Slave Songs of the United States, title page
Michael Row the Boat Ashore
Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen

Slave Songs of the United States was a collection of African American music consisting of 136 songs. Published in 1867, it was the first, and most influential,[1][2] collection of spirituals to be published. The collectors of the songs were Northern abolitionists William Francis Allen, Lucy McKim Garrison, and Charles Pickard Ware.[3] The group transcribed songs sung by the Gullah Geechee people of Saint Helena Island, South Carolina.[4] These people were newly freed slaves who were living in a refugee camp when these songs were collected.[5] It is a "milestone not just in African American music but in modern folk history".[6][7][8][9] It is also the first published collection of African-American music of any kind.[10]

The making of the book is described by Samuel Charters, with an emphasis on the role of Lucy McKim Garrison.[11] A segment of History Detectives explored the book's history and significance.[12]

Notable Songs

Several notable and popular songs in the book include:

The book provides instructions for singing, which is accompanied by a discussion of the history of each song, with potential variations, interpretations of key references, and other related details. In the Dover edition, Harold Courlander contributes a new preface that evaluates the book's significance in both American musical and cultural history.

See also



  1. ^ Darden, pg. 71
  2. ^ Southern, pg. 152
  3. ^ Crawford, pg. 416
  4. ^ Crawford, Eric. "The Negro Spiritual of Saint Helena Island: An Analysis of its Repertoire during the Periods 1860-1920, 1921-1939, and 1972-present". Washington Research Library Consortium. The Catholic University of America. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  5. ^ Black, Robert (1968). "Reviewed Work: Slave Songs of the United States by Irving Schlein". Journal of the International Folk Music Council. 20: 82–83. doi:10.2307/836087. JSTOR 836087 – via JSTOR.
  6. ^ Darden, pgs. 99-100
  7. ^ Maultsby, Portia K.; Mellonee V. Burnin; Susan Oehler. "Overview". The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. pp. 572–591.
  8. ^ Ramsey, Jr., Guthrie P. (Spring 1996). "Cosmopolitan or Provincial?: Ideology in Early Black Music Historiography, 1867-1940". Black Music Research Journal. 16 (1). Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 16, No. 1: 11–42. doi:10.2307/779375. JSTOR 779375.
  9. ^ Snell and Kelley, pg. 22
  10. ^ Chase, pg. 215
  11. ^ Charters, Samuel. 2015. Songs of Sorrow: Lucy McKim Garrison and "Slave Songs of the United States". Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-62846-206-7
  12. ^ "Slave Songbook | History Detectives | PBS". Retrieved 2018-03-28.