Friday, June 24, 2011

Franklin & Armfield Slave Office

While in Alexandria, Virginia last weekend I saw listed on a tourist map outside the Metro station a place marked as the "Freedom House." This building is actually the former office of Franklin and Armfield, antebellum slave dealers. It now houses the Freedom House Museum, which was developed by the Northern Virginia Urban League, "to preserve the story of thousands of men, women and children who passed through this place on a harrowing journey to lives of bondage and hard labor in the Deep South." Unfortunately, the museum was closed when we visited.

In the tourist handbook "A Remarkable and Courageous Journey: A Guide to Alexandria's African American History" the following interpretation of the building is provided: "This building served as the headquarters for the slave trade operations of Isaac Franklin and John Armfield, a partnership formed in 1828. Exporting thousands of blacks south, this was one of the largest intrastate slavetrading companies in the country. Enslaved African Americans were housed in 'pens' - walled areas with males to the west and females to the east. In January 1834, J. Leavitt, editor of the New York Evangelist, visited the slave pens. As recounted by Leavitt:
'We were first taken out into a paved yard 40 or 50 feet square, with a very high brick wall and about half of it covered with a roof...He (Armfield) ordered the men to be called out of the cellar where they sleep...they soon came up...50 or 60. While they were standing, he ordered the girls to be called out...About 50 women and small children came in...and I thought I saw in the faces of these mothers some indication of irrepressible feeling. It seemed to me that they hugged their little ones more closely, and that a cold perspiration stood on their foreheads.' During the Federal occupation of Alexandria, the building became a jail for captured Confederate soldiers and errant Union soldiers, as well as housing 'contrabands,' blacks seeking freedom behind Union lines."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Glendy Burke

Glendy Burk(e) was not only the name of one of Stephen C. Foster's most popular songs, it was also the name of a real steamboat that plied the waters of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

The side-wheel packet steamer weighed 425 tons and was built by Howard Shipyards in Jeffersonville, Indiana and owned by the firm of Cobb and Nanlove in Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was first launched in 1851, but the Glendy Burke lived a short life. It sank in 1855 near Cairo, Illinois.

The boat was named for Glen D. Burke who was a wealthy merchant, banker, and later, mayor of New Orleans.

The song, published in 1860, is a lively air written in blackface dialect with what are (like many of Foster's songs) somewhat nonsensical lyrics.

De Glendy Burk is a mighty fast boat,
Wid a mighty fast captain too;
He sits up dah on de hurricane roof
And he keeps his eye on de crew.
I cant stay here, for dey work too hard;
I'm bound to leave dis town;
I'll take my duds and tote 'em on my back
When de Glendy Burk comes down.
Ho! for Lou'siana!
I'm bound to leave dis town;
I'll take my duds and tote 'em on my back
When de Glendy Burk comes down.

De Glendy Burk has a funny old crew
And dey sing de boatman's song,
Dey burn de pitch and de pine knot too,
For to shove de boat along.
De smoke goes up and de ingine roars
And de wheel goes round and round,
So fair you well! for I'll take a little ride
When de Glendy Burk comes down.

I'll work all night in de wind and storm,
I'll work all day in de rain,
Till I find myself on de levy dock
In New Orleans again.
Dey make me mow in de hay field here
And knock my head wid de flail,
I'll go wha dey work wid de sugar
And de cane And roll on de cotton bale.
My lady love is as pretty as a pink,
I'll meet her on de way
I'll take her back to de sunny old south
And dah I'll make her stay.
So dont you fret my honey dear,
Oh! dont you fret Miss Brown
I'll take you back 'fore de middle of de week
When de Glendy Burk comes down.

Image courtesy of Dave Thomson and located at

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Bivouac of the Dead

There are a number of famous people buried in the Frankfort Cemetery. Daniel and Rebecca Boone are there. Vice President Richard M. Johnson is too. Simon B. Buckner and John J. Crittenden are just two of the many Kentucky governors who are there. Although only famous because of his father, Henry Clay, Jr's final resting place is there as well.

Frankfort Cemetery too, is the location of Theodore O'Hara's gave. Who? Theodore O'Hara. You know the guy that wrote the poem "The Bivouac of the Dead;" the poem which graces almost every military cemetery in America. Many people think that particular poem is from the Civil War, but it is actually from the Mexican American War. O'Hara wrote it to commemorate a monument in the Frankfort cemetery to his fellow Mexican American War veterans from the commonwealth.

O'Hara was born in Danville, Kentucky in 1820, but as a youngster his family moved to Frankfort. He was educated at Centre College and St. Joseph's Academy. He briefly studied law but worked in Washington D.C. at the Treasury department before the outbreak of the Mexican American War.

Apparently O'Hara was a firm believer in America's "manifest destiny," as during the war he held officer positions, and in 1850, joined in an expedition to remove Spanish rule from Cuba, where he was wounded in the leg. After his military adventures O'Hara went to writing, as the editor for newspapers in Louisville, Frankfort, and Mobile, Alabama.

Martial spirit must have been in O'Hara's blood, because when the Civil War broke out he joined the Confederate cause and became the lieutenant colonel of the 12th Alabama infantry regiment. He participated in epic Western Theater battles such as Shiloh and Murfreesboro.

