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)

United States it am de place (Rice, 1858)

This mysterious half-dialect minstrel song from Rice’s 1858 Method for the Banjo offers an intriguing glimpse into the economics and racial politics of the antebellum era…

Here I Am as You Diskiver (1860)

Blackface minstrel tune conflating plantation slavery, the “Indian Nation” (& associated issues of Removal), & antebellum militarism in public space:

Picket Guard (Beers & Hewitt, 1861)

“His musket falls slack, his face dark and grim,
Grows gentle with memories tender,
As he mutters a prayer for the children asleep–
For their mother–may Heaven defend her.”