John Brown's Body
DESCRIPTION: In stirring cadences, the story of anti-slavery zealot John Brown's death is told: "John Brown's body lies a-mould'ring in his grave (x3); his soul goes marching on." "He captured Harper's Ferry with his nineteen men so true...."
EARLIEST DATE: 1861 (Huntington)
KEYWORDS: Civilwar Black(s) death execution memorial burial rebellion slavery
1800 - Birth of John Brown
October 16-18, 1859 - John Brown and 20 others (fifteen of them, including Brown's three sons, are white) attack the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, hoping to gather the weapons needed for a slave rebellion. Forces led by Robert E. Lee soon attack the rebels; only Brown and four others live to be captured and placed on trial
Dec 2, 1859 - Hanging of John Brown at Charlestown, Virginia
FOUND IN: US(SE,MA) Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (20 citations):
BrownIII 378, "John Brown's Body" (1 text, mixed, plus two of the offshoot "Hang (John Brown/Jeff Davis) from a Sour Apple Tree")
Doerflinger, pp. 72-73, "John Brown's Body" (1 text, 1 tune -- a curious sailor's version that mentions Brown only peripherally and replaces the "His soul goes marching on" with "Then it's hip, hip, hip, hurrah!")
Hugill, pp. 442-443, "John Brown's Body" (1 text plus fragments of a German version, 1 tune)
Silber-CivWarFull, p. 23, "John Brown's Body"; p. 24, "The John Brown Song" (2 texts, tune referenced)
Silber-CivWarAbbr, p. 40, "John Brown's Body" (1 text, tune referenced)
Huntington-Whalemen, pp. 158-160, "John Brown" (1 text, slightly modified by Huntington, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSUSA 37, "John Brown's Body" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-ABFS, pp. 528-529, "John Brown's Body" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cohen-AFS1, pp. 214-215, "John Brown's Body" (1 text plus some variant stanzas and an early sheet music print)
Arnett, pp. 84-85, "John Brown's Body" (1 text, 1 tune)
PSeeger-AFB, p. 62, "John Brown's Body" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 305, "John Brown's Body" (1 text)
Lawrence, p. 357, "John Brown" (1 text, 1 tune, a copy of an 1861 broadside)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #1127, p. 77, "John Brown Song" (9 references); #1128, p. 77, "John Brown Song" (1 reference, which supposedly is sung to the Hallelujah Chorus and is by H. H. Brownell"
Fuld-WFM, p. 131, "Battle Hymn of the Republic (Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us? -- John Brown -- Glory Hallelujah -- John Brown's Baby Had a Cold upon His Chest")
GreigDuncan8 1629, "John Brown's Snapsack" (1 short text -- see note)
Fireside, p. 220, "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (2 texts (the second being "John Brown's Body"), 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Harry Dichter and Elliott Shapiro, _Early American Sheet Music: Its Lure and Its Lore, 1768-1889_, R. R. Bowker, 1941, pp. 111-112, catalogs early sheet music printings of "Glory Hallelujah" songs
Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, p. 31, "John Brown's Body" (1 short text, 1 tune)
J. W. Myers, "John Brown's Body" (Victor A-824, c. 1901)
Pete Seeger, "John Brown's Body" (on PeteSeeger24) (on PeteSeeger28) (on PeteSeeger29)
cf. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (tune & meter)
cf. "Marching On" (tune & meter)
cf. "Solidarity Forever" (tune)
cf. "Marching Song of the First Arkansas" (tune)
cf. "James Brown" (tune)
cf. "On to Washington" (tune)
cf. "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Burning of the School" (tune)
cf. "The Bulldog on the Bank" (tune)
cf. "Pass Around the Bottle (As We Go Marching Home)" (tune)
cf. "The President's Proclamation" (tune)
cf. "A Song of the Times (III)" (tune)
The Battle Hymn of the Republic (File: RJ19022)
Solidarity Forever (File: SBoA282)
The Bulldog on the Bank (File: FSWB399B)
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Burning of the School (File: PHCFS100)
The President's Proclamation (File: CSWF025)
A Song of the Times (III) (File: Wels072)
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Horror of the Ending of the Term" (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 101)
James Brown (Greenway-AFP, p.p. 38-39)
On to Washington (Greenway-AFP, p. 62)
My Pink Pajamas (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 34; DT, PINKPAJ)
Chicken Sandwich (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 11)
Glory, Glory, Pork Superior (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 21)
The Bulldog and the Bullfrog (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 47)
Glory, Glory, How Peculiar (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 106)
The Bugs Marched Down the Aisle (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 154)
She Waded in the Water (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 209)
Birmingham's My Home (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 245)
