"Swing Low, (Sweet) Chariot" (1871, 1872); "Roll, Jordan, Roll" ( > 1863)

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Tue Feb 15 00:07:07 UTC 2005

In a message dated  Sun, 13 Feb 2005 19:21:56 -0500,  Bapopik at AOL.COM writes
or quotes:

>  Schools for Contrabands.
>  Arthur's Home Magazine (1861-1870). Philadelphia: Nov 1863. Vol. 22, Iss.
> p. 208 (5 pages)   Pg. 209:
>  The prevalent song, however, heard in every school, in church, and by the
> way-side, is that of "John Brown," which very much amuses our white
> particularly when the singers roll out,--
>  "We'll hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree!"
>  Other songs of the negroes are common, as, "The Wrestling Jacob," "Down in
> the lonesome valley," "Roll, Jordan, roll," "Heab'n shall-a be my home."
> Russell's "Diary" gives an account of these songs, as he heard them in his
> evening row over Broad River, on his way to Trescot's estate.

This implies "We'll hang Jeff Davis..." is an African-American song, both
because of the word "Contrabands" [escaped slaves] and the words "Other songs of
the negroes".

According to Bruce Catton _Mr. Lincoln's Army_ Garden City NJ: Dolphin Books,
1951, page 53 of the undated Dolphin paperback
<begin quote>
During its training-camp days the 12th [Massachusetts Regiment] had been
stationed at Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor, where the 2nd U.S. Infantry was also
stationed; and the regulars [i.e. the soliders of the 2nd Infantry] had picked
up a snappy tune---a camp-meeting revival hymn, written in Charleston, South
Carolina, around 1850, entitled "Say Brothers WIll We Meet You Over on the
Other Shore?"  What a battalion of U.S. regulars was doing knowing a gospel hymn
is beyond imagination, but they did know it, and because it was a fine song to
march to they had fitted new words to it: "John Brown's body lies a-mouldering
in the grave . . ."
<end quote>

Catton gives as his source _History of the 12th Massachusetts Volunteers_, by
Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin F. Cook.

As far as I know, in the 1850's camp-meeting revivals were attended by
whites, which makes it seem unlikely that the author (or folk authours?) of the
original tune was African-American.

      - James A. Landau

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