Michael Boat a Gospel Boat: “Wild and Strangely Fascinating”

Today you were wondering, “What is the most amazing song in the history of campfire songs?” The answer is that the most amazing song in the history of campfire songs is “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.”  It might even be the most amazing song in the history of any kind of song.  And I’m here to prove it.  Rowboat

In case it’s been a while since you sang around the campfire, here’s Pete Seeger singing the song with a large crowd.

Singing it in a group is appropriate, because “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” comes from one of the oldest traditions of songs — perhaps the oldest of all — which is work songs: songs you sing while you work, usually communally.  They tend to accompany rhythmical activities, such as walking, chopping wood, and the like, and they tend to have a call-and-response structure.  Work songs have pretty much died out in Western culture, but reminders of the tradition turn up in various byways.  In the U.S. the strongest survival of the tradition was among prison work gangs and slaves, who had brought the tradition over from Africa.  The African tradition shows up in the porter scene of the Stewart Granger version of King Solomon’s Mines (1950), a clip which annoyingly does not show up on YouTube, but which you can watch if you want to pay $1.99 for the full movie on YouTube.

But for those with less time and money, there’s a wonderful thirty-minute film made by Pete Seeger and others in 1966, capturing the tradition of prison work songs just before it died.  It’s called Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison, and you can watch it free here.   It’s worth sampling just the opening for the song the prisoners sing while chopping wood.

The Texas convicts in Seeger's film

The Texas convicts in Seeger’s film

And in the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother Where Art Thou?, the chain gang that opens the film are singing as they work, and the recording is taken from an actual chain gang, recorded at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in 1959.  It can be heard here.  The prisoners were singing “Po’ Lazarus” (lyrics here) as they chopped wood, led by a prisoner named James Carter.  They were recorded by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins, and the song appeared on Lomax’s 1959 album Bad Man Ballads.  Skip ahead forty-one years and the recording found its way into O Brother Where Art Thou?  Subsequently Alan Lomax’s daughter became determined to find James Carter, the prisoner who had led the song, and finally located him in Chicago.  She flew there to present him with a royalty check from the film soundtrack, as well as the news that his singing was outselling Michael Jackson’s latest CD.  Carter replied, “You tell Michael that I’ll slow down so that he can catch up with me.”  More details about all of this here.

Work songs are known worldwide; another type in the Western tradition is the waulking song, a type of song sung in Scotland while women waulked cloth.  Waulking consists of beating newly woven cloth to make it denser, an activity that was performed communally and that has the rhythmic properties necssary for a work song.  Here’s a nice example: “Horo Gun Togainn air Hùgan Fhathast” (“Horo Once More I Would Shout for Joy”), a Gaelic waulking song from Nova Scotia, where they call them milling songs.  (Lyrics and translation here.)

By now you can see where this is leading. “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” is a gorgeous example of a work song, a rowing song first sung by slaves.  It was first collected by Charles Pickard Ware in two versions, both from South Carolina.  Ware included both versions in the 1867 collection Slave Songs of the United States.Slave Songs

The preface of the book describes some of the slave work songs:

I have stood for more than an hour, often, listening to them, as they hoisted and lowered the hogsheads and boxes of their cargoes; one man taking the burden of the song (and the slack of the rope) and the others striking in with the chorus. They would sing in this way more than a dozen different songs in an hour; most of which might indeed be warranted to contain ‘nothing religious’–a few of them, ‘on the contrary, quite the reverse’–but generally rather innocent and proper in their language, and strangely attractive in their music; and with a volume of voice that reached a square or two away. That plan of labor has now passed away, in Philadelphia at least, and the songs, I suppose, with it. So that these performances are to be heard only among black sailors on their vessels, or ’long-shore men in out-of-the-way places, where opportunities for respectable persons to hear them are rather few.