After the war O'Hara tried the cotton business but a fire ruined that prospect. His short life ended in 1867, at at age 47, when he died of fever (probably malaria) at Guerrytown, Alabama. He was first buried in Columbus, Georgia, but his remains were eventually reinterred in Frankfort in the 1870s.

The Bivouac of the Dead

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on Life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

No rumor of the foe's advance
Now swells upon the wind;
Nor troubled thought at midnight haunts
Of loved ones left behind;
No vision of the morrow's strife
The warrior's dreams alarms;
No braying horn or screaming fife
At dawn shall call to arms.

Their shriveled swords are red with rust,
Their plumed heads are bowed,
Their haughty banner, trailed in dust,
Is now their martial shroud.
And plenteous funeral tears have washed
The red stains from each brow,
And the proud forms, by battle gashed
Are free from anguish now.

The neighing troop, the flashing blade,
The bugle's stirring blast,
The charge, the dreadful cannonade,
The din and shout, are past;
Nor war's wild note, nor glory's peal
Shall thrill with fierce delight
Those breasts that nevermore may feel
The rapture of the fight.

Like the fierce Northern hurricane
That sweeps the great plateau,
Flushed with triumph, yet to gain,
Come down the serried foe,
Who heard the thunder of the fray
Break o'er the field beneath,
Knew the watchword of the day
Was "Victory or death!"

Long had the doubtful conflict raged
O'er all that stricken plain,
For never fiercer fight had waged
The vengeful blood of Spain;
And still the storm of battle blew,
Still swelled the glory tide;
Not long, our stout old Chieftain knew,
Such odds his strength could bide.

Twas in that hour his stern command
Called to a martyr's grave
The flower of his beloved land,
The nation's flag to save.
By rivers of their father's gore
His first-born laurels grew,
And well he deemed the sons would pour
Their lives for glory too.

For many a mother's breath has swept
O'er Angostura's plain --
And long the pitying sky has wept
Above its moldered slain.
The raven's scream, or eagle's flight,
Or shepherd's pensive lay,
Alone awakes each sullen height
That frowned o'er that dread fray.

Sons of the Dark and Bloody Ground
Ye must not slumber there,
Where stranger steps and tongues resound
Along the heedless air.
Your own proud land's heroic soil
Shall be your fitter grave;
She claims from war his richest spoil --
The ashes of her brave.

Thus 'neath their parent turf they rest,
Far from the gory field,
Borne to a Spartan mother's breast
On many a bloody shield;
The sunshine of their native sky
Smiles sadly on them here,
And kindred eyes and hearts watch by
The heroes sepulcher.

Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep here shall tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While Fame her record keeps,
For honor points the hallowed spot
Where valor proudly sleeps.

Yon marble minstrel's voiceless stone
In deathless song shall tell,
When many a vanquished ago has flown,
The story how ye fell;
Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter's blight,
Nor time's remorseless doom,
Can dim one ray of glory's light
That gilds your deathless tomb.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kingdom Coming

No matter what President Lincoln claimed in his first inaugural address, some people, both North and South, realized that the Civil War would eventually bring emancipation to the almost four million African Americans held in bondage.

One person that apparently saw the handwriting on the wall was Henry Clay Work. In 1862 Clay published "Kingdom Coming." Work was born in Middletown, Connecticut in 1832, and his father was an antislavery man and apparently passed on his sentiments to the son.

"Kingdom Coming," written in the then popular blackface dialect, now viewed as offensive to many people, is regardless a skillfully written tune that showed that the mere presence of the Union army would aid slaves in their search for freedom.

The lyrics:

Say, darkeys, hab you seen de massa,
Wid de muffstash on his face,
Go long de road some time dis mornin',
Like he gwine to leag de place?
He seen a smoke, way up de ribber,
Whar de Linkum gumboats lay;
He took his hat, an' lef berry sudden,
An' I spec he's run away!

De massa run? ha, ha!
De darkey stay? ho, ho!
It mus' be now de kingdom comin',
An' de year of Jubilo!

He six foot one way, two foot tudder,
An' he weigh tree hundred pound,
His coat so big, he couldn't pay de tailor,
An' it won't go half way round.
He drill so much they call him Cap'an,
An' he get so drefful tann'd,
I spec he try an' fool dem Yankees
For to tink he's contraband.

De darkey's feel so lonesome libing
in de loghouse on de lawn,
Dey move dar things to massa's parlor
For to keep it while he's gone.
Dar's wine an' cider in de kitchen,
An' de darkey's dey'll hab some;
I spose dey'll all be cornfiscated
When de Linkum sojers come.

De oberseer he make us trouble,
An' he dribe us round a spell;
We lock him up in de smokehouse cellar,
Wid de key trown in de well.
De whip is lost, de han'cuff broken,
But de massa'll hab his pay;
He's ole enough, big enough, ought to known better
Dan to went an' run away.

Reading the words does not do the song truly has to be heard to do it justice. Here's a version by the 2nd South Carolina String Band -

Work wrote a number of other Civil War standards, including "Babylon is Fallen," "Come Home Father," and probably his most well known tune, "Marching Through Georgia." He continued to pen songs long after the war was over passing away in Hartford, Connecticut in 1884.