I’m Off for California (1850s?)

Here’s a song you’ll recognize, and yet… it’s a side of the Gold Rush story you might not have heard about in school: The melody is Stephen Foster‘s first big hit, “Oh Susannah” (1847), ubiquitous in its time and still common in the “folk song” tradition over a century and a half later.  Foster’s original composition features two world-changing technologies…

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852-1859?)

“Euclid… is no child for effecting social revolutions, but an impassioned song may set a world in conflagration.” ~ The London Times (3 September 1852)

Song of the 1st of Arkansas (1864)

This rewrite of “Battle-Hymn of the Republic” puts the agency of social and economic upheaval squarely on the shoulders — or rather, under the boot-heels — of Colored Troops.

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (Willis, 1850s?)

Wallis Willis created the song “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” sometime before 1862; we like to pair it with this 1862 photograph by Concord, NH’s own H.P Moore.

Ring, Ring De Banjo (Foster, 1851)

Frederick Douglass (1845) ~ “Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears…”

Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel (Emmett, 1853)

Here are a few versions of Dan Emmett’s song, displaying the far-reaching sense of international politics and breaking-news commentary to be found on the antebellum popular stage…

Babylon is Fallen (Work, 1863)

After the Emancipation Proclamation changed the face of the Civil War, Henry Clay Work released this sequel to his popular “Kingdom Coming”: