“Little Maggie” is part of the “Darling Cory/Corey” family of “white blues” songs that include “Country Blues/Husling Gamblers” which were found in the Appalachian region in the late 1800’s.
“Darling Corey” shares words with "Country Blues" as well as “Little Maggie”. Dock Boggs recorded 'Country Blues' in 1927 and had learned it from Homer Crawford of Tennessee probably about 1914 under the title "Hustling Gamblers." Boggs added verses of his own. In his notes to the Revenant reissue of Boggs' complete early recordings, Barry O'Connell suggests that this "lyric and tune family" (Hustling Gamblers, Darling Corey, Country Blues etc)"has been around in the southern mountains for over a century." He went on to say: "The family of tunes probably originates late in the 19th century and belongs to the then developing tradition of white blues ballads.”
The melody of Little Maggie is distintly different from "Darlin Corey" though the mixolydian mode and chord progression are sometimes played the same: G G F F G D G G.
“Listening to the Shelton version (of “Darling Cory”) again, it is interesting that, early in the song, 'highway robbers' are coming to 'tear the stillhouse down' - 'revenue officers' only make an appearance later in the narrative. 'Highway robbers' seems more of an English than an American idiom - another instance of an English survival in a mountain song? If so, that may be another reason for believing it is quite old.”
“Little Maggie” was recorded by the Stanley Brothers in 1946, when their music was more old-time than bluegrass in style. Mt. Airy, North Carolina, fiddler Tommy Jarrell remembered the tune "going around" the Round Peak area (where he grew up) around 1915 or 1916, and became quite popular with the younger folk. A tragedy occurred about the same time when his 14 year old cousin, Jullie Jarrell, was tending a fire in the kitchen stove and, thinking it was out, poured kerosene over the wood to renew it which suddenly caused flames to flare and severely burn her. Tommy related:
"I was coming from the mill on horseback carrying a sack of cornmeal and all at once I saw the smoke and heard the younguns come running towards me crying, 'Jullie's burnt up and the house is a-fire.' I jumped off the horse and ran as fast as I could to the house--later I though about how much faster I could have gotten there by throwing the meal off and riding the horse, but you don't think clear at times like that. When I reached the door I saw Aunt Susan kneeling on the floor above Julie, weeping, her hands all blistered from beating out the fire with a quilt. Jullie was laying there crying, but there wasn't much we could do for her so we ran to the spring for water to put out the fire in the house. They put Jullie to bed right away--her whole body was burned up to her chin, and at first she cried in pain but after a while she didn't feel anything at all. That evening as she was laying there she asked me to get my banjo and sing "Little Maggie" for her. That was the only thing she wanted to hear--it had just recently come around and everyone seemed to take to it. I expect I played it the best I ever had in my life, with the most feeling, anyway. It seemed to comfort her and pick up her spirits a little, but by the following morning she was dead." (Quoted from Richard Nevins)
The song also titled "Little Maggie With a Dram Glass In Her Hand" appears to have been played in neighboring Grayson County, Virginia, a generation earlier, according to Richard Nevins, which points out how isolated the mountainous regions were around the turn of the century.