A Yankee Scholar in Coastal South Carolina: William Francis Allen's Civil War Journals

A Yankee Scholar in Coastal South Carolina: William Francis Allen's Civil War Journals

A Yankee Scholar in Coastal South Carolina: William Francis Allen's Civil War Journals

A Yankee Scholar in Coastal South Carolina: William Francis Allen's Civil War Journals

Synopsis

New Englander William Allen (1830-1889) is mostly known today as the lead editor of the 1867 anthology Slave Songs of the United States, the earliest published collection of Negro spirituals, and as a distinguished history professor at the University of Wisconsin. During the Civil War, he served from late 1863 through mid-1864 as a member of the "Gideonite band" of businessmen, missionaries, and teachers who migrated to the South Carolina Sea Islands as part of the Port Royal Experiment. After the war, he served as assistant superintendent of schools in Charleston from April through July 1865. Allen kept journals during his assignments in South Carolina in which he recorded events and impressions of about several hundred people, especially ex-slaves, along with fellow Gideonites, Union soldiers and officials, and ex-Confederates.
In A Yankee Scholar in Coastal South Carolina, editor James Robert Hester has transcribed Allen's journals and fully annotated them to create a significant documentary source of information on Civil War South Carolina. Hester notes that Allen's journals are more than travelogues, as he often analyzed the people, events, and ideas he encountered. In addition to being a competent amateur musician, Allen was a Harvard-trained historian and philologist and brought his impressive skills to his writing. Later in his life he became an eminent professor of history at the University of Wisconsin.
Hester's introductory chapter summarizes Allen's life from his early childhood in Northborough, Massachusetts, through his education at Harvard, his duties as associate principal of the West Newton (Massachusetts) English and Classical School, and his engagement in the Port Royal Experiment. The introduction also surveys Allen's essays on the South published in the Christian Examiner during the Civil War and his articles written for The Nation at the war's end. Two chapters cover Allen's St. Helena and Charleston journals, respectively, and the book closes with a short epilogue. The work is generously annotated, containing almost 600 endnotes, which amplify Allen's narrative and complement Allen's vivid glimpses of coastal South Carolina during the Civil War.

Excerpt

At 9:45 A.M., November 5, 1863, aboard the steamer Arago somewhere off Maryland’s eastern shore, New Englander William Francis Allen set pen to paper, beginning the first of three journals that would cover his time in the South. Allen, his wife, Mary, and her cousin Caty Noyes were en route to St. Helena Island, South Carolina, to teach 150 contraband slaves from three plantations. These freedmen were part of approximately ten thousand who had been left behind on the Sea Islands after their masters fled in the wake of the Battle of Port Royal two years before. Allen, who was from the Boston area, spent eight months (November 1863–July 1864) as a teacher on St. Helena, and, after the Civil War, he spent three months (April–July 1865) as acting superintendent of schools in Charleston. Between those assignments, he served five months (September 1864–February 1865) at Helena, Arkansas, as an agent of the Red Crosslike Western Sanitary Commission and superintendent of the freedmen’s and refugees’ schools.

Allen is best known today as the lead editor of the 1867 anthology Slave Songs of the United States. He contributed about 30 of the 136 songs in the collection, and he wrote the introduction, which is largely devoted to a discussion of the music and language of the former slaves he encountered on St. Helena. My interest in Allen’s writings began in the fall of 2009, when I began research on the origin of six songs in Slave Songs attributed to Augusta, Georgia, for which he was credited. During the course of my research, I accumulated Allen’s southern journals, his 1864–67 diaries, and a number of personal letters he wrote to family members in 1865–67. I was fortunate to have Dr. Lee Ann Caldwell, director of the Center for the Study of Georgia History at Georgia Regents University, as principal reader of my research paper. Dr. Caldwell continued to provide advice and encouragement as I prepared transcriptions of Allen’s journals and diaries, which eventually led to this book.

Allen’s writings from the South have attracted relatively little notice by scholars. the musicologist Dena Epstein cited musical examples from all three of his journals in Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, and the historian Willie Lee Rose drew on his St. Helena journal in discussing the 1864 land sale crisis in Rehearsal . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.