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: National Anti-Slavery Standard (20 February 1864)
Simon Pure, "Tony James's Song" National Anti-Slavery Standard (20 February 1864): [4]View Poem Image
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TONY JAMES'S SONG.[1]

      "Cotton shall be king more than ever."—Gen. Saxton.[2]
Ole Tony James he buy a farm, An' pay his fitty dollar;[3] Dat's mighty groun' for cotton dar, Dat patch down in de hollar; An' massa use to hab it plough An' list up ebery Spring— An' kase it bring him pocket full, He call de cotton king. Oh! well, de cotton king for troo— But not for massa, neber; Since Tony James is buy a farm, He king now more dan eber.
An' Tony James has got a home, A home for all his childin, A place to keep de fowl an' pig, An raise de little buildin'; He call de tater now him own, De corn an' ebery ting; An' den de cotton b'longs to him, Dat massa say been king. Oh! well, de cotton king, for troo— But not for massa, neber; Since Tony James is buy a farm, He king now more dan eber.
An' Tony James he bress de Lord, For all dis kind protection;[4] De nigger seen de trouble troo, An' dis de resurrection; He neber call his hand his own, His soul been massa's ting, But now de bery cotton's his Dat massa say been king. Oh! well, de cotton king, for troo— But not for massa, neber! Since Tony James is buy a farm, He king now more dan eber.
Free South.[6]

Notes

  1. "Tony James's Song" also appeared in the Anglo-African of February 13, 1864. The text of the poem is the same in both printings.Go back
  2. General Rufus Saxton (1824–1908), military governor for the Department of the South. On January 16, 1864, Saxton announced Lincoln's new plan for the redistribution of lands appropriated in lieu of federal taxes on the Sea Islands. Previous instructions allowed freedpeople to purchase twenty-acre plots from the small fraction of land reserved from public auction for that purpose; Saxton, missionary Mansfield French, and tax commissioner Abram Smith believed in the necessity of a system that allowed former slaves to buy unreserved lands through preemption "thereby avoiding competition from [Northern] speculators" (Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, ed. Ira Berlin, et al. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990], series 1, 3:107). French rallied political support in Washington and the president changed his policy: "any loyal resident of St. Helena Parish (black or white)" would be allowed to "preempt a homestead of twenty or forty acres on government land, at $1.25 an acre, with only two-fifths of the purchase price as a down payment" (Berlin, et al., 3:107, 281–83).
     
    General Saxton communicated the good news in a circular that concluded with an address to freedmen: "First provide for an ample supply of corn and vegetables, then remember that cotton is the great staple here. I advise you to plant all you can of it. So profitable was its culture in the old days of slavery that your former masters said 'Cotton is King.' It is expected that you will show in a Free South that cotton is more of a king than ever" ("Circular by the Military Governor in the Department of the South," Berlin, et al., 3:283).
     
    Much to the distress of the freedpeople, preemption's opponents prevailed and Lincoln reverted to his original plan in early February 1864. "Tony James's Song" is dated January 24, 1864; it seems likely that it was composed in the preemption "window," when the hopes of the freedpeople and the scheme's missionary supporters were at their highest.
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  3. Under Lincoln's orders of December 31, 1863, "any loyal resident of St. Helena Parish (black or white)" would be allowed to "preempt a homestead of twenty or forty acres on government land, at $1.25 an acre, with only two-fifths of the purchase price as a down payment" (Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, Berlin, et al. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990], series 1, 3:107). At this rate, the purchase price for a forty-acre homestead was fifty dollars.Go back
  4. A reference to the measures detailed in General Saxton's circular, which enabled freedmen to purchase homesteads on land seized by the government in lieu of taxes.Go back
  5. Originally the name of a character in an eighteenth-century comedy, "simon-pure" meant "real, genuine" or "pure, honest, upright" in the mid-nineteenth century (Oxford English Dictionary). The writer of "Tony James's Song" was almost certainly one of Northern missionaries on South Carolina's occupied Sea Islands. These "Gideonites" aimed to assist newly free African American men and women with aid and education, and to prove the "economic feasibility of free labor" (Willie Lee Rose, Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment [Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964], 298). But not everyone who came to the Sea Islands shared their priorities, and the different approaches caused rifts within the missionary community itself (Edward Philbrick's profitable missionary enterprise attracted particularly harsh criticism). The pseudonym "Simon Pure" stakes a claim to moral high ground that is best understood in the context of contemporary struggles over the redistribution of Sea Island lands, which the government appropriated in lieu of planters' federal taxes.Go back
  6. A Republican weekly, established in Beaufort (Port Royal Island, South Carolina) by three Treasury agents in January 1863. Philadelphian editor James Thompson "excoriated secessionists, condemned slavery, and pronounced the state irredeemable until it was remodeled like Massachusetts" (Richard H. Abbott, For Free Press and Equal Rights: Republican Newspapers in the Reconstruction South, ed. John W. Quist [Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004], 11).
     
    The Liberator, in its issue of January 23, 1863, praised the Free South on its first appearance: "'Let there be light' in all the dark regions of the South!" The Christian Recorder missed its copies of the journal in October 1863: "What has become of the Free South? . . . If it is alive, will the editor see that we get a copy regularly?" (October 3, 1863, [2]). By the fall of 1864, the title was struggling to make ends meet without the income it had received from government printing and advertisements for tax sales. It closed in November 1864.
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