These are the songs that are still heard upon the Mississippi steamboats–wild and strangely fascinating–one of which we have been so fortunate as to secure for this collection. This, too, is no doubt the music of the colored firemen of Savannah, graphically described by Mr. Kane O’Donnel, in a letter to the Philadelphia Press, and one of which he was able to contribute for our use. Mr. E. S. Philbrick was struck with the resemblance of some of the rowing tunes at Port-Royal to the boatmen’s songs he had heard upon the Nile.

So when the song calls upon Michael to help row the boat ashore, it is referring to its immediate situation — it’s not hypothetical; the singers are genuinely rowing as they sing.  But who’s this Michael?  He’s the archangel Michael.  Christian tradition had long considered Michael a psychopomp, the angel who conveyed the souls of the dead to heaven, based on Luke 16:22 and other passages.  The later verses of the song make the religious character of the journey very evident.

The Archangel Michael, the psychopomp, overcoming evil.  Presumably he's going to go boating on that water behind him as a little post-apocalyptic recreation

The Archangel Michael, the psychopomp, overcoming evil. Presumably he’s going to go boating on that water behind him as a little post-apocalyptic recreation.

Being a folk song, there are innumerable versions, but the one I learned back at Whispering Pines Camp was this:

Michael, row the boat ashore, hallelujah!
Michael, row the boat ashore.  Hallelujah!
Sister help to trim the sail, hallelujah
Sister help to trim the sail.  Hallelujah!
The river Jordan is muddy and cold, hallelujah!
Chills the body but not the soul.  Hallelujah!
The river Jordan is deep and wide, hallelujah!
Milk and honey on the other side.  Hallelujah
Michael, row the boat ashore, hallelujah!
Michael, row the boat ashore.  Hallelujah!

Some versions follow “The river Jordan is deep and wide” with “See my mother on the other side,” which makes the point even more clearly.  The river Jordan is the river that must be crossed before coming to Paradise and the afterlife — the land of milk and honey.  (Numbers 14:8: “If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.”)

So the song equates the rowing of the boat in the here and now with the rowing we do through life, asking the help of Michael to make us strong enough to reach Paradise.  I’ve seen poetry with this symbolic dimension — it’s what poetry does for a living — and I’ve heard working songs, but I’ve never heard a working song with this symbolic dimension, made all the more material because the singers would be pulling at the oars while singing.

The words are somewhat attenuated in the modern versions, and here we should look at the versions collected by Ware.  He notes that the wording is very fluid and sometimes improvised.  The version he heard near Port Royal went as follows:Michael Sheet music

Michael row de boat ashore, Hallelujah!
Michael boat a gospel boat, Hallelujah!
I wonder where my mudder deh ( = there).
See my mudder on de rock gwine [=go/going] home.
On de rock gwine home in Jesus’ name.
Michael boat a music boat.
Gabriel blow de trumpet horn.
O you mind your boastin’ talk.
Boastin’ talk will sink your soul.
Brudder, lend a helpin’ hand.
Sister, help for trim dat boat.
Jordan stream is wide and deep.
Jesus stand on t’oder side.
I wonder if my maussa deh.
My fader gone to unknown land.
O de Lord he plant his garden deh.
He raise de fruit for you to eat.
He dat eat shall neber die.
When de riber overflow.
O poor sinner, how you land?
Riber run and darkness comin’.
Sinner row to save your soul.

In my campfire days I always wondered who the sister was and why Michael’s sister had no name, but this makes it clear: the sister is any of us, as is the brother.

Ware collected an alternate version from Hilton Head:

Michael haul the boat ashore.
Then you’ll hear the horn they blow.
Then you’ll hear the trumpet sound.
Trumpet sound the world around.
Trumpet sound for rich and poor.
Trumpet sound the jubilee.
Trumpet sound for you and me.

Local citizens of Port Royal

Local citizens of Port Royal

The English actress Fanny Kemble married the plantation owner Pierce Butler and wrote a shocking exposé of plantation life.  She described slaves singing boat songs as they rowed on the Altamaha in 1839, and one of the songs sounds very much like the Hilton Head version of “Michael, Row”:  “Another ditty to which they frequently treat me they call Caesar’s song; it is an extremely spirited war-song, beginning ‘The trumpets blow, the bugles sound — Oh stand your ground!”

