You are viewing the archived content of Scholarly Editing, Volumes 33 – 38 issued between 2012 and 2017. Go to the new site.

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: National Anti-Slavery Standard (30 January 1864)
Ellen Murray, "The Workingman" National Anti-Slavery Standard (30 January 1864): [4]View Poem Image
Full size in new window


The workingman of Lancashire[1] Came later home that night; His babes had cried themselves to sleep, His young wife's cheek was white; The scanty meal had failed that day; She looked up in his face, As if in his frank, honest eyes A ray of hope to trace.
He sat down by the fireless hearth, She leant her close beside; He said: "Dear wife, the livelong day I hunted far and wide; Each factory door was closed;[2] I begged An hour's work in vain; I could not bear to seek my home And hear my babes complain.
"Weary and hungry, as I sat Beside a lighted hall, A comrade bade me enter in; 'Twas meant, he thought, for all The workingmen to speak their minds And get their wrongs redressed. ''Tis wrong,' said I, 'that we should starve.' I went in with the rest.
"One stood upon the platform there, And told us how we might In one great cry for work and bread Our thousand tongues unite. Our England's Parliament would hear, Our English Queen would heed, For never yet her royal heart Disdained her people's need.
"Our war-ships, with their hundred guns, Would rake the western shore, Drive back the Northerners, and bring The bales of cotton o'er; Our factory doors would open wide With work and wages high; I thought how glad my babes would be, As if relief were nigh.
"But then another rose to speak; You know, my wife, the slaves! We've often talked of how they wished Their children in their graves, And thought how hard 'twould be for us To part with Robbie there, Or our small Jennie, so like you In sunny eyes and hair.
"This speaker told us how, where'er The Northern army went, They broke the fetters from the slave, Telling what freedom meant, And how those slaves looked up in prayer, Blessing our dear Lord's name That to them, in His own good time, This 'blessed Union' came.[3]
"How Northern teachers into schools The little ones have brought, To learn the same most Holy Book Our own dear ones are taught; The men go out to till the fields Gladly, as freemen may, And mothers o'er their babes rejoice Throughout the summer day.
"But should the North be driven back, God help those freedmen then! For their sake would we bear our lot, Silent, as Christian men? His voice grew lower as he spoke: 'I know 'tis hard to bear, But—think of Jesus on the cross, For others died He there!'
"So, wife, I stood up in my place And shouted, 'Aye, we will!' The 'ayes' of our brave working men They seemed the roof to thrill; We shouted it again, again, It was a glorious night— But, when I came to this bare house, —Dear wife, did I do right?"
"Most surely, right," she said, yet turned With hidden tears away, Murmuring—"God, give my little ones Their bread from day to day." And many such staunch working men Went hungry home that night, And thanked God he had strengthened them To suffer for the right.
The working men of Lancashire! Their great self-sacrifice Those, for whose sake 'twas undergone, Will never know or prize; Only when freedmen kneel at dawn And bless their friends in prayer, They bless the noble working men Of England, unaware.


  1. A county in the northwest of England. In the mid-nineteenth century, Lancashire was home to a thriving textile industry dominated by the manufacture of cotton goods.Go back
  2. The Union blockade of Southern ports led to a "cotton famine" in England and France. As the amount of raw cotton in Britain fell, cotton mill workers were laid off; 75 percent of them "were unemployed or on short time" in July 1862 (James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The American Civil War [London: Penguin, 1991], 548). Limited relief provisions "could not ward off hardship and restiveness in Lancashire working-class districts," but unemployment did not cause cotton mill workers to side with the Confederacy on anything like a widespread basis (McPherson, 548; Howard Jones, Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012], 322).Go back
  3. Competing for popular support, pro-Union and pro-Confederacy groups held hundreds of public meetings in towns and cities during the Civil War. Both the Union Emancipation Society and the Southern Independence Association targeted regions affected by the cotton shortage (R. J. M. Blackett, Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War [Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001], 197). Although Confederate sympathizers drew large crowds, Union groups held a greater number of meetings overall—even in famine-stricken parts of Lancashire.Go back
  4. In the summer of 1862 Ellen Murray (1834–1908) joined her good friend Laura Matilda Towne on South Carolina's Sea Islands. When South Carolinian planters abandoned the islands to federal troops after the Battle of Port Royal (November 7, 1861), they left behind them empty mansions, cotton plantations, and a population of former slaves. Northern antislavery philanthropists saw the region as a field for missionary endeavor and founded societies for the relief and education of the newly free islanders. Towne, an abolitionist physician, accompanied an early shipment of aid from the Port Royal Relief Committee (subsequently the Pennsylvania Freedmen's Relief Association). "I shall want Ellen's help," she wrote in her diary on April 17, 1862, soon after her arrival (Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne: Written From the Sea Islands of South Carolina, 1862–1884, ed. Rupert Sargent Holland [Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1912], 8). Working as a team, Murray and Towne threw their energies into a larger educational mission on the islands. They founded Penn School on St. Helena in September 1862, and Murray, an experienced teacher, took over its day-to-day running and served as its principal. In spite of periods of illness and increasing financial difficulties, both women taught there for the next forty years. For more on Towne and Murray, see Ronald E. Butchart, "Laura Towne and Ellen Murray: Northern Expatriates and the Foundations of Black Education in South Carolina, 1862–1908," in South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, ed. Marjorie Julian Spruill, et al. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010), 12–30.
    During the war, Murray found time to write a number of poems for the Anti-Slavery Standard. At least fifteen pieces were attributed to "Ellen," "E. Murray," or "Ellen Murray" between April 1861 and March 1865. In addition to "The Workingman," see "The Martyr of December 2, 1859" (October 26, 1861); "Deus Eversor!" (November 16, 1861); "Our Watchword" (May 10, 1862); "Tamar's Prayer" (August 2, 1862); "Half-Way" (October 4, 1862); "The First Day of January, 1863" (December 27, 1862); "God with Us" (April 18, 1863); "Sunset on Edisto Beach" (July 11, 1863); "Moonlight on Edisto Beach" (July 18, 1863); "Col. Robert G. Shaw" (August 22, 1863); "The Workingman" (January 30, 1864); "The Freed Land" (August 13, 1864); "Olustee" (December 17, 1864); and "Going Home to Edisto" (March 18, 1865). The "St. Helena" datelines of Murray's poems identified her poems as a form of literary testimony from the Sea Islands, akin to the prose in the Standard's "South Carolina correspondence" column.
    Go back