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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
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Complete Issue: National Anti-Slavery Standard (4 July 1863)
Miss E. W. Brown, "The Slave-Martyr" National Anti-Slavery Standard (4 July 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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            "During the siege of Washington, N. C.,[2] a flat, full of
soldiers, with a few negroes, got aground under rebel fire.
A heroic African said, 'Somebody's got to die to get us out
of this, and it may as well be me.' He then deliberately
got out and pushed the boat off, and fell into it pierced by
five bullets."
The surf with ricocheting balls Was churned and splashed around us; I heard my comrades' hurried calls, "The rebel guns have found us."
Our vessel shivered; for beneath, The treacherous sand had caught her; What man will leap to instant death To shove her into water?
Strange light shone in our hero's eye; His voice was strong and steady; "My brothers, one of us must die, And I, thank God! am ready."
A shell flew toward us, hissing hate, Then screaming like a demon; He calmly faced the awful fate, Resolved to die a freeman!
He fell, his heart cut through with shot, The true blood of that martyr Out from his body spurted hot, To flee the shame of barter.
We lifted up the brave man's corse; We thought him fair and saintly; The rebel bullets round us hoarse We heard, but dull and faintly.
'Tis ever so; a great deed wrought, The doer falls that moment, As if to save the Godlike thought From any human comment.
Heroes are dead men by that fact; Fame haunts our grave-yards, sighing, "Alas! that man's divinest act Should be the act of dying."
American Baptist.[3]


  1. Probably Elizabeth Whitney Brown (daughter of Nathan and Eliza, born in 1838). Census records for 1860 and 1870 suggest that the family lived together in Jersey City during the war.Go back
  2. A town at the juncture of the Tar and Pamlico Rivers, north of New Bern, North Carolina. Union troops under General Ambrose Burnside's command occupied Washington in March 1862, as part of a larger operation against important coastal locations. In March 1863 General Daniel Hill's Confederate forces attempted to retake Washington by breaking the garrison's supply lines; by the end of March, the Union garrison was effectively under siege (John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963], 156). The stalemate was broken in mid-April, when the steamer Escort ran Confederate batteries to deliver reinforcements and supplies. The Escort left Washington with department commander John Forster, but the siege was abandoned before he could return with more men.
    Like other occupied towns in the region, Washington attracted a population of former slaves from the surrounding areas. Vincent Colyer, former superintendent of the poor in the Department of North Carolina, estimated that there were 1,500 freedpeople at Washington, Hatteras, Carolina, and Beaufort in mid 1862 (Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation 1861–1867, ed. Ira Berlin, et al. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990], series 1, 2:123).
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  3. The weekly organ of the American Baptist Free Mission Society, based in Utica, New York. Both the Free Mission Society (est. 1843) and the American Baptist claimed to be "intensely abolitionist" (E. W. Brown, The Whole World Kin: A Pioneer Experience Among Remote Tribes, and Other Labors of Nathan Brown [Philadelphia: Hubbard, 1890], 456). The National Era of April 28, 1853, advertised the American Baptist as "the only Baptist newspaper in the United States advocating the principle of non-fellowship with slaveholders, either in ecclesiastical or in voluntary missionary organizations" ([3]). The Reverend Wareham Walker served as the title's editor from 1852? to 1857. Nathan Brown, newly recovered from two decades of missionary work in Burma and Assam, took over the editorship and continued in the post until 1872.
    Brown's wartime unionism was thoroughly informed by his conviction of national sin: "We look upon the union as one and indivisible; a nation raised up by Providence, and bound together in its material interests by the natural configuration of the country. We are also linked together in responsibility for the guilty system of slavery, and together we must work out the problem of its extinction" (editorial, November 1862, quoted in Brown, 462). In late December, on the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation, Brown accompanied George Cheever and William Goodell to the White House to present Lincoln with a memorial requesting a stronger statement against slavery (464). Brown rejoiced on finding that the final proclamation referred to emancipation as "an act of justice": "it writes the name of ABRAHAM LINCOLN among the stars" (474).
    "The Slave-Martyr" had appeared in the Anglo-African three weeks earlier, in its issue of June 13, 1863. There are several small differences between the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard versions of the poem. In line 1, the Anglo-African text reads "ricochetting," while the Standard text reads "ricocheting"; in line 5, the Anglo-African reads "far," and the Standard "for"; in line 27, the Anglo-African offers "God-like," with the Standard text reading "Godlike." There are several differences in punctuation as well, in lines 10, 17, and 25.
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