Beyond Tourism: America's Yesteryear

A blog of American History

Darling Nelly Gray April 14, 2018

People familiar with how the music industry works knows that Big Recording Labels are always trying to pull one over on their clients in order to keep the profits from themselves. Apparently it has been going on much longer than 1950s when do-wop bands were all the rage.
One such example is with the song My Darling Nelly Gray written by Benjamin Russel Hanby in 1856  while he was attending Otterbein College it was eventually  published by Oliver Ditson & Co. That’s when the trouble started.

His music teacher, Miss Cornelia Walker, to whom the song was dedicated, suggested that he send the manuscript to a publisher. He submitted it to the Oliver Ditson Company of Boston. He assumed that the song had been rejected until his sister heard it sung at a recital. It was soon discovered that the Ditson Company had published the song under Hanby’s name but secured the copyright for themselves. Hanby sued the firm, but won only fifty dollars and twelve free copies of the sheet music.

Which is really too awful for words because this song hit it big time. When I say big it would probably be Platinum today. Because even though it is very much an anti-slavery song it became hugely popular in both the North and the South. Although it has been said that the South changed up some of the wording. So the Ditson company made out like bandits.

The song became popular among Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War and has often been regarded as the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” of song.

The inspiration for the song came from his Father’s involvement working the Underground Railroad. At the time Benjamin Hanby was 9 years old.

Hanby was by deeply affected by the story of a fugitive slave who took refuge in the Hanby home in 1842 while escaping from Kentucky. Before his death from pneumonia, he told about his sweetheart Nelly Gray, who had been sold into slavery in Georgia. This was the inspiration for the song “Darling Nelly Gray, ” which Hanby composed in 1856 while attending Otterbein College in Westerville.

Lyrics:
There’s a low, green valley, on the old Kentucky shore.
Where I’ve whiled many happy hours away,
A-sitting and a-singing by the little cottage door,
Where lived my darling Nelly Gray.
Chorus
Oh! my poor Nelly Gray, they have taken you away,
And I’ll never see my darling any more;
I’m sitting by the river and I’m weeping all the day.
For you’ve gone from the old Kentucky shore.
When the moon had climbed the mountain and the stars were shining too.
Then I’d take my darling Nelly Gray,
And we’d float down the river in my little red canoe,
While my banjo sweetly I would play.
One night I went to see her, but “She’s gone!” the neighbors say.
The white man bound her with his chain;
They have taken her to Georgia for to wear her life away,
As she toils in the cotton and the cane.
My canoe is under water, and my banjo is unstrung;
I’m tired of living any more;
My eyes shall look downward, and my song shall be unsung
While I stay on the old Kentucky shore.
My eyes are getting blinded, and I cannot see my way.
Hark! there’s somebody knocking at the door.
Oh! I hear the angels calling, and I see my Nelly Gray.
Farewell to the old Kentucky shore.
Chorus
Oh, my darling Nelly Gray, up in heaven there they say,
That they’ll never take you from me any more.
I’m a-coming-coming-coming, as the angels clear the way,
Farewell to the old Kentucky shore!

Listen to a rendition of Darling Nelly Gray here

sources:
1. http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_670722
2. http://www.ohiocivilwar150.org/omeka/items/show/1942
3. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/index.php?title=Benjamin_Hanby&rec=202

 

 

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Today in Florida History September 16 September 16, 2009

Finally getting back into posting now with things beginning to calm down. I thought I would start things off with a Today in Florida History. It is taken from The Florida Historical Society. There is also a link to the site in my Links to the Past list.

1565: From the account of Pedro Menendez’s expedition to Florida in 1565 by Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, the chaplain to the expedition.  This account is taken from Charles E. Bennett, Laudonniere and Fort Caroline:  History and Documents (Gainesville:  University of Florida Press, 1964).  [We will continue with portions of this account in the coming days and will simply cite it as Laudonniere and Fort Caroline.  In today’s account, Father Mendoza recounts the beginning of Menendez’s expedition against the French at Fort Caroline.–moderator]

“Sunday, September 16, he [Menendez] departed with 500 men with many arquebuses and pikes, each one of the soldiers carrying a twelve pound sack of bread on his shoulders and a bottle of wine for the road.  They took two Indian chiefs who were great enemies of the French, so that they might show the way.  According to the practice of those Indians and by the signs they made, we understood that it was five leagues to the fort of the enemies, but one the road it appeared to be more than fifteen and a very bad road in the very hot sun.  But all have traveled it, according to the letter we received from the General [Menendez] today, the 19th of said month.”

1853: House Speaker A. K. Allison proclaimed himself Acting Governor of Florida when the governor, Thomas Brown, and the Senate President, R. J. Floyd, were both out of the state.  Allison served until October 3 when James E. Broome was regularly inaugurated as governor.

1863: The U.S.S. San Jacinto, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Ralph Chandler, seized the Confederate blockade-runner, Lizzie Davis, off the west coast of Florida.  She had been bound from Havana to Mobile with a cargo that included quantities of lead.

1864: An expedition from the U.S.S. Ariel, with Acting Master Russell in command, captured over 4,000 pounds of cotton in the vicinity of Tampa Bay.

Zora Neale Hurston is the author of Their Eyes were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) is the author of "Their Eyes were Watching God"

1928: The Belle Glade and Palm Beaches area was devastated by a hurricane. This was the culmination of the Great Lake Okeechobee Hurricane struck Florida as a Category 4 storm, with winds pushing lake waters to a storm surge of more than 15 feet.  The area surrounding the lake’s south end, occupied primarily by migrant agricultural workers, flooded.  The Red Cross’s death toll count reached 1,836, but additional bodies and skeletons were discovered after the end of the Red Cross count.  In response to this disaster, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built dikes around the lake to prevent a recurrence.  Florida author Zora Neale Hurston recorded the impact on this hurricane on migrants in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.  (See September 6, Today in Florida History)

1968: The first classes convened at Warner Southern College in Lake Wales.  The college was founded by the Southeastern Association of the Church of God.