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The song has been alleged to refer to the notorious Daniel Tucker (1575-1625) of Jamestown, Virginia, and Bermuda.
Wintermute claims that the name Dan Tucker is a combination of Emmett's own name and that of his dog.
A story dating to at least 1965 claims that "Old Dan Tucker" was written by slaves about a man named Daniel Tucker who lived in Elbert County, Georgia.
Tucker was a farmer, ferryman, and minister who appears in records from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Guy Rucker, the great-great-granddaughter of one of Tucker's neighbors, claims that Tucker became quite well liked by the slaves in his area through his ministry to them.
Musicologist Dale Cockrell argues that the song represents a transition between early minstrel music and the more European-style songs of minstrelsy's later years.
Other verses appear that do not go along with the main narrative.