The Songs of the Abolitionists

Jairus Lincoln of Hingham published his song book “Anti-Slavery Melodies: For the Friends of Freedom” for the Hingham Anti-Slavery Society in 1843.  Music was an important part of abolitionist meetings and rallies. In the foreword to his anthology, Lincoln noted the success that the temperance movement had enjoyed incorporating music into its message and urged the anti-slavery movement to follow the example: “[t]here are many who have not the gift of speech-making, but who can, by song-singing, make strong appeals, in behalf of the slave, to every community and every heart.”

Lincoln included the words and music to 57 anti-slavery songs, some original, some “standards” in the movement, and some taken from a previous anthology, “The Anti-Slavery Pick-nick.”  Many of the melodies are based on hymns that would have been very familiar to the audience, with lyrics based on anti-slavery poetry by John Pierpont, Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, among others. (To our 21st century sensibilities, the absence of any music influenced by the rich music–spirituals and field tunes–of the enslaved peoples themselves is striking.)

A few songs stand out.  Lincoln included a sharp parody of a familiar patriotic hymn:

My country! ’tis of thee,
Stronghold of slavery,
Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died,
Where men man’s rights deride,
From every mountainside,
Thy deeds shall ring.

My native country! thee,
Where all men are born free,
If white their skin:
I love thy hills and dales,
Thy mounts and pleasant vales,
But hate thy negro sales,
As foulest sin. . . .

One well-known anti-slavery anthem, “The Song of the Abolitionist,” was written by William Lloyd Garrison, to be sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”:

I am an Abolitionist! I glory in the name;
Though now by slavery’s minions hissed, And covered o’er with shame;
It is a spell of light and power, The watch-word of the free;
Who spurns it in the trial-hour, A craven soul is he.

I am an Abolitionist! Then urge me not to pause,
For joyfully do I enlist In Freedom’s sacred cause;
A nobler strife the world ne’er saw, Th’ enslaved to disenthral;
I am a soldier for the war, Whatever may befall. . . .

Words and music to "Song of the Abolitionist," from Lincoln's Anti-Slavery Songbook

Words and music to “Song of the Abolitionist,” from Lincoln’s Anti-Slavery Songbook

In From Abolition to Rights for All: The Making of a Reform Community in the Nineteenth Century, Professor John Cumbler writes that “[t]he social world of abolitionism also had its lighter side.”  The two examples with which he supports his assertion are close to home:  an 1844 meeting in Hingham, where New England abolitionists enjoyed a boat trip from Boston, the seaside, and the country air, and a “fishing party” to Cohasset during those same years. Perhaps after enjoying sunshine and a good meal, the abolitionists pulled out their copies of Lincoln’s “Anti-Slavery Melodies”–perhaps even the copy that is now in our archives.

A few years ago, a choral ensemble from Arizona State University recorded a number of the songs from Lincoln’s “Anti-Slavery Melodies.” Click here and scoll down the page to listen.

 

4 thoughts on “The Songs of the Abolitionists

  1. […] 1843 “Anti-Slavery Melodies”—an anthology of songs to sing at abolition rallies (see The Songs of the Abolitionists). We were delighted to learn that the political singing did not end there, having recently […]

  2. […] August 1, 1844, the Hingham Anti-Slavery Society hosted a large regional rally to mark the tenth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the […]

  3. Research says:

    […] Pbagger, April 13, 2014. “The Songs of the Abolitionists”, Hingham Heritage Museum blog, https://outofthearchives.org/2014/04/13/the-songs-of-the-abolitionists/ […]

  4. […] Pbagger, April 13, 2014. “The Songs of the Abolitionists”, Hingham Heritage Museum blog, https://outofthearchives.org/2014/04/13/the-songs-of-the-abolitionists/ […]

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