On these boat songs she wrote:

 The way in which the chorus strikes the burthen, between each phrase of the melody chanted by a single voice, is very curious and effective, especially with the rhythm of the rowlocks for accompaniment.  The high voices all in unison, and the admirable time and true accent with which their responses are made, always make me wish that some great musical composer could hear these semi-savage performances.

 William Francis Allen, the cousin of C. P. Ware, heard it in 1864, as he noted in his diary:

 Sunday, March 20, 1864…. we had wind and tide against us, and a heavy load, so we were not home till near seven … there was a full moon and the men sang most of the way as they rowed.  It was curious to see how their rowing flagged — for they were quite tired — the moment the singing stopped.  It wasn’t a very good set of singers, still I was very glad to hear them, for I have heard very little boat music.  They sang “Michael row,” “Hold your Light,” and several others…  (from Epstein, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals,  p. 353)

 Even gathered into collections, the vast majority of these songs have died out of popular tradition, and the voices of the slaves, convicts and workers are silent.  But isn’t it amazing that one of their songs has endured?  Simultaneously you can see them pulling on the oars in the great waters of South Carolina and as they enter Paradise.  And when you listen to the song in your mind, you can still hear them singing.


Extra bonus info:

 A wonderful page on work songs, from Shakers to the Song of the Volga Boatmen, with some recordings.

On early American black music: Dena J. Polacheck Epstein, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War

And a memory of a solitary English maiden singing her work song, in a poem that expresses the unknowability and the haunting qualities of the past —

The Solitary Reaperreaping
by William Wordsworth

Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.
No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.

Will no one tell me what she sings?—
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

Whate’er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o’er the sickle bending;–
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.


Murder Aboard the Ohio Belle

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 20.21.05
Above: the Ohio Belle

Crowdsourcing is really the most exciting development in historical research in, oh, the last jillion years. Sometimes institutions set up crowdsourcing efforts, like the toothsome University of Iowa effort I mentioned last time. But sometimes things just crowdsource themselves. The family history movement is a wonderful source of transcribed documents. Just recently I happened upon some murderous doings aboard the side-wheeler steamship Ohio Belle, transcribed out of the Cairo (Illinois!) Weekly Times and Delta, by one valiant Darrel Dexter on Rootsweb. The Ohio Belle itself has an interesting history; it was a Confederate steamship seized by the Union after the Battle of Island Number 10 in the Civil War, as described in this first-hand account. (Note that that account is privately transcribed too!)
But without further ado, the murderous dealings aboard the Ohio Belle, and what happened afterward.  I reproduce the bolded names of the transcription, which help one follow the dastardly developments.  And one has to admire the spirited Miss Heron!