Oh, Ay Liff in Minneapolis (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 246)
Ellsworth's Body Lies Mouldering in the Grave (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 38)
Glory Hallelujah No. 2 (at least two of these, one beginning "Our Soldiers, now are marching to'ard the south," another, "Brave McClellan is our leader now") (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 51)
Union Emotions (""Oh! we'll hang Wendell Phillips to a sour apple-tree," by John C. Cross) (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 162)
Jubilate ("Old College rises where free winds sport her will, Dear Alma Mater, standing half way up the hill") (by Guy K. Cleveland [class of 18]50) (Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, p. 11)
Ode ("All the fullness of the summer bids us stay among the flowers") (by Albert Bryant, [class of 18]62) (Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, p. 42)
Jubilee Song ("Come, jolly classmates, raise the song of jubilee") (Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, p. 63)
Victory ("Hail! happy Juniors, let us banish care tonight") (by C. W. Brown, [class of 18]68) (Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, p. 64)
O'er Hill and Dale ("O'er hill and dale and valley, over ocean's wave-washed strands") (by S. P. Sturgis) (Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, p. 113)
The Girls of Ithaca ("I had kissed the buxom Buckeye, I had squeezed tie Esquimaux") (Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, p. 114)
NOTES: The well-known tune of this piece, "Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us," is often credited to William Steffe, but I know of no absolute proof of this -- Stulken, p. 389, says that Steffe (died 1911) claimed in the 1880s to have written it in 1855 or 1856 -- but he offered no evidence. It has been suggested that the tune is derived from Stephen C. Foster's "Ellen Bayne," but the resemblance is slight and "Ellen Bayne" was not widely known (see TaylorEtAl, p. 27; according to Milligan, p. 80, Foster himself thought his tune was the inspiration for "John Brown's Body").
The "John Brown" words were composed within months of the anti-slavery crusader's death, and had spread throughout the Union by the early stages of the Civil War. (Note that Huntington has a version from 1861!) - RBW
John Uhlemann reports that the tune has been traced from a 17th century Swedish Lutheran hymnal, and that it has also entered folk tradition in Hungary, presumably independently of its American associations. - PJS
I have seen it argued that the "John Brown" of the song was not the abolitionist but an obscure American soldier (Irwin Silber describes him as "Sergeant John Brown, a Scotsman, a member of the Second Battalion, Boston Light Infantry Volunteer Militia," who later joined the Twelfth Massachusetts). I suppose this is possible -- but everyone interpreted it to mean the fanatic who captured Harper's Ferry. - RBW
GreigDuncan8 is a fragment about John Brown's possessions -- "John Brown's snapsack number ninety nine" and "John Brown's stocking is darned in the heels" -- with the tag line "As we go marching on." Duncan is quoted: "The ordinary song, or rather the parody, supposed to refer to the queen's John Brown." Prince Albert died in 1861. This John Brown was a servant of Queen Victoria, whom she befriended in the decade after Albert's death. "The Queen's friendship with Brown caused resentment among her family and courtiers, and stories spread in society, and were published in foreign newspapers, that the Queen had secretly married Brown. References to 'Mrs Brown', meaning the Queen, were common at society dinner tables in London." (Source: Jasper Ridley, "Victoria r. 1837-1901" in The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England, ed. Fraser (London, 1975), p. 305). If Duncan is right, and this is a parody, this version should probably be split. - BS
I was indeed sorely tempted to split. If another version turns up with clear references to Victoria's John Brown, I certainly will.
Victoria married Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1819-1861) in 1840. He was not well-liked at the time, being suspected of being "on the make" (see the notes to "The Wheels of the World"). But in fact he served England well as a diplomat -- e.g. his last significant act was to prevent a possible war with the United States in 1861 over the "Trent" affair; his exertions in this affair may have contributed to his death (Marshall, pp. 153-154). And Victoria doted upon him; when he died, she assumed mourning, and wore it for the rest of her life. She insisted on the construction of many monuments (Marshall, pp. 157-158), and had the room where he died preserved exactly as it had been at the time (Marshall, pp. 146-148). She largely withdrew from public view, as well, and was roundly criticized for her lack of involvement in public business, which lasted for about a decade; Marshall titles the chapter about her life in 1861-1865 "The Bitter Years."
