The Northern army adopted a Southern song” “Say, brothers will you meet us, On Canaan’s happy shore?” – with the refrain “Glory, glory hallelujah, Forever, evermore.” This was written by a Charlestonian, used at many Southern camp meetings and no doubt had it origins in Negro congregations. It made its way north and was corrupted into “John Brown’s Body.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Negro Minstrel Origins in the North
“In 1842 Negro minstrelsy had its birth in a northern theater in a mixed performance made up largely of songs and dances typical of Negro life and character; as a scientific presentation of plantation folk lore (as was never intended) it was faulty, still it served to introduce some phases of Negro folk-lore to the attention of a public ready to find amusement in it; and this prepared the way for the work of Stephen C. Foster, who is justly considered the folk song genius of America; and it also prepared the way for a later popular appreciation of Uncle Remus when his time should come.
Foster, although born in the North was the son of a Virginian, and he trained himself for the production of his peculiar style of song by attending Negro camp-meetings. He wrote in all about one hundred and sixty songs including “Old Susannah,” “Old Uncle Ned,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground,” and “De ‘Ol Folks at Home,” or “Suwanee Ribber,” the latter being a Negro corruption of San Juan, the Spanish name for the St. John’s River in Florida.
These are not folk-lore, excepting as they have received folk-adoption, so to speak, but it would be impossible to complete this survey of the subject of folk-lore in the South without mentioning this phase, the approximately good imitation of the best folk song of the country. Nor should another folk song by adoption be overlooked.
On the Fourth of July, 1861, while the Confederate army in Virginia was drawn up within hearing distance of the Federal army, General Kirby Smith wrote that the booming of the Federal guns had been ringing a national salute. Powder was too scarce in the Confederate army . . . to be wasted in salutes, “but,” wrote the general, “our bands have played “Dixie” from one end of the line to the other.”
“Dixie” would appear to have all the characteristics of a folk song. The name is undoubtedly a Negro corruption of Mason and Dixon’s Line, and it is thoroughly a Negro conception of the land south of that line as a “land of cotton” with cinnamon seas and sandy bottoms.” But the truth is that the senseless words were written by a white man in the North, Dan Emmett, the son of a Virginian, for the use of the Negro minstrels of which he was one of the founders; and the tune was probably appropriated from an old Negro air.
The people and the soldiers of the South liked it. It outlived the Southern Confederacy and now bids fair to become national.”
(Folklore, Arthur Howard Noll; History of the Literary and Intellectual Life of the Southern States, Volume VII, Southern Publication Society, 1909, excerpts pp. 68-70)