Location: American Song Sheet Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Title of Song: Gumbo Chaff
Publisher: Ashbel Stoddard
Year & Place: circa 1827-32, Hudson, New York
American Song Sheet Item#: bsvg200781
The engraved broadside that features the song “Gumbo Chaff” includes a small vignette of a black man playing a fiddle. The man’s facial features are generically African (i.e., a dark-complexion, broad features, and curly hair), and his posture suggests that he is both playing the fiddle (with one arm holding the fiddle’s bow) and dancing (with one leg lifted and akimbo). A hand-written note at the bottom of the broadside states that the publisher, Ashbel Stoddard, is from Hudson, New York and dates the engraving to circa 1827-32.
Engravings of this type — black and white, minimalist, and perfunctory in narration — are not so much offensive as they are simple-minded. It is interesting, though, how the artist has unintentionally incorporated a kind of rhythmic patterning with the arm and leg which conceptually codifies music-making and dancing in a pictorial format.
Reverend James Murphy (1788-1857)
Born into slavery in Dutchess County, New York as the illegitimate child of Jane, the bi-racial slave of David Johnston, James Murphy was condemned to a life of secrecy during an age when being of African descent meant a life of persecution and discrimination. When James Murphy (who was trained to be saddler) was manumitted at the death of his master David Johnston at the age of 21, he sought to change his destiny and leave his meager beginnings for a life of service to God. Although he was ordained after attending the New Brunswick Seminary, members of the congregation began to suspect Murphy’s parentage and his spiritual legitimacy. His past and racial identity were eventually revealed, and he later joined the Rochester, Wawarsing, and Clove Churches in Ulster County, New York, serving as their Minister from 1814 until 1825. He died in Herkimer, New York on February 1, 1857. For more information on the Reverend James Murphy, see Hudson River Valley scholar Susan Stessin’s online exhibition at: http://www.hrvh.org/exhibit/aa07/education/hh/