Jack Pudding - A recycled tall tale


One of of the pleasures of this season, as noted by no less an authority than Amy Grant, is to "make up tales of how it used to be." This is such a tale. Inspired by an actual place name in Atlantic County, it was first spun a year ago for the West Jersey History Roundtable and the told again at the West Jersey History Page on FaceBook on April 1st. I am rather fond of it. So, I figured I'd roll it out one last time before the ending of the year.

The Tale of Jack Pudding

The name Jack Pudding has its origin in the nost ancient era of the British theatre. The name, however, came to be applied by British authorities and colonists to the notorious de-frocked “black robe” Jacques Poudet. Poudet came to New France as a missionary priest and worked among the indians of Acadia, today’s northern Maine. He proved to be a quick study when it came to learning the languages of the native peoples. They repaid his linguistic efforts by converting and swearing allegiance to France in great numbers. Henri LaMerville, in his landmark work, A History of the Church in New France, says that because of his achievements, Poudet was called to Quebec for commendation and the promise of greater responsibilities. Unfortunately, his zeal for the church was more than matched by his desire and enjoyment of the tender charms of the daughters of some of the most prominent families in the city. A bit of sloppy indiscretion led to his discovery and he was de-frocked. Not wanting to go back to France, he left Quebec and vanished into the wilderness. What followed was a long and well traveled life that crossed the American back country from Maine to the Mississippi. In this long career he acted as a merchant, a surveyor, a land speculator, a translator and a negotiator for the native Americans. It is in the last two capacities that he is mentioned in Hollinshead’s Chronicle of the Late War With France. In one passage, Hollinshead notes, “They had hoped for an easy parlay, but when they saw among the company of the indians that rascal Jack Pudding, the dirty priest Poudet, they knew it would be hard going.” Although Poudet seems to have acted more than once on behalf of the indians, he seems to have been ambivalent about the conflict between his homeland and Great Britain. In his Autobiography, Un Compte de la Na Vie et Aventures dans la Région Sauvage de la nouvelles France et Nouvelle Angleterre (referred to in an early (but years afterwards) issue of Punch Magazine as “Life in the Woods by Jack Pudding”), Poudet explains that it seemed to him that war was hard on all the inhabitants of North America and that he sought to do good where he he was able. In any case, he traveled freely, lived many places and left his nick name as a record of his passing. It is for instance believed, according to Vermont’s Historic Place Names by Richard Dodge, that Pudding Mountain, not far from Burlington, Vermont bears his name. This is also thought to be true of Jackapud Island in the South Carolina Low Country (not far from Charleston) as is stated in Low Country Tales and Toponyms by Seaborne Dennis. Place names were not the only legacy Poudet left behind him. He is also said to have sired numerous illegitimate children. This aspect of his life and how it manifested itself in West Jersey is described in the Book of Wares(The old Ware family genealogy). The book states that Jacques Poudet “Old Jack Puddin” resided or passed through the wilder coastal regions of the Jersies and there sired some sons out of wedlock. Undeterred by their children’s lack of legal status, the mothers gave the boys their fathers name of Poudet. This name, in the pre literate society there was rapidly worn down and changed by that linguistic peculiarity common among some residents of the British Isles that causes the P sound to shift to a D sound. Thus, the name came to be rendered Dowdy or Doughty. In his autobiography, Poudet comments on his extracurricular behavior by saying “Some have called me a rogue or a seducer, but truly what I did was to plow the fertile soil of America to raise up a new crop of pioneers.”