Wednesday, 19 Mar 1856:
Last Friday, Capt. Ed Stevens, clerk of the steamer Ohio Belle was shot through the heart by a man named Joseph B. Jones. All the facts we could gather are as follows: Jones got on the Belle at Smithland, Friday morning and when the boat was opposite Cache Island about six miles above Cairo, Jones went to the office to pay his fine. He handed Mr. Stevens a bill, which Stevens pronounced counterfeit and handed back to him. Jones, at this, became very indignant and commenced using the most violent and abusive language. Stevens took him by the arm, walked him to the door of the social hall and pushed him out, remarking as he did so that his language would not do in the cabin. Jones attempted to return to the cabin, but was met by Stevens, who shoved him back and told him that he should not go into the cabin again. Jones then drew a Colt’s revolver and placing it about against Stevens’ breast, fired. Stevens threw up his arms to knock the pistol off, but missed it. The ball entered between the fourth and fifth ribs passing through the left lung and in all probability through his heart. After the explosion of the pistol, Jones ran on the guard outside the cabin toward the stern and Stevens followed after him until he reached the middle entrance to the cabin, where he fell. An elderly gentleman who was witness to the murder pursued and overtook Jones before he reached the stern of the boat. He knocked him down and held him in durance until the officers of the boat and some of the passengers took possession of him. He had cocked another barrel of his pistol to shoot Stevens the second time. He said it was his intentions to get to the stern of the boat, jump overboard and drown himself. He was under the influence of liquor.
As soon as he was captured, one end of a strong rope was placed around his neck and preparations were rapidly making to string him up, at the juncture. Miss Heron, the actress, who was on board, appeared and made a strong appeal to them in behalf of the young man and insisted upon their turning him over to the laws of the country to be dealt with. His execution was abandoned and he was taken to the engine room, securely lashed to a stanchion and a guard placed over him. The greatest excitement prevailed and it was feared that the friends of Capt. Stevens would take summary vengeance. The boat left here about 5 o’clock with the intention of lodging Jones in jail at Hickman. Capt. Stevens was beloved by all who knew him. He leaves a wife and three children at Newport, Ky.
Jones is an intelligent-looking, handsome young man, apparently about 22 or 23 years of age, says he lives in Marshall County, Mississippi. We do not know how true the statement is. We feel somewhat inclined to doubt it, as he did not seem inclined to communicate anything respecting his name or family connections. We think from what he said, that he has connections in both Memphis and Nashville.

Wednesday, 2 April 1856:
The Columbus Citizen states as a report and the Hickman Argus as a fact, that the body of Jones, the murderer of Stephens [sic], was found floating in the river near Hickman, tied to a chair. The Argus states that on the authority of a wharf boatman, that one of the officers of the Belle, as she was leaving the landing, said that they need not be surprised if they found a dead man floating there about. The only presumption is that Jones was thrown overboard from the Belle, tied in such a manner as to prolong his sufferings and thus drowned. The killing of Stephens was manslaughter; that of Jones was cold-blooded, deliberate murder.

16 April 1856:
The name of the young man who killed Capt. Stevens on board the Ohio Belle was not Jones as he represented, but Cocke. Some years ago he killed a man in Mississippi named Anderson and has been a fugitive from justice ever since. The name of Jones was assumed. His parents live in the northern part of Mississippi, near Memphis and are of the greatest respectability. The father and sister of the young man came up as far as Hickman, looking for his remains, but returned after an unsuccessful search.
The grand jury of Ballard Co., Ky., have indicted Capt. Sebastian of the steamer Ohio Belle for the murder of Cocke.

Crowd-Sourcing Private Life, plus free recipe for Biskit Pudin (with Suckit!)

“I never travel without my diary.  One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”                            — Oscar Wilde

A handdrawn illustration from an Iowa cookbook. But what is that under the table — a platypus?

Even better than one’s own diaries are other people’s diaries.  So when I found out that the University of Iowa needs us all to spend a little time poking through other people’s diaries, I said Sign me up!  That is, I said it to myself, since you don’t actually have to say it to the University of Iowa.  You just go to the website and start poking through a bewildering line-up of fascinating documents.  And here’s the thing — it’s not nosiness, it’s scholarship.  Disguising nosiness as scholarship — my modus operandi!

It works like this: archives with piles of unedited material post the photos online, and civilians like you and me do the transcription.  To give it its official description, the transcription is crowd-sourced.  The page is open before you on the site, and you just type your transcription into a little box undernearth.  You do as little or as much as you want.  Someone will come along later and check your transcription — or you can spend some time checking someone else’s.

The University of Iowa library’s “DIY History” site is bulging at the seams with documents to be transcribed: diaries, letters, and cookbooks.  Or you can go for pictures and tag historical photos.

