Return to Port Royal Experiment
Sayings, Folklore, Etc.
From Sea Islands in the Civil War -
Port Royal Expedition
Collected Various Sources
The dial of the contrabands was:
"When the first fowl crow, "  " At crack o' day, "  " Wen de sun stan' straight ober head, "  " At frog
peep, "  " When fust star shine, "  " At flood tide," or "ebb tide," or "young flood, "  " On las' moon,"
or "new moon." Now they add to this list "quarterly meeting."

But these data did not help our cook to work, nor us to regular meals. . .

Diary of Elizabeth Hyde Botume, 1892
Among the Freedmen

A young colored sergeant just returned from the army died, and was buried at midnight. He...died a
little after dark. His freinds immediately assembled and held a watch-meeting, which they call "a
settingup." All night long we could hear their solemn chanting and clapping of hands, as they beat the
time. They had a priase-meeting before the house, as they believe the spirit remains with the body
until daylight, when it takes leave and goes home to the heavenly Father as the morning stares go out.

The comrades of the young sergeant wished to bury him with military honors, so they waited until the
next night at midnight. They had a long procession, with torches and a muffled drum. then all the
women and children straggled along, sing their spirituals. It was a sombre sight.

Diary of Elizabeth Hyde Botume, 1892,
Among the Freedmen


In the evening, the children frequently came in to sing and shout for us. These "shouts" are very
strange, - in truth, almost indescribable. It is necessary to hear and see in order to have any clear
idea of them. The children form a ring, and move around in a kind of shuffling dance, singing all the
time. Four or five stand apart, and sing very energetically, clapping their hands, stamping their feet,
and rocking their bodies to and fro. These are the musicians, to whose performance the shouters
keep perfect time. The grown people on this plantation did not shout, but they do on some of the
other plantations. It is very comical to see little children, not more than three or four years old,
entering into performance with all their might. but the shouting of the grown people is rather solemn
and impressive than otherwise. We cannot determine whether it has a religious character or not.
Some of the people tell us that it has, others that it has not. but as the shouts of the grown people are
always in connection with their religious meetings, it is probable that they are the barbarous
expression of religion, handed down to them from their African ancestors, and destined to pass
away under the influence of Christian teachings.

Charlotte Forten, "Life on the Sea Islands",
The Atlantic Monthly

Sunday March 20, 1864
This evening we drove down to a shout---they have one frequently, after praise. As we were going,
Bristol overtook us, and we ask him if he was going to the shout. "No ma'am, dey wouldn't let me
in--I haint found dat ting yet, (meaning religion). Haint been out on my knees in de swamp." These
people have the custom when they are "on the anxious bench", of going "out in de wilderness: as they
call it-wandering by night thro- the woods and swamps like the ancient Bacchantes. It must be this
that the song above refers to; and they use the expression "fin' dat ting" for getting religion.--They
shouted to seven tunes--Heaven bell, Archangel open de door, I can't stay behin' my lord, Jesus die,
Sinner Turn, My body rack wid feber, and Jordan roll. The Heaven bell is a pretty good type of
these tunes. The introduction is sung, the shouters standing still or clapping their hands. Then begins
the second part, the regular shout. I will try to sent it some time. "Sinner turn is very sweet--I hadn't
heard it before this evening.
William Frances Allen

"I went to a "shout." This is a religious rite of the blacks in this region. It consists of a peculiar dance to
the singing of some hymn or song extempore. At the commencement a circle dance men, women, and
children, around two persons who sing. This dance is an indescribable movement of the feet very heavy
and a correspondent movement of the body. At the end of the tune or song the central group is increased
and another dance commenced each dance increasing the central group. The Shout continues sometimes
all night, increasing gradually in vigor and vehemence and the atmosphere ditto. I remained far beyond my
wish, waiting for the carriage."
Susan Walker, "Trip to Port Royal First Days"

One of the first books that catalogued the songs of the Sea Islands was The Slave Songs of the
United States
by William Francis Allen, Charles Pichard Ware, and Lucy Mckim Garrison who
were part of the Port Royal Experiment.

