The Ballad of America: The History of the United States in Song and Story

By John Anthony Scott | Go to book overview

Slavery Days

The majority of America's white European immigrants have always been the landless, the hungry, and the poor. That they accepted servitude, as many did in colonial days, was a temporary expedient to cross the wide Atlantic and to get a start in the New World. But black men were brought here by force from Africa, deliberately. They were sold into perpetual bondage that their labor might be used to develop the continent; that they might toil and die so that others might prosper.

To the first white settlers, America seemed a paradise, a land of boundless plenty where the skies were darkened by flocks of birds, where the rivers brimmed with fish, and the fertile earth was veined with precious ores. But, rich though it may have been in natural resources, this land was poor in people. The scattered bands of red men fought the whites, fled, or died; the boundless forests of oak and beech and elm lay silent and deserted. To white men, this absence of labor presented a problem. Some of them sought fortunes from the production and export of commercial crops—rice, sugar, tobacco, wheat, and rum; these fortunes might not be made unless there was ample labor available to clear the trees, plant the land, cultivate the crops, and harvest them.

Not to be denied in their quest for wealth, these whites turned for toilers to the unexplored continent of Africa. Thus, the slave trade arose and endured for nearly four centuries. In this time Christian civilization robbed Africa of perhaps fifty million human beings.

In the seventeenth century, slavery was introduced into all the mainland colonies, but it did not prove very profitable in the North. In the South, it spread like a blight, and a powerful and wealthy class of slaveholders arose. After the Revolution, the Southern United States became the principal source of supply of cotton to feed British, French, Belgian, and American textile factories. Slavery now moved westward by leaps and bounds, always to fresh and virgin lands, to Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas.

From the tragic experience of the Negro people under slavery there came a music that enriched American culture immeasurably and was of world significance. Appropriating whatever materials were available—in the Bible, white spirituals, hymns, and secular songs—the genius of an enslaved people fused these with elements of its own African tradi

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The Ballad of America: The History of the United States in Song and Story
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Ballad of America - The History of the United States in Song and Story *
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction xi
  • Note on the Music xiii
  • I - The Colonial Period 1
  • The British Heritage 7
  • Colonial Songs and Ballads 30
  • II - The American Revolution 53
  • III - The Early National Period 91
  • IV - Jacksonian America 124
  • Sea and Immigration 126
  • The Westward Movement 159
  • Slavery Days 190
  • V - The Civil War 216
  • VI - Between the Civil War and the First World War 253
  • Farmers and Workers 257
  • Immigrants 284
  • The Negro People 301
  • VII - Between Two World Wars 324
  • VIII - Since the War 362
  • Sources 381
  • Recordings 400
  • Afterword 419
  • Index of Titles and First Lines 429
  • General Index 433
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