#6 “Roll, Jordan, Roll” and other great slave songs coded with freedom terms

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lucy-mckim-garrison-music-sheet.jpg
“Roll, Jordan, Roll” was was coded for escaped slaves

The coded song for escaped slaves, “Roll, Jordan, Roll,” was one of many notable works captured by a young musicologist and published in 1867.

Lucy McKim was 19-years-old when she traveled with her abolitionist father in 1862 to the Sea Islands of Georgia for a three-week visit to check on the conditions of recently freed slaves. The piano teacher was naturally drawn to the songs being sung in different quarters by the newly freed people.

She began to chronicle their songs and in 1867, the then-wife of Wendell Phillip Garrison, published her work with two collaborators. The compelling story of her life and work is found in many journals and books.

Lucy McKim Garrison

Truly “Songs of Sorrow” as viewed by Lucy McKim Garrison, yet freedom songs for slaves

Courtesy of “Documenting the American South,” UNC-Chapel Hill LibraryLucy McKim Garrison was a musicologist born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 30, 1842.

She was born to James Miller and Sarah Allibone McKim. Her parents and other family members were known throughout the abolitionist community and had connections to Quakerism. Garrison received her education in Philadelphia but later moved to Perth Amboy, New Jersey, to attend the Eaglewood School. At the time that Garrison attended Eaglewood, the Grimke sisters were managing it and the school was attended by many abolitionists. She taught piano in Philadelphia and at the Eaglewood School.

During the Civil War in 1862, Garrison traveled with her father, who worked for the Port Royal Relief Committee, to South Carolina to investigate conditions of recently freed slaves. For three weeks, they stayed in the Sea Islands where she listened to the songs of the freedmen and attempted to put the songs into musical notation. The public did not receive her work well upon some of her first publications, so the project was put on hold.

Lucy and Wendell Phillips Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison’s third son, became engaged in 1864 and married on December 6, 1865. In 1867, Garrison gave birth to their first son, Lloyd, and also created Slave Songs of the United States in collaboration with William Francis Allen and Charles Pickard Ware. The publication is considered one of the best sources of slave songs. The couple’s son Philip was born in 1869, followed by their daughter, Katherine, in 1873. Garrison died on May 11, 1877, following a paralytic stroke at age 34. She is buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey.

Our Partners

Here’s another great work about this great lady.