The man largely credited with breaking her out of her funk is John Brown, "who was blunt and honest but caring," according to Ashley, p. 692. She had known him before Albert's death, when he cared for her horses in the Highlands. There her life had been relatively informal, so she had known him better than most of her other servants (Marshall, p. 168). But it was not Victoria who summoned Brown to be with her in England; it was others concerned with her behavior (Marshall, p. 169). It worked: She started to come out of her funk.
Victoria had a strong tendency to lean on one particular person -- Lord Melbourne (people had also called her "Mrs. Melbourne" for a time; Marshall, p. 170), or Albert, or someone. In a sense, Brown took that role. He accompanied her everywhere, and she started quoting his advice widely, as she had done with Albert and others (Longford, p. 323), and eventually made him an esqure and more than tripled his salary in the course of just three years (Longford, p. 326). Little wonder that the family began to resent him (Marshall, p. 169).
At the time, people suspected that the relationship was more serious than it probably was; by 1866 we see the the newspapers sometimes sarcastically calling Victoria "Mrs. Brown" (Longford, p. 327) -- or accusing them of a sexual relationship without benefit of marriage (Marshall, p. 170).
As Ellis puts it, "Victoria was a woman who needed a man. Melbourne, Uncle Leopold, Wellington, Disraeli were all public figures to whom she could give her personal trust. In this time of private withdrawal she turned to Brown, one of the two ghillies who had looked after her and Albert, a handsome intelligent Scot with a blunt manner, a (well-managed) fondness for whisky, and a strong chin. He went everywhere with her, conspicuously dressed as a Highlander.... His privileged status caused resentment in her household, and wild rumors were started that she had married him." There were even proposals to abolish the monarchy, so reclusive was the Queen and so peculiar her treatment of Brown.
It all faded out in the 1870s -- Victoria, it is true, continued to depend on Brown, but she began to play a more public role again (Longford, p. 345, declares that "All the Queen's troubles went back to the same source: her seclusion), and other tragedies made her seem much more human. There was even talk of him marrying someone else, although it does not appear that a marriage actually happened (Longford, pp. 332-333).
There is absolutely no substantial evidence of a sexual relationship, let along a marriage. Indeed, Marshall, p. 199, believes that it was not just Brown who drew Victoria out of her isolation; it was also Disraeli, who knew how to flatter her (the ultimate example being his work to make her Empress of India). In any case, Brown died in 1883 (giving a rather short window for the composition of a song about him). Longford, p. 333, also declared that a marriage with a commoner was completely out of Victoria's character, and adds evidence from her private writings that she stayed faithful to Albert all her life.
Interestingly, Morris, p. 440, reports that Victoria's "attachment to her Indian clerk, the Munshi, who succeeded the ghillie John Brown in her affections, edged toward the scandalous." But it's hard to believe that really amounted to anything; Victoria was by this time in her sixties and about as wide as she was tall. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.0
- Ashley: Mike Ashley, British Kings and Queens, Barnes & Noble, 2000 (originally published as The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens, 1998)
- Ellis: Roger Ellis, Who's Who in Victorian Britain, 1997 (I use the 2001 Stackpole Books edition)
- Longford: Elizabeth Longford, Queen Victoria: Born to Succeed, Harper & Row, 1964
- Marshall: Dorothy Marshall: The Life and Times of Victoria, part of the Life and Times series of biographies of English monarchs (Antonia Fraser, general editor), 1972 (I use the 1998 Welcome Rain paperback edition)
- Milligan: Harold Vincent Milligan, Stephen Collins Foster: A Biography of America's Folk-Song Composer, 1920 (I use the 2004 University of Hawaii reprint)
- Morris: James Morris, Pax Britannica: The Climax of an Empire, 1968 (I use the 1980 Harcourt Brace/Harvest paperback)
- Stulken: Marilyn Kay Stulken, Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, Fortress Press, 1981
- TaylorEtAl: Deems Taylor et al, A Treasury of Stephen Foster, Random House, 1946
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