Spirituals from St. Helena Island
Roll, Jordan, Roll (from South Carolina to Florida)
My brudder sit-tin on de tree of life,
An' he yeare when Jordan roll;
Roll, Jordan, Roll, Jordan, Roll, Jordan roll!
O march de angel march,
O march de angel march;
O my soul arise in Heaven, Lord,
For to yearde when Jordan roll.
Roll, Jordan, Roll, Jordan, Roll, Jordan roll!

2. Little chil'en, learn to fear de Lord,
And let your days be long;
Roll, Jordan, &c.

3. O, let no false nor spiteful word
Be found upon your tongue;
Roll, Jordan, &c.

O Jericho do worry me (1 line & base)
Praise, true belieber, praise God

Jehovia, halleluhal, de Lord is perwide
Jehoviah, Hallelujah, De Lord is per-wide,
Jehoviah, Hallelujah, De Lord is per-wide
De foxes have a hole,
an de birdies have-a nest,
De Son of Man he dunnot where to lay de weary head.

Travel on, O weary soul
A baby born in Bethlehem
Michael row the boat ashore
I ax all de brudder round'
Hold your light
Wrestle Jacob
Pray all de member
De talles' tree in Paradise
Turn, sinner, turn
I'm hunting for a city
Way my brudder better true belieb
Happy morning
I can't stan' de fire
Go in de wilderness
John, John of the holy order
De Rock o' Jubilee
I know member
Tell my Jesus huddy O

Worship Of The Negroes. A correspondent at Port Royal, S. C, (The Rebellion Record a
Diary and American Documents

gives an interesting account of the religious meetings of negroes, in .which singing is the favorite
exercise. They have a great variety of sacred songs, which they sing and shout at the top of their
voices, and never grow weary. A favorite melody is, "Roll, Jordan, roll:"

Little children sitting on the tree of life,
To hear when Jordan roll;   
Oh ! roll, Jordan, roll; roll, Jordan, roll;
We march the angel march;
oh! march the angel march;
On, my soul Is rising heavenward, to hear when Jordan roll.   
0 my brother  sitting on the tree of life,    
To hear when Jordan roll, etc.
Sister Mary, sitting on the tree of life,    
To hear when Jordan Roll, etc.

The verses vary only in the recitative. If Mr. Jones is a visitor, he will hear, "Mr. Jones is sitting on
the tree of life." All of the persons present are introduced to the tree of life: Nancy, James, and
Sancho. There is no pause; before the last roll is ended, the one giving the recitative places another
brother or sister on the tree, and then Jordan rolls again. It is a continuous refrain, till all have had
their turn upon the tree.

A weird plantation refrain in a minor key is, "Down in the Lonesome Valley." This has also a
recitative and chorus:

My sister, don't you want to get religion
Go down in the lonesome valley,
Go down in the lonesome valley,
Go down In the lonesome valley, my Lord,
To meet my Jesus there

As the song goes on the enthusiasm rises. They sing louder and stronger. The one giving the
recitative leads off with more vigor, and the chorus rolls with an increasing volume. They beat time at
first with their feet, then with their hands. William cannot sit still. He rises, begins a shuffle with his
feet, jerking his arms. Ann, a short, thick-set pure-blooded black woman, wearing a checked
gingham dress, and an apron which was once a window-curtain, can no longer keep her seat. She
claps her hands, makes a short, quick jerk of her body on the unaccented part of the measure,
keeping exact time. Catharine and Sancho cath the inspiration. We push the centretable aside to give
them room. They go round in a circle, singing, shuffling, jerking, shouting louder and louder. Those
upon the seats respond more vigorously, keeping time with feet and hands. William seems in a
trance; his eyes arc filed, yet he goes on into a double-shuffle. Every joint in his body seems to be
hung on wires. Feet, legs, arms, head, body, jerk like a dancing dandy Jack. Sancho enters into the
praise with his whole heart, clasping his hands, looking, upward and outward upon the crowd as if
they were his children and he a patriarch. His countenance beams with joy. He is all but carried
away with the excitement of the moment. So it goes on till nature is exhausted. When the meeting
breaks up, the singers go through the ceremony of shaking hands all round, keeping time to the tune,
"There's a meeting here tonight."
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