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.

 

Lincoln on Lincoln (and the start of the Civil War)

When John Barker, subject of two prior posts on this blog (“A Soldier Writes Home” and “John Barker at Gaines Mill”), went off to war in 1861, 15-year old Francis H. Lincoln of Hingham was a student at Derby Academy.  In two bound volumes, preserved in our archives, he minutely described his primary and secondary education.  The Academy’s rules (memorialized in these books) provided that “the writing of compositions be required of the scholars as often as once a fortnight during each term.”  Lincoln recorded each of his efforts in these volumes.

Two of Lincoln’s compositions written during his last year at Derby took current events as their subject–South Carolina’s secession from the Union, the election of a distant relation as President, and the coming of war.  In February 1861, two months after South Carolina seceded, he penned “A Fable on the Times”:

“Once upon a time” when the people of the United States elected their President, the South or Southern States, the inhabitants of which were mostly Democrats, generally outvoted the Republicans and other parties of the North; but in 1860 at the Democratic conventions, for nominating candidates for the Presidency they were unable to agree, and Republicans outvoted the other parties, and selected Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, President.

Mr. Lincoln being a man opposed to slavery, South Carolina, a miserable little State, tried to rebel against the Union, by seceding and making war, endeavoring to get some other small states to join her, and form what they intended to call the “Southern Confederacy.”

How this will turn out, nobody knows, but probably the Republicans will be masters of the Union.

“Haec fabula docet” that persons must not think that they can be masters of everything, that they must be sometimes willing to give way to others; and it is best to begin these habits in early life, for the child that is permitted to have its own way will grow up like South Carolina creating hatred, and perhaps war. Therefore, O parents, “lead up children in the way they should go;” therefore, O Republicans, do your best; correct South Carolina in her mad course, and “lead it up in the way it should go.”

Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, March 5, 1861. Photo from Lincoln Collection, Library of Congress

The next months were eventful.  Lincoln’s June 1861 composition was titled, “Fort Sumter”:

 This fort, which is situated upon an island in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina; was taken by Secessionists in the spring of 1861, shortly after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.

Although much might be said about Fort Sumter, I shall not confine myself to that in particular, but shall write concerning the present rebellion in general.

The Southern or slave-holding states, especially South Carolina, have probably desired to be separated from the Northern for more than twenty years; and until now have not had what they thought could be called a reasonable excuse. Once, I believe, during the administration of Andrew Jackson, they made an attempt at secession, but failed, as they must now.

They have now made the excuse, that Lincoln will interfere with their institutions, and do all in his power, to free their slaves; but this is nonsense; for Lincoln said in a speech before he was elected, “I shall not meddle with their institutions or slaves, but I shall certainly not permit them to extend slavery any farther than it has now gone.”

Persons who had sworn allegiance to the Government and Laws of the United States, have proved traitors, and have done all in their power to destroy the Union; and have done, also, to accomplish this object, the worst thing they could have done for themselves, that is, opened war upon us; and when Major Anderson (who was in command at Fort Sumter) and his handful of men, were nearly starved, opened fire upon him, and shame upon him, a Massachusetts man was the first to fire upon him.

The North should and will have revenge. “The Union must and shall be preserved.”  There are still at the South, many who would give all their property to preserve the Union, and such men should be delivered from the hands of those mean and cowardly scamps who are compelling them hither to die or fight for them.

But they will be freed, and their persecutors punished, and if the leaders, viz. Jefferson Davis & Gen. Beauregard and a few others escape with their lives they may congratulate themselves.

John Barker at Gaines Mill

To follow up on our post about the stationery, envelopes, and postage on John Barker’s Civil War letters home, we’ll allow Barker to speak for himself, through a letter to his sister, preserved in our archives.  He describes his first serious battle, at Gaines Mill, a Union defeat during General George McClennan’s 1862 Peninsula Campaign:

. . . At about noon the skirmishers began to fire & kept it up till about 3 in the afternoon, when the fight commenced in earnest.  Our Reg’t was not engaged until 5 o’clock when the line in front were driven back.  They went to our rear & then came the tug of war for us & it came in earnest too.  Such roars of musketry I never heard although I thought I had heard it before when it sounded musical to some extent & the artillery above all this.

The Massachusetts 22nd, John Barker's regiment, at Gaines Mills.  (Source:  Parker, Henry Wilson's Regiment:  History of the 22nd Massachusetts Infantry)

The Massachusetts 22nd, John Barker’s regiment, at Gaines Mill. (Source: Parker, Henry Wilson’s Regiment: History of the 22nd Massachusetts Infantry)

On they came and we were forced to retreat.  Just as the retreat commenced I stopped & layed down.  I had a hole through my right breast.  The ball entered my breast & passed through my lung came out just below my shoulder blade.  I bled dreadfully.  The blood completely soaked my clothes & I also bled inside a good deal but as narrow as my escape was I have lived through it.  The Reg’t was on the retreat when I was wounded, & in two minutes the Rebels were about me & as they advanced our artillery from the hills opened on them with grape and canister, which was scattered all around where I lay covered me with dirt & mowing the foe down in great numbers & killing some of our wounded left in the field.  The fight lasted till night then stopped when two of the Rebels came to me & helped me back to the woods close by where I was left till the next day afternoon.  I was in great pain all night.  It was with difficulty I could breath at all & did not know I should live to see morning again & at time was in so much distress I almost wished I were dead, but got through the night & the next day did not feel quite so bad.