They have a whole collection of Civil War diaries waiting to be transcribed.  Among the other diaries is a set called the Iowa Byington Reed diaries.  Here the “Iowa” is misleading — the author of the diaries was named Iowa.  This leads me to think of all kinds of lame jokes, but thankfully I’ll move on to a description.  Iowa Byington was a housewife, teacher, and seamstress who married a farmer named Will Reed.  She left eight boxes of diaries — 2.25 linear feet — covering her courtship, wedding preparations, news, family, wars, celebrations, and everything in between, from 1879 to 1936.  She’s not a particularly elegant or effusive writer, but somehow her ordinariness speaks volumes.  As you can imagine, you could easily get resolve only to peek into a page or two and end up getting lost for an afternoon.

The cover of Iowa Byington Reed’s diary

The part I’ve been transcribing comes from 1920, when Iowa (the person, not the state) was 69.  She appears to be living with her daughter.  What was there to do in the long winter months?  No television, of course, and apparently no radio.  Visitors drop by, she goes on visits, and she spends much of her time making coverlets and writing letters to her sister Hattie.  She doesn’t seem to note Valentine’s Day.  But her late husband Will is never far from her mind.  She writes:

Thursday February 12 1920. Fourteen months today and same day of the week since we put Dear Will away. I looked over our papers and crocheted.

Friday February 13 1920. A cold day.  Read my papers in forenoon and worked on Venes spread in afternoon and evening.

Saturday February 14 1920. A very cold unpleasant day.  Lora went to Peoria. I crocheted some. Wrote Hattie and sent papers to Aunt Sarah. Vene and Edith busy with the work.

Sunday February 15 1920. Still cold. I read the papers some. Wrote … Lawrence. We had our dinner in the kitchen.  Lora went to church.

Monday February 16 1920. I was home all day.  I kept busy with my crochet work.  It was 19 years ago today since Will and I moved to Coralville, to make the house that he loved so well and now I have neither him or that house. 

Browsing around in her earlier life provided some flashier spots, but somehow I found the sameness of her later life quite moving.  Similarly moving was the Civil War diary I transcribed.  In the part I tackled, the man hadn’t yet left home; he was a bachelor doing farm chores, rising at dawn, to bed at nine o’clock.  He didn’t know that soon he would be off to war and that the hard round of farm chores would soon seem paradisical.

The handwritten cookbooks are equally fascinating.  From an American cookbook of 1850-1870: “Pickled oysters.  Take a hundred and fifty-five large oysters…”  A cookbook from the 1920s features Divinity Pie and Butterscotch Pie.

And here for your delectation is a recipe from the euphoniously named Penelope Pemberton, dating from 1716.  I’ve added punctuation, but this is otherwise a faithful transcription.  You can tell how Penelope pronounces her words by her phonetic spelling, e.g. “crame” for “cream.”  “Orring” must be an orange.    A “pudin” is of course a British pudding, i.e. a dessert, not the creamy American kind of pudding.  I wonder if biskits/biscuits refers to American-style baking-powder biscuits or British-style cookie-like objects? “Sack” is wine.  But — what is suckit?  Or have I transcribed it wrong?  Suggestions? (The original is down below, atop the rest of the transcription.)  The suckit doesn’t actually seem to figure in the recipe, so perhaps you have to bring your own suckit to the feast.

Biskit Pudin with Suckit.

Penelope Pemberton’s recipe for Biskit Pudin — with Suckit!

Take 1/2 pound of savi biskits, poiver [?] one gill [?], a quart of crame boyld, when coldd masht too gether. 

Beat 8 eggs, lave out 4 whits, mix with yr biskits, sweeten it to yr tast. yr have rady cut in thin short slises 2 ounses of canded Lemmon, 2 of orring. Stir it with yr outher things. If it be too thick, ad some spoonefolls of crame more too stir it up, when yll put it in yr dish which must be butterd and past laydd a bout. Be quick with it into oven when it is stord up, 1/2 an ouer or 3 quarter will bake it.  Sarve it with sack, butter & suger.  If yll plase yll may make 1/2 pudin and put in 3 ounses of all Lemon or 3 ounses of all orringe or 3 ounses of sittron.

Those spare minutes and hours spent noodling around on the internet can now gratify your nosiness be both entertaining and helpful!  As you eat yr Biskit Pudin, wander over to the University of Iowa “DIY History” project and have yrself a look.

