American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Reason

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"O Let My People Go"

The Song of the Contrabands
Thomas Baker (active 1853-1862), arranger
The Song of the Contrabands:
"O Let My People Go"

New York: Horace Waters, 1861
Music Division
Copyright deposit, 1861

Many pre-1861 accounts of southern life mention African American spirituals in passing, but it was not until the Civil War that texts and music of actual songs began to be published. "O Let My People Go" is one of the very first spirituals to be published with both words and music. As the cover says, it was collected from the "contrabands"-- fugitives from slavery--at Fort Monroe, a fort in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia that remained in Union hands throughout the war. The text is close to the standard text of "Go Down, Moses" although it has many more verses than the standard version, but the tune differs.

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