In the afternoon I was taken & carried to a house close by where were 275 of our wounded men & I asked our Dr. who was taken also what he thought of my wound & his reply was that I might possibly get over it. But he could do nothing for it.  He told me to keep it wet with water & I tore one of pockets out of my pants & cut it in two, & put one piece on my breast & one on my back.  I kept it wet all the time. . . .

The first week at the house I layed out on the ground, after that got into an old hovel and stayed there.  For the first week they buried from 8 to 15 each day, after that not so many.  Our living was very poor but we made out to live some of us at least.

. . . [O]ne morning there came 30 or 40 baggage wagons & they piled us in & drove off.   Such groaning as that I should not hear again.  They drove us in wagons with no springs for 5 miles over a corduroy road of the roughest kind, then we were loaded off into the cars, what of us were not put on top.  Just as we got ready to start it began to rain & blow, which it did for the next hours in earnest & wet me nicely I being outside.

At night we arrived at the city of Richmond.  That night & till noon the next day stayed in the depot, then were taken to an old tobacco factory in which we stayed a week peeking through the grates in the windows & lying on the nasty floor.  There were 800 sick & wounded prisoners in that building & we had to live on rather short allowance I tell you. . . .

Barker was lucky that his stay at the notorious Libby Prison (the “old tobacco factory”) was short.  He was part of one of the first prisoner exchanges of the war and returned North after only one week.  He closed his letter to his sister, written from a Pennsylvania military hospital, with the report that “[t]he Dr. examined me this morning & says he thinks my lung will soon be nearly as good as ever.”  The doctor was right:  John Barker was back with his regiment for the Battle of Gettysburg, was injured again, and returned to Hanson.  He married and became a shoemaker, dying in 1903.  His name appears on Hanson’s Civil War monument.

A Soldier Writes Home

Unlike 20th century soldiers, whose mail home traveled for free—or 21st century soldiers, with access to email—Civil War soldiers typically had to purchase their own stationery, envelopes, and stamps in order to write to their loved ones at home.  Our collection of letters which John Barker of Hanson sent home between December 1861 and January 1863—and their envelopes—help tell that story.  Writing materials and stamps were not always easy to come by.  In an 1862 letter home from East Point, VA, Barker wrote:

I suppose that the girls have begun their school.  I would wright them but I have only one stamp and the letters will not go without them now.   I should like to have you send me some if you have them for they cannot be got hear for love nor monney.

StampedBarker apologized for his poor writing materials when writing from camp (“Do not know as you can read this for it is poorly written and my pencil is short”) while in a later letter from a military hospital in Pennsylvania, he remarked upon the quality of his stationery (“I must stop now for I have filled this great white sheet of paper”).  A first-class stamp for a letter sent east of the Mississippi cost three cents.  The 3¢ stamp with Washington’s profile used on Barker’s envelopes was issued after Fort Sumter and used throughout the war.

Mixter EnvelopeStamps were not always available, as Barker notes.  Letters would be delivered if labeled “Soldier’s Letter” and accompanied by a soldier’s name and regimental information.  The postage due was stamped on the outside of the envelope, to be paid by the recipient.  Barker was taken prisoner in the summer of 1862 and after his commanding officer learned that he was well and would be sent North in a prisoner exchange, he wrote the family a letter.  Marked “Soldier’s letter” and inscribed with an officer’s name, it was stamped “Due 3” and delivered to the Barkers.  (Note the handwritten note, “Good news,” in the lower left hand corner of the envelope, a reminder of what a terrifying prospect a letter from a soldier’s commanding officer would have been in the circumstances.)

FrankedInterestingly, Barker did for a period of time have the opportunity of sending letters without buying stamps.  He served in the Massachusetts 22nd Regiment, which was organized by Henry Wilson, then a sitting United States Senator from Massachusetts (and later Vice President under President Ulysses S. Grant).  Barker’s first letter home, from training camp at Hall’s Hill, Virginia, has no stamp.  Instead it was “franked,” i.e., Henry Wilson’s signature appears in the upper right hand corner in place of a stamp.  Union military officers did not ordinarily enjoy franking privileges; presumably, Barker was able to send some early letters without postage because his commanding officer was a sitting member of Congress.

SlogansStationery companies met the demand for stationery and envelopes by manufacturing numerous designs and styles for the soldiers’ use.  Elaborate patriotic pictures and slogans were common.  John Barker wrote home on stationery and envelopes featuring portraits of General Burnside and Columbia; drawings of  flags, eagles, and the Masonic “all-seeing eye;” and slogans such as “One Flag, One Government,” “My God first, my Country next and then my Family,” “Victory,” and “Dedicated to the Gallant Defenders of our National Union.”Columbia