|A BALLAD OF PORT ROYAL, SOUTH CAROLINA.
JANUARY 1, 1863.
(from Poems by Mrs. Francis Dana Gage Parker, 1867)
BENEATH the grand old live oaks
Oil Port Royal's slave-cursed isle,
Where the midway days of winter
Wear the summer's sunniest smile,
They had gathered in by thousands
From the islands of the sea,
At the call of Governor Saxton
To be told that they were free.
From the orange groves of Florida,
From Georgia's rice-swamps dread,
From Carolina's trait'rous lands,
They came ”five thousand "head."
Some had escaped from masters,
Some redeemed by War's red hand,
Some were left behind by rebels
When they fled our conquering bands.
Old and young, and little children,
Deaf and blind, and sick and lame,
In their worn and tattered garments,
Shoeless, hatless ”in they came”
Just as slavery's truth had left them,
Trembling, doubting, waiting, sad,
Bewildered ”ever hopeful
For a word to make them glad.
There they gathered 'neath the live oaks
Where the whipping-post once stood,
Where the victim's cry for mercy
Had been answered with his blood.
There they gathered round the platform
Builded by our Northmen brave,
For the friends of Truth and Freedom
Who should meet to cheer the slave.
In their midst was Governor Saxton,
Son of Massachusetts, true,
And the teachers of the people,
And the chaplains clothed in blue.
Near them gallant Col. Higginson,
With his South Carolina band,
Six hundred strong ”a red-breeched throng”
Stood to guard the island land.
Outside were grouped the masses,
Looking on with strange content,
And like a rim around all these
Circled Hawley's regiment.
'Twas New Year's Day, and " dress parade "
Had just been held, you know,
And officers and men had come
To see the "nigger show."
And many a sneering laugh was heard,
And many an ill-timed jest,
And muttered curse, that such as these
In army blue were dressed ;
For Northmen had not learned to trust
And feel, God ever good
Had all the nations of the earth
Created of one blood.
And now stepped forth the chaplain
And put up a fervent prayer,
Then a song of our rejoicing
Floated through the wintry air.
Followed now "The Proclamation,"
By the gray-haired Brisbane read,
Who, long ago, his chattels freed,
And from Port Royal fled.
How silently all listened while
Those golden words were spoken
" You are free, all free forever.
This day your chains are broken.
Look aloft! This flag above you
Is the flag of liberty,
And your father, Abraham Lincoln,
Has declared you all are free."
Then a shout of joy went upward
From the ransomed heart of men,
Such a shout of joy, as never
I shall hear on earth again.
* * * *
For the First South Carolina,
One a silken banner brought,
Which in more than starry beauty
Had by woman's hand been wrought;
For upon its folds of azure,
As it floated overhead,
"The year of Jubilee has come"
In silver words we read.
'Twas with fitting words presented
To the colonel standing by,
Who with silent, deep emotion,
Sought for calmness to reply.
While be paused, a worn-old mother
Raised her voice of tremulous strain,
As with clasped hands, gazing upward
She poured forth this glad refrain :
" My country, 'tis of Thee,
Sweet land of Liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrim's pride,
From every mountain side,
Let Freedom ring."
Then the young men and the maidens
Joined their voices loud and strong,
Till the live oaks seemed to quiver
As the chorus swept along.
To and fro the old gray mosses
Waved their gladness in the breeze,
Sweeping onward, freedom laden,
To proclaim it to the seas.
And the mocking-birds in silence
Listened as it were a prayer,
Utte'red by some bright evangel
For the broken sufferers there ;
While the clouds above us parted,
As an angel wing had stirred,
And the morning stars were singing,
And the sons of God had heard.
When they ceased, the Northern soldier
In deep silence dropped his tears,
That old anthem of his school-days
Had called back the loves of years ;
And his heart grew soft as woman's,
As he thought of friends and home.
" Let the black man fight for freedom,"
So they said, "in time to come."
"We'll not hinder, but will help him
To cast off his galling chain,
And by yon flag ”we swear that he
Shall ne'er be bound again."
Then forth stepped Col. Higginson,
The flag-staff in his hand,
And to his chosen sergeant
He gave his glad command.
" Come forward, Sergeant Rivers,
Take your country's flag to-day.
