and Jake“).

From all accounts Dick McQuayle was a bully and misanthrope, who ruled over his sharecroppers with an iron fist.

Zachary Sutton and McQuayle often butted heads, and this song is about a case where the Sutton’s were unable to pay the third of the harvest to McQuayle and he told them to get off his land if they couldn’t raise a decent crop. He underscored this command by saying that if they didn’t get off his land quick enough he’d burn them out.

The Suttons were hard scrabble folk and had no intention of abandoning the farm they’d worked for at least three generations under successive McQuayles. They didn’t put much stock in Slick Dick’s threat.

Their second youngest, Maysee, was a dreamy child. She loved to read books of adventure and fantasy, which she would do in her “secret place” in the hayloft of the barn. It was a quiet place where she could read unobserved and unbothered by her three older brothers. Her younger brother, Bethuel, was her favorite, and she often took him along with her into the woods for story-telling, and just poking around.

However, Dick McQuayle’s threat was not idle, and when the Suttons failed to pay him his share of the harvest, he did indeed pay a visit to the farm when he knew they would be out in the field and the barn (he thought) abandoned, which he proceeded to set ablaze. Not knowing that Maysee was reading in the loft, he pushed the door shut and closed the latch, making it harder to enter and save.

Bethuel grew up hating McQuayle for murdering his sister (a murder for which Dick McQuayle was never convicted) – swearing to himself that one day he would exact revenge. For thirty years, he lived with this oath, his passion for justice only getting stronger with each passing decade.

Sing With th’ Devil in Hell
(F. D. Leone, Jr.)

Shotgun shells
In my vest
Tonight Richard McQuayle
Will meet his death
Blood feud
Decades old
My resolve is shrewd
My blood is cold

His belly out
Thumbs in his bib
Wanted us out
Burnt the corn crib

Pap was a poor man
Him and Pa
Farmed McQuayle land
Who made their own law
My sister, Maysee
We’d run to the trees
Eyes wide with stories
Sacred mysteries

How hard we worked
The crop still failed
Didn’t pay the third
We owed to McQuayle

Might of been sincere
Claimed he didn’t know
The loft was where
Lil’ Maysee would go
A private nook
Away from the boys
With her book
Away from the noise

Burnt up
Along with the corn
McQuayle’ll know what
When you burn a barn

The start of a tale
Tonight it’ll end
Richard McQuayle
Will meet my friend
Pap’s 12 gauge
It’s old but it works
Buck shot sprayed
Across his night shirt

Tonight, I swear,
Richard McQuayle
Gonna send you there
To sing with th’ Devil in Hell

Night air blazes
Black powder smell
Justice for Maysee, and
Slick Dick McQuayle

.© 2023 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.