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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

February 12, 1865

Diary Entry on Spring Weather and Negro Spirituals

Eliza Frances Andrews wrote in her diary of spring beginning to arrive in south Georgia, and some fascinating observations on Negro spiritual songs.

“Spring is already breaking in this heavenly climate, and the weather has been lovely to-day. The yellow jessamine buds begin to show their golden tips, forget-me-nots are peeping from under the wire grass, and the old cherry tree by the dairy is full of green leaves. Spring is so beautiful; I don’t wonder the spring poet breaks loose then. Our “piney woods” don’t enjoy a very poetical reputation, but at this season they are the most beautiful place in the world to me. I went over to the quarter after dinner, to the “Praise House,” to hear the negroes sing, but most of them had gone to walk on the river bank, so I did not get a full choir. At their “praise meetings” they go through with all sorts of motions in connection with their songs, but they won’t give way to their wildest gesticulations or engage in their sacred dances before white people, for fear of being laughed at. They didn’t get out of their seats while I was there, but whenever the “sperrit” of the song moved them very much, would pat their feet and flap their arms and go through with a number of motions that reminded me of the game of “Old Dame Wiggins” that we used to play when we were children. They call these native airs “little speritual songs,” in contradistinction to the hymns that the preachers read to them in church, out of a book, and seem to enjoy them a great deal more. … I mean to make a collection of these songs some day and keep them as a curiosity. The words are mostly endless repetitions, with a wild jumble of misfit Scriptural allusions, but the tunes are inspiring. They are mostly a sort of weird chant that makes me feel all out of myself when I hear it way in the night, too far off to catch the words. I wish I was musician enough to write down the melodies; they are worth preserving. Source: Eliza Frances Andrews, The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, 1864-1865 (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1908), pp. 89-91.