Drop-Dead Gorgeous

“Got Caught — Stealing Hearts”

There’s something startling about historical people who are drop-dead gorgeous.  Two of them make their appearance in this post, one already popular, one more obscure.

The current gorgeous bad boy is the preternaturally handsome Daniel Tohill, whose photo has been flying around the internet.  Tohill was a New Zealand petty criminal whose mug shot was taken in 1908, when he was charged with stealing a fur necklet and a bicycle.  He was acquitted of stealing the bicycle, and as one modern commenter noted, he would have looked quite fetching in the fur necklet.

The dapper, Errol Flynn-esque criminal Daniel Tohill (his name misspelled on the photo), New Zealand, 1908. From the New Zealand Police Museum.

His photo first appeared in an online exhibit, “Suspicious Looking,” on the website of the New Zealand Police Museum in Paremata, New Zealand.   “Suspicious Looking” features a whole array of fascinating mug shots from 1886 through 1908.  Daniel Tohill’s mug shot stands out for his ridiculously interesting good looks, so ridiculously interesting that he made it to Tumblr and from there was featured on the website of the Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things. Since then Daniel’s been all over the internet, often accompanied by the notation “Got caught — stealing hearts,” and inspiring a bounty of besotted comments.

Chelsea Nichols, the curator of the Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things and a PhD student at Oxford, did some research and discovered that Tohill already had a criminal record at the time of the ridiculously interesting mug shot, having stolen some items from a railway shed in 1907 and some ferrets — ! — in 1906.   Tohill was born in 1881 and so was twenty-seven years old when the 1908 mug shot was taken.  Nichols discovered that he was the third of eighteen children, and that he married one Frances O’Kane in Otago in 1903.  For the theft of the necklet he served four months’ hard labor. A little more sleuthing on my part reveals that he was a private in the seventh division of the Otago Infantry Battalion in the first World War. He died in Auckland in 1950 at the age of 68.  So far no other photos have turned up.

The second man has not yet flown around the internet, but he is no less ridiculously gorgeous.  As you can see, here we have a photo of two Plains Cree men from the Round Lake Reserve in Saskatchewan.

Two Plains Cree men from Saskatchewan. c. 1900? From the collection of the Museum of the American Indian.

You can tell from the clothes and leggings that these men were used to a chilly clime.  The man on the left is holding a rather interesting feather dance bustle.  The man on the right — whoa Nelly!  What is a male model doing in this picture?  Of course he’s not a male model; he’s a Cree man with lovely long hair and a fascinating headdress.  And he happens to look like a movie star.  The cheekbones.  The jaw.  The set of his mouth.  Good golly.  Doesn’t he just jump out of the picture and make you wonder about him?  What was his name?  What is he thinking?  Is he free for dinner?

What is it about gorgeousness that makes us so fascinated?  As I recall, Aristotle replied, “That is a blind man’s question.”  It’s a paradox that gorgeous looks make historical people seem strangely modern, almost timeless.

I have a photo of a gorgeous frontier woman too, in front of a tumbledown shack in the middle of the wilderness.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, for a different set of gorgeous historical men, see My Daguerreotype Boyfriend.

Boy-Life Among the Cherokees

In 1888 the Reverend F. R. Goulding published Sal-O-Quah; or, Boy-Life Among the

A most extraordinary book

Cherokees.  Some parts of this extraordinary book suggest that the author is drawing from memories of his own boyhood.  Others are most remarkable for the propaganda which no doubt seemed plausible to the author at the time; but they certainly stick in the craw now.  I cannot resist citing this section from the first chapter, in which the boy narrator goes with his father to visit a local inhabitant of Cherokee Territory.  Ah, the advanced civilization that brings picturesque climbing vines to those in need!  A climbing vine and some white clay absolutely purify things, don’t they?  And purity (which equals non-Indian ways) equals happiness.  What a telling symbol: making things white on the outside.   I can’t speak for other aspects of the passage, but this is certainly an authentic record of how the nineteenth-century missionaries to the Cherokees viewed themselves, as well as how the prosperous viewed their affluence — as a virtuous object lesson for the benighted.  With picturesque vines!

