Location: Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)
Title of Song: We’ll Raise De Roof To-Night
Composer: Wheeler, J. W.
Illustrator: Cinthy Johnson
Publisher: Blair & Lydon
Year & Place: 1884; Boston, Massachusetts
Collection/Call Number/Copies: Music B-167
Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasm.b0167
The image here shows four men rowing a small boat close by an isolated wooden house. While the viewer is unable to see what lies behind the dwelling, its seems that the land on which the house sits constitutes its own island. Another boat leans against the shore in front of several trees on the left side of the building while a full-moon lights the night sky. Bright windows indicate that there are other light on or candles burning. There are no other signs, however, of human presence. Each of the four men in the boat has a distinct posture. Rowing the boat on the far left, one male sharply reclines with his face aimed directly at the sky. Another male in the center languidly plays a banjo while a character to his right pushes his oar through with the water with his feet up. Finally, piercing the calm water is a large frog.
The figures in this image look as though they are inebriated or altered state of being. And they’re solemn movement though the water stands in stark contrast to the title of the music which, indicates a raucous celebration. What both suggest however is a break moment of quotidian activities. Still, it seems as though the illustration is meant to stand apart from its accompanying music. And its visual strategy and subject matter stand in an ambiguous space with the potential for transgression or capitulation.
Lewis Hayden was one of Boston’s most visible and militant African American abolitionists. He was born enslaved in Lexington, Kentucky in 1812. His first wife, Esther Harvey, and a son were sold to U.S. Senator Henry Clay, who in turn sold them into the deep south. Hayden was never able to discover their ultimate whereabouts. Eventually, Hayden was remarