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Antislavery Poetry from San Francisco

Running man image from workshop poster

The Pacific Appeal was the leading African American newspaper on the West Coast during the early 1860s.  A newly-published set of eight antislavery poems from the journal's inaugural 1862 volume captures the sense of expectancy within the African American community for the imminent end of US slavery.  These poems include the work of James Madison Bell, a San Francisco plasterer, brickmason, and poet.  Read more... 
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Antislavery Ensemble

A selection of hymns from Jairus Lincoln's 1843 collection, Anti-Slavery Melodies: For the Friends of Freedom, performed by Arizona State University's Antislavery Ensemble.


This selection of hymns originally appeared in Jairus Lincoln’s Anti-Slavery Melodies: For the Friends of Freedom (Elijah B. Gill, 1843), prepared for the Hingham Anti-Slavery Society in Massachusetts.  Little is known of the anthologist, Jairus Lincoln (1792-1870), beyond that he came from a family long-settled in Hingham and during the mid-1830s served as a local schoolmaster. 

This was the second US abolitionist songbook.  Maria Weston Chapman’s Songs of the Free, and Hymns of Christian Freedom (Boston: Isaac Knapp, 1836) preceded it; others followed, notably George W. Clark’s much-reprinted The Liberty Minstel (New York: published by author, 1844) and African American writer-activist William Wells Brown’s anthology The Anti-Slavery Harp (Boston: Bela Marsh, 1848 – available online at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/10448).  They were part of a flourishing antislavery musical culture, one that featured public performances from the Garrison Juvenile Choir and the Hutchinson Family Singers. 

Anti-Slavery Melodies collected abolitionist musical culture as it had developed during the 1830s, the initial growth period of well-organized US antislavery political activities.   This musical culture grew to accompany abolitionist meetings and create a common spirit.  Singing opened meetings, introduced speakers, interweaved through the program, and closed these gathering with a finale.  As Caroline Moseley observes, however, there was little in abolitionist music that related meaningfully to black people; rather, this music primarily directed itself against slavery as an institution (see Moseley, “When Will Dis Cruel War be Ober? Attitudes Towards Blacks in Popular Song During the Civil War,” American Music [Fall 1984] 6-7).

The Anti-Slavery Melodies songbook included movement ‘standards’ and songs based on antislavery poetry by Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Pierpont, John Greenleaf Whittier, and others.  The selection of melodies reflected the evangelical origins of many members of the abolitionist movement. 

The Antislavery Ensemble selected songs for performance based on historical value and adaptability for choral recital.

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“Spirit of Freedom, Awake” [“O Freedom”]

Pgs. 80-83 in Anti-Slavery Melodies
Tune: “O Lady, Sweet Lady”

This is a medley that incorporates elements of the field tunes that W.E.B. DuBois cites in chapter 10 (‘Of the Faith of the Fathers’) of The Souls of Black Folk. The song does not appear in other antislavery songbooks of the period.

 

“Hymn 17. 6s. & 4s.” [“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”]

Pgs. 28-29 in Anti-Slavery Melodies
Tune: “America”

The words to this song originally appeared on May 3, 1839 in William Lloyd Garrison’s newspaper, The Liberator, as a poem entitled “America – A Parody” by a pseudonymous author, Theta.  Black and white abolitionists produced dozens of versions of versions of this song with variant wordings.  Some of these were featured in July 4th counter-observances organized by the antislavery movement.  For an extensive discussion, see Robert Branham and Stephen Hartnett, Sweet Freedom’s Song (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) 86-116.

This hymn has been set to Great Britain’s national anthem, “God Save the King/Queen.” It is the oldest of national hymns and its origins are debated.  The tune was published for the first time, without text, in 1744.  Samuel Francis Smith (1808-1895) wrote “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” in 1831, to be sung with this tune.

 

“Hymn 24. 7s.” [“Daughters of the Pilgrim Sires”]

Pg. 38 in Anti-Slavery Melodies
Words by Elizabeth Margaret Chandler

This originally appeared in Chapman’s Songs of the Free (154-157) as “The American Female Slave” and expressed solidarity of white women with black slave women.  Its author, Elizabeth Margaret Chandler (1807-1834), was a well-known abolitionist poet, one whose relatively brief career is associated with Benjamin Lundy’s antislavery newspaper, The Genius of Universal Emancipation.   See The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Margaret Chandler:  with a Memoir of her Life and Character (Philadelphia: L. Howell, 1836) and Essays, Philanthropic and Moral, Principally Relating to the Abolition of Slavery in America (Philadelphia: L. Howell, 1836).  