            Without further ado:

 The house was white, as if covered with a coat of lime; and there was a piazza-like shed in front, supported by posts set in the ground.  The floor of this piazza was of earth, a little raised above the surrounding level; and the eye was delighted with the sight of a luxuriant vine gracefully climbing around each post.

            “That my house,” said Kaneeka, pointing to it, with pride.

            “A very different house from the one in which I first saw you,” said my father.

            “Had not been in white man’s country then,” returned Kaneeka, quickly; “had not learned white man’s ways.”

            “Is your pretty house white-washed with lime?” cousin Aleck asked.

            “No, only white clay,” Kaneeka answered.

            “It certainly is very pure and very pretty,” said my aunt, with delight.

            As we drew nearer, we saw Saloquah’s pony hitched near the gate, for the house was surrounded with a little stockade fence, giving to it, and to all around it, a very picturesque appearance; to add to which we saw Yellow-Bird (or Chescoo-teleneh,) Kaneeka’s wife, standing in the doorway, holding little Sallicoo by the hand, while a boy, seemingly eight or ten years of age, dressed in fringed deerskin, was running as fast as his nimble legs could carry him to meet his father.

            “We are glad to find in these wild woods such a happy-looking home,” said my aunt. “I was hardly prepared for it.”

            “Few homes in my own dear Scotland seem to be happier than this,” said cousin Aleck.

            Kaneeka’s eye kindled.

            “Not everybody so in Injin country,” said he.  “I not so either till he come,” he added, pointing to my father, who, with a blush of pleasure, hastily inquired:

            “And pray what did I do to help your cause so much?”

            “You show me white man ways,” said Kaneeka, with enthusiasn, and growing eloquent as one thought suggested another.  “You read me white man Bible.  You tell me white man Saviour.  You teach me and my wife love God, love pray, love good, love everybody.  Then our corn begin to grow, our hog begin to get fat, our cow give plenty milk.  We get happy, and we get rich.”

The sorrow of a life without ornamental vines

            My father looked down for a moment, then, seemingly impressed with Kaneeka’s assemblage of facts, he turned to cousin Aleck, and asked:

            “Do you recollect the thought you read to me the other day about the ancient patriarchs? that in those days, when men had little faith in a future life, God gave great prosperity to Abraham, Job, and other of His distinguished servants, in order probably to convince men by sensible signs that godliness is gain.”

            “Yes,” replied cousin Aleck; “and I recollect you added to it the thought, that it was probably for a similar purpose toward the present heathen, that God causes Christian countries to be so far in advance of pagans and anti-Christians in all that pertains to worldly well-being.”

It leaves one speechless, doesn’t it? Except for that one give-away word, “probably.”

Excuse me while I go plant some climbing vines.

A State of Perfection Never Before Attained

The advertisements in newspapers of the 1820s rival modern ads for extravagance of claims. You’d think everything was impeccable, especially in schooling — unless you’ve taken the precaution of reading Dickens.  The brutal and squalid Dotheboy’s Hall in Nicholas Nickleby comes to mind. The first one of these ads below sounds sincere and upright, but it is outdone by the sincerity and comprehensiveness of the second.  Everything for the education of the young Gentleman!  But one wonders why young Gentlemen would need to know merchant accounting … perhaps the students are not quite so high in station as the proprietor would like to imply.  And as for morals,  the final claim of the second ad makes one think.  Am I wrong, or does that imply — ?

