Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
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Complete Issue: The Anglo-African (14 November 1863)
D. W., "John Brown's March" The Anglo-African (14 November 1863): [1]View Poem Image
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JOHN BROWN'S MARCH.

[The following lines, now for the first time published in
this country, are by a young lady of Dublin, Ireland,[1] and
show the profound sympathy, in the cause of American
freedom, which warms some hearts in the Old World:][2]
John Brown's[3] body lies mould'ring in the grave, It lies amidst the mountains of the Adirondack lone,[4] A grey rock looms above it and the sighing grasses wave, But his soul is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah! He lives forever, though on earth his race is run, Glory, glory, hallelujah! His soul is marching on.
They could not chain his spirit nor lay him below the sod; They freed him from a prison here to mount in joy on
     high;
"Though worms destroy this body, yet I shall behold my
     God,"[5]
Was his soul's exulting cry.
Glory, glory, hallelujah! He lives forever, though on earth his race is run, Glory, glory, hallelujah! His soul is marching on.
The torch by him left smould'ring shall give light in other
     hands;
His voice which now is silent shall be echoed o'er and
     o'er;
Till slavery has ceased to be, and freedom in all lands Shall reign for evermore.
Glory, glory, hallelujah! He lives forever, though on earth his race is run, Glory, glory, hallelujah! His soul is marching on.
He failed, yet as a victor we will crown our hero brave; Beneath Jehovah's banner was his duty nobly done. And we grieve not that his body lies mould'ring in the grave, For his soul is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah! He lives forever, though on earth his race is run, Glory, glory, hallelujah! His soul is marching on.
Anti-Slavery Standard.[7]

Notes

  1. Irish abolitionists had an important place in the transatlantic antislavery network forged in the 1830s and early 1840s. Formed to challenge apprenticeship in the West Indies, Dublin's Hibernian Anti-Slavery Society attacked American slavery and worked with William Lloyd Garrison's American Anti-Slavery Society (Angela F. Murphy, American Slavery, Irish Freedom: Abolition, Immigrant Citizenship, and the Transatlantic Movement for Irish Repeal [Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010], 5).Go back
  2. In mid-nineteenth-century transatlantic contexts, the "Old World" meant Britain and Ireland. (See Julia Griffiths Croft's letters in Frederick Douglass' Paper and Douglass' Monthly, published under the heading "Letters from the Old World.") The pointed editorial note about the loyalty of "some hearts" seems to target lapsed abolitionists in the Old World even as it positions and praises Webb's poem as valuable literary evidence of transatlantic antislavery sympathy. The charge of disloyalty haunts the editor's notice: if you are not with us, you are against us.
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  3. Determined to make war on Southern slavery, militant abolitionist John Brown (1800–1859) organized and led a raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia (October 16–18, 1859), with a view to sparking slave uprisings throughout the South. In the years before the attack, Brown played a significant part in the deadly raids and reprisals that made Kansas Territory "bleed" as proslavery and free-soil factions fought to define the identity of the state-to-be. (Brown's settler sons called for means to protect themselves from proslavery Missourians; when Brown took weapons west, he found a sense of divine purpose.) In 1858 he developed the Harpers Ferry plan with the covert assistance of a group of Northern abolitionists known as the "Secret Six."
     
    On October 16, 1859, Brown and his band of twenty-one volunteers succeeded in seizing the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, but the raid was quashed after a brief, intense fight between raiders and the militia. Slaves did not flock to Brown's side as he had hoped. After his capture, he was imprisoned and then tried at Charles Town. Initially he dismissed these legal proceedings as a "mockery" (quoted by David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the American Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights [New York: Knopf, 2005], 348). His words and bearing during his last days made an enormous impact on public opinion in the North and South. In the words of historian David Reynolds, "[t]he raid did not cause the storm. John Brown and the reaction to him did" (309). As a result of Brown's extraordinary performance, Northerners "began to see in Brown a hero" (357). Brown was sentenced to death on November 2; six days later, in a lecture delivered on November 8, 1859, Ralph Waldo Emerson declared that Brown would "make the gallows glorious like the cross" (366). Brown's execution on December 2, 1859, confirmed his martyrdom. Once war broke out in 1861, the song "John Brown's Body" "quickly became a Union favorite" (Franny Nudelman, John Brown's Body: Slavery, Violence, and the Culture of War [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004], 14); Deborah Webb was one of many writers to compose new lyrics for the tune.
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  4. John Brown's body was buried at his North Elba home, in the Adirondack region of New York.Go back
  5. Job 19:26: "And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God."Go back
  6. In Evelyn Noble Armitage's The Quaker Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1896), "John Brown's March" is attributed to Miss Deborah Webb (1837–1921). Webb was the daughter of Irish abolitionists Richard D. and Hannah Webb. Her family was part of the larger transatlantic antislavery alliance forged in the 1840s; Quaker printer Richard was a prominent member of the Hibernian Anti-Slavery Society, an Irish correspondent for the National Anti-Slavery Standard, and publisher of the first Irish edition of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in September 1845 (Angela F. Murphy, American Slavery, Irish Freedom: Abolition, Immigrant Citizenship, and the Transatlantic Movement for Irish Repeal [Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010], 42; Fionnghuala Sweeney, Frederick Douglass and the Atlantic World [Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007], 13, 24). Deborah Webb described the Webb house in Dublin as "a resort of various celebrities and philanthropists, particularly of abolitionists and escaped slaves" (Armitage, 289). Frederick Douglass recalled that Richard had been among those who "kindly received" him when he arrived in Dublin in 1845, although friction increasingly marked their relationship as Douglass's tour progressed and his sense of self changed (Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written By Himself [1893 edition], in Douglass: Autobiographies [New York: Library of America, 1994], 987).
     
    In 1859 Richard Webb edited and published The Life and Letters of Captain John Brown, a tribute to "the heroism, self-devotion, and firmness of Brown and his handful of young and devoted confederates" (iii). After the Civil War, Richard and Deborah traveled to America and visited antislavery associates including Lucretia Mott and William Lloyd Garrison.
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  7. "John Brown's March" appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard of November 7, 1863. The Anglo-African printing is identical to the Standard text.Go back