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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
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4
Complete Issue: The Anglo-African (19 September 1863)
L. J. L., "An Incident of the New York Riot" The Anglo-African (19 September 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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      "Mother! they may kill the body, but they cannot touch
the soul!
Peaceful o'er the placid waters rose the radiant Summer
Loyal voices shouted anthems o'er the conquest bravely
For the walls of Vicksburg yielded to the Union's shot and
While Port Hudson, trembling, waited but a clearer tale to
But, alas! day's golden image scarce had left its impress
When above a Northern city rose the sounds of wild de-
Fiends and demons yet unnumbered rallied forth in bold
Deeds of darkness, scenes of carnage, marked the traitors'
     onward way.
Blind to feeling, deaf to mercy, who may judge the depth
     of crime?
None but God may know the misery traced upon the Book
     of Time!
'Tis enough that sinking manhood, with consumption's
     hectic glow,
Fell a prey to ruffian anger, sank beneath a coward's blow.
Brutish forces conveyed the "loved one" from that widow'd
     mother's side,
While her groans of mortal anguish echoed back intensi-
But the God of races lifted up the mantle of despair, And revealed the crown of glory that her dying son would
While upon that beaming countenance sin had left no bitter
But a look of earnest meaning lit the dying hero's face, Whispering words of cheer and comfort as he neared the
     promised goal,
"Mother! they may kill the body, but they cannot touch
     the soul!"
What a world of earnest feeling do these words of faith
While Religion shed its lustre brilliant as the light of day! What a stern rebuke to madness, could the faithless soul
Ages of self-abnegation, years of prayer, can scarce
Aye! humanity may envy Abraham Franklin's[4] peaceful
While the hearts of unborn millions will his heavenly ad-
And these simple words of feeling bid the wave of thought
     to roll,
"Mother! they may kill the body, but they cannot touch
     the soul!"
Vainly may we search in history what the barbarous ages
St. Bartholomew's dark record[5] scarcely seems a parallel; Yet the day of triple vengeance hastens forth on nimble
And the time of true repentance proves the fact that God
     is King!
But these foes to reigning justice never can restore, Though that widowed mother's image haunts their days
As a monument to glory faithfully these words enroll, "Mother they may kill the body, but they cannot touch
     the soul!"
Chester (Pa.) Republican.[6]


  1. The New York City Draft Riots and their aftermath dominated news on the home front in early August 1863. The federal government passed its first Conscription Act in March 1863, and the first draft took place in July. Democrats opposed the draft as unconstitutional (James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The American Civil War [London: Penguin, 1991] 608–9). The implementation of the draft sparked mob violence in several cities, New York foremost among them. For four days, July 13–16, rioters attacked African Americans, prominent Republicans, and public officers. More than a hundred people were killed; many more black New Yorkers grappled with trauma and destitution (Carla L. Peterson, Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011], 225–53).Go back
  2. See Matthew 10:28: "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."Go back
  3. Fortified city Vicksburg fell to General Ulysses S. Grant's army on July 4, 1863; days later, the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson surrendered. The capture of Vicksburg reopened the Mississippi River to Union vessels and broke a vital Confederate supply line. In the poem, "traitors'" riots shatter a moment of peace and celebration.Go back
  4. Abraham Franklin was a black coachman lynched by rioters. An Anglo-African editorial, "Victims of the Mob," published in the issue of August 1, 1863, reported that Franklin had been seized at his mother's house:
    "'Mother! they may kill the body, but they cannot touch the soul!'—was the language used by poor Abraham Franklin, as he was borne from the presence of his mother by the barbarous mob on the morning of the 14 ult. This young man, aged 23, had been an invalid for about two years, and was a confirmed consumptive. When the mob broke into the house they found him in bed. They bore him into the street and there, although he had not raised a finger against them, indeed was not able to do so, they beat him to death, hanged him to a lamp-post, cut his pantaloons off at the knees, cut bits of flesh out of his legs, and afterward set fire to him!"
    Like "An Incident of the New York Riot," the editorial emphasizes Franklin's helplessness and holiness. The mob savages a childlike invalid and violates a space that is both a sickroom and a domestic sanctuary.
    Go back
  5. A reference to the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, an infamous episode in the French Wars of Religion. In August 1572 royal troops acting on Catherine de Medici's orders assassinated approximately two hundred Huguenot leaders who had gathered for a wedding; the killings sparked mob violence in Paris and throughout the provinces. For several weeks, Catholics attacked and mutilated thousands of French Protestants. By turning to the French massacre for a parallel atrocity, the poet taps into contemporary anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic prejudice; many of the rioters were reported to be Irish American.
    Reportage suggested that Irish Americans played a conspicuous part in the riots. Of the actual composition of the mob, historian Carla Peterson writes that "[s]ome were journeymen in the older artisan trades, while others—mostly Irish Catholic—were common laborers or workers in newer industrial occupations. Over the four days of rioting, the composition of the mob gradually shifted as both native-born Americans and German immigrants retreated. More likely to be skilled workers and property owners, their animosity toward political elites and blacks was not nearly as great as that of the Irish" (Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011], 225).
    Go back
  6. Possibly the weekly Delaware County (Pennsylvania) Republican (1833–1895), which covered news from both Danby and Chester, Pennsylvania, or the weekly American Republican (1858–1878), published in West Chester, Pennsylvania. As "An Incident of the New York Riot" appeared in issues of the Christian Recorder and the Liberator dated September 4, 1863, the Anglo-African editors may well have encountered the reprinted text in one of their regular exchanges.Go back