Without further ado, here are two ads for schools from the London Times of 1827, and one additonal bonus ad:

EDUCATION. — At Mr. CLARKSON’S ACADEMY, Bowes-hall, near Greata-bridge, Yorkshire, BOYS are liberally BOARDED, furnished with books, &c., and carefully instructed in every branch of education necessary to qualify them for any situation in life, at 20 guineas a year; the French language is taught by a native of France at half-a-guinea per quarter extra.  Mr. Clarkson pledges himself that every indulgence is afforded his pupils, consistent with health, morality, and religion; and that his friends and the public in general may be thoroughly convinced of the truth of what he asserts, it is his particular wish that parents and guardians travelling into the north should, if convenient, call at Bowes, and inspect the above establishment.  For cards, and references to parents of youth who have been educated at this Academy, apply to Mr. Smith, the agent, 26, Lombard-street.  Mr. Clarkson is in town, and may be consulted daily, between the hours of 11 and 1, at the Carolina Coffee-house, Birchin-lane, Cornhill.


 ADVANTAGEOUS PLAN OF EDUCATION. — At an established BOARDING-SCHOOL, pleasantly and beautifully situate, 14 miles from London, a limited number of young Gentlemen are BOARDED, and EDUCATED in the Greek, Latin, French, and English languages, reading, writing, arithmetic, elocution, history, astronomy, geography, use of the globes, mathematics, merchants’ accounts, &c. with a monthly lecture in philosophy, chemistry, mechanics, mineralogy, etc. with the use of an extensive apparatus: terms, including all the above branches of education, books, stationery, washing, &c. 50 guineas per annum, and no extra charge whatsoever: no entrance required: gentlemen above 14 years of age are charged 60 guineas, and no extras. It is presumed the plan of education is calculated to promote with unusual facility the improvement of the pupils, while their morals and domestic cleanliness and comfort receive the greatest attention: the pupils occupy separate beds. Cards may be had of S. E. Sketchley, Esq., Kensington, Mr. Smith, optician, Royal Exchange; and of Mr. Bagster, bookseller, 31, Strand.  Several London coaches pass daily.


 Other enterprises are not to be outdone by the claims of schools!  Here is the most extravagant advertisement in the same paper — soda water!  In a state of perfection never before attained!  —

SODA-WATER, in a state of perfection never before attained, prepared with patent Glass Machinery to prevent any unwholesome metallic impregnation to which all other Soda-Water is liable, being made with brass and copper pumps, tubes, and vessels.  As this is a matter of some importance to the drinkers of soda water, they are respectfully infomred that this superior Water is manufactured and sold by R. JOHNSTON, chymist, No. 15, Greek-street, Soho, in oval glass or common stone-bottles, at the same price as the common Soda Water is sold.  The great celebrity of this Patent Water, has induced the common Soda Water-makers to imitate the patent oval bottles; the intention is obvious; and to guard against the imposition, consumers will please to observe the genuine has the following inscription in the glass: ‘Hamilton’s Patent, sold by R. Johnston’ as above.  These waters are exported safer, in better condition, and cheaper than any other.  For the convenience of merchants and shippers, orders are received at 60, Cornhill.

Two Tiny Mysteries from the Newspaper

Browsing the small ads of the London Times is always amusing, as much in 1827 as now.  In the first of these, you can almost smell the emotional blackmail.  I wonder if poor T.F. went back — I suspect not.  The ad for Fanny Saunders is of a surprisingly common type.  Apparently they were uninclined to say “You have come into an inheritance”; instead they give mysterious hintings.  The phrase “If Fanny Saunders … should be living” reminds us of how difficult it was, without centralized record-keeping or Google, to know even basic information such as whether someone was dead or alive.

Two small ads from the Times (London), 1827:

 T. F. will have to charge himself with having broken his mother’s heart, unless he returns home immediately; but if he will COME BACK, his fault will not only be pardoned, but the utmost kindness will be shown to him, and every means employed to conduce to his comfort.


If FANNY  SAUNDERS, of Greenwich, whose maiden name was Abbott, and a native of Northamptonshire, should be living, she may HEAR of SOMETHING to her ADVANTAGE, by addressing a letter, post paid, to Mr. R. H. Taylor, 16, Bull-ring, Birmingham.