Frederick Law Olmsted, Journey in the Seabord Slave States (New York, 1856), 551-2.



Frederick Law Olmsted, Journey in the Seabord Slave States (New York, 1856), 551-2.

Includes music itself or text of song


Identity of singers; solo/group

unclear. "Seven negroes" on the street.
solo + group, vocal harmony


male voices
some whistling




walking down the street


"sentimental," similar sound as a strolling group of [white] men in the North or in Germany

Ornamentation / improvisation

described as improvised


"sentimental," "learned at a concert or theater"

Geographical location

Claiborne, Alabama


In the principal street, I came upon a group of seven negroes, talking in lively, pleasant tones: presently, one of them commenced to sing, and in a few moments all the others joined in, taking different parts, singing with great skill and taste--better than I ever heard a group of young men in a Northern village, without previous arrangement, but much as I have heard a strolling party of young soldiers, or a company of students, or apprentices, in the streets of a German town, at night. After concluding the song, which was of a sentimental character, and probably had been learned at a concert or theatre, in the village, they continued in conversation, till one of them began to whistle: in a few moments all joined in, taking several different parts, as before, and making a peculiarly plaintive music. Soon after this, they walked all together, singing, and talking soberly, by turns, slowly away. I allowed them to pass me, but kept near them, until they reached a cabin, in the outskirts of the village. Stopping near this a few minutes, two of them danced the "juba," while the rest whistled and applauded. After some further chat, one said to the rest: "Come, gentlemen, let's go in and see the ladies," opening the door of the cabin. They entered, and were received by three negro girls, with great heartiness; then all found seats on beds, and stools, and chests, around a great wood fire, and when I passed again, in a few minutes, they were again singing.


In a chapter that describes Olmstead's journey from Savannah to New Orleans, stop by stop

Bias of author

Bias presented in this text is about average for nineteenth-century sources written by learned, traveling white men. Olmsted had abolitionist leanings.

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