You have heard the ' Proclamation '
That has swept your chains away
To your loyal hands I give it.
On its silken folds you see,
Writ in shining silver letters,
' 'tis the year of Jubilee.' "
Then came forward Sergeant Rivers,
With a face as black as night,
And he seized the silken banner
"And shook out the folds of light.
There, beneath those moss-hung branches,
Where once echoed shrieks of woe,
Poured he forth his spirit's fullness
To the listening crowd below.
Beneath those moss-hung branches,
Black man never spoke before
Such bold words of lofty meaning
To old Beaufort's sounding shore.
"Oh ! black men, brothers, sisters,
I before you proudly stand,
Holding fast this flag of freedom
In my own toil-worn right hand.
"But just now, I was a slave-man,
Now ”a freeman” strong for fight.
By every lash I've ever borni',
I'll battle for the Right.
Good Jesus is our Captain
In the camp and on the field”
And we'll follow where He leads us,
And to Death alone we'll yield.
" We will ne'er forget this motto,
'Th' year of Jubilee has come.
And, comrades, we'll maintain it
Till each ransomed slave is home.
But if in some fierce battle
Fought with the Confederate rag,
I should fall ”hide me away, boys,
But save my glorious flag."
So spoke the noble Rivers,
But one hour ago a slave
And each loyal heart that heard him,
To this black man honor gave.
For the colored standard bearer
Three times three were cheerily given,
And black and white joined in a shout
That rent the very heaven.
That day from out Port Royal
Went the freedmen on their way,
To till the sands unfettered,
Or to join the bloody fray ;
And Jacksonville and Darien,
Port Hudson, Olustee,
Fort Wagner and Fort Pillow
Prove the black man's bravery.
And tell us how a race of slaves
Among their masters stood,
And for their flag and country
Like as water poured their blood;
How soldiers in our army blue
They fed wherever found,
How helped the 'scaping prisoner,
And turned the baying hound.
And how that race, four million strong,
Not one foul traitor gave
To help oppress a brother man,
Or bind him as a slave
Instead, two hundred thousand men
To help in Freedom's fight
Brave volunteers to win, or die.
With Union and the Right.
Can we forget, oh ! Northmen,
These true and gallant braves,
A nd in this peace-hour fail them,
Leaving them half bound slaves,
While the highest boon of Freedom
We grant to traitors, who,
With fiendish hearts and bloody hand.-,
Destroyed our boys in blue ?
Who spurned our flag from Sumter ?
Who filled our land with woe ?
Who murdered our loved Lincoln?
By all that's sacred No !
By all our countless widows,
By all our orphans' tears,
By the land so desolated,
By the blasted hopes of years,
By the ghosts of half a million,
Who have died that there might be.
Throughout our land, no slavery,
That all men should be free ;
By all the truth and honor
God gives to men below,
By all the prayers and scars and wrong
Of that four millions No!
|A Ballad of Port Royal, South Carolina
January 1, 1863
Mrs. Francis Dana Gage Parker
|Mrs. Francis Dana Gage Parker
|Francis Dana Barker Gage
(October 12, 1808 - November 10, 1884)
She was a writer, lecturer, reformer, feminist and
abolitionist. She was born in Marietta Ohio where
her home is now a historical site. She married James
L. Gage on January 1, 1829 who was a lawyer.
She wrote the standard text for Sojourner Truth's
speech "Ain't I a Woman?"
From 1863-1864 she was the superintendent under
General Rufus Saxton in charge of Parris Island,
South Carolina. She was one of General Saxton's
Her daughter Mary traveled with her. Later she
would work at a hospital in Fernandina.
She was also a speaker at this first Emancipation Day
event from Higginson's journal:
"I spoke, receiving the flags & then gave them into
the hands of two noble looking black men, as color
guard, & they also spoke, very effectively, Prince
Rivers & Robert Sutton. The regiment sang Marching
along & Gen. Saxton spoke in his own simple &
manly way, & then Mrs F D Gage spoke to the
women very sensibly & a Judge somebody from
Florida & then some gentlemen sang an ode & the
regiment the John Brown song & then they seemed
to have a very gay time; most of the visitors
dispersed before dress parade, though the band staid
to enliven us."