Little is known about this song’s tune, one that appears more a spontaneously harmonized invocation than a song based on a freestanding melody. 

 

“Hymn 29. 7s. & 6s.” [“God of Wide Creation”]

Pgs. 44-45 in Anti-Slavery Melodies
Words by C.W. Dennison.
Tune: Missionary Hymn

American musical entrepreneur Lowell Mason (1792-1872) wrote this tune in 1823 while working in Savannah, Georgia.  The song borrows its title from the first verse of Isaac Watts’s Hymn 115, “God the Avenger of His Saints” (The Works, 1810, vol. 4). 

The tune is best known in the United States as the accompanying tune to Reginald Heber’s (1783-1826) missionary text, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.”  Charles Ives (1874-1954), the American composer and son of an abolitionist, wrote a stirring fugue on Missionary Hymn in the third movement of his 4th Symphony.

 

“The Anti-Slavery Call” [“Come Join the Abolitionists”]

Pgs. 60-63 in Anti-Slavery Melodies
Tune: “When I Can Read My Title Clear”

This was an early anthem of the Garrisonian abolitionist movement and an American adaptation of a British song.  When celebrating the end of slavery at a Boston meeting, Garrison cited another version of this song as a memory of the early struggle against slavery (The Liberator, February 10, 1865).  Israel Campbell’s slave narrative, An Autobiography.  Bond and Free (1861) quotes a version of this song that includes the line “God forever save the Queen.” (288) 

The traditional folk tune was published widely in nineteenth-century England as “The Seven Joys of Mary,” among other Oxford carols, and in the United States accompanying Isaac Watts’s (1674-1748) beloved hymn, “When I can read my title clear to mansions in the skies, I bid farewell to every fear and wipe my weeping eyes”.  Secular versions include the nursery ditty “Three Little Kittens”, together with parodies such as “The man who has plenty of good peanuts and giveth his neighbor none, shan’t have any of my peanuts when his peanuts are gone.”

 

“Song of the Abolitionist” [“I Am an Abolitionist”]

Pgs. 70-71 in Anti-Slavery Melodies
Words by William Lloyd Garrison
Tune: “Old Lang Syne”

William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) was a leading abolitionist and editor of The Liberator.  For further, see Henry Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998).  In addition to his many prose works, Garrison wrote a small body of antislavery poetry.  The original holograph of this song is available via the Library of Congress online at http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/images/absong.jpg

It became a standard ‘movement’ anthem, sung at many antislavery meetings.  The antislavery speaking agent John Jacobs (1815-1875) records having children open a meeting in rural Pennsylvania by singing this song, to great effect (“Communications.  An Anti-Slavery Tour,” The North Star, April 20, 1849). 

“Auld Lang Syne” is a traditional Scottish tune.  The version by Robert Burns (1759-1796), which appeared in the influential Scots Musical Museum (1787-1803), combined texts from several Scots ballads with two verses of Burns's own. Several images from historic sheet music versions may be viewed in “Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets,” American Memory Project, Library of Congress (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amsshtml/)  Perhaps because of its familiarity, “Auld Lang Syne” was one of the more popular tunes for antislavery songs. 

 

Repeat of “Hymn 29. 7s. & 6s.” [“God of Wide Creation”]

Pgs. 44-45 in Anti-Slavery Melodies
Words by C.W. Dennison.
Tune: “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.”

See above description.

 

Further Information

For further information on abolitionist music, see Vicki L. Eaklor, American Antislavery Songs: A Collection and Analysis (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988); Robert Branham and Stephen Hartnett, Sweet Freedom's Song: My Country 'Tis of Thee and Democracy in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

 

Credits

This musical project has been accomplished with the cooperation of the Arizona State University School of Music, the ASU English Department, the ASU College of Nursing, and the EServer located in the Iowa State University English Department.  We acknowledge and thank the faculty and students of both ASU’s School of Music and English Department for their volunteer work in creating the Antislavery Ensemble. 

The recording took place on March 1, 2006, at Katzin Concert Hall, School of Music of the Herberger College of Fine Arts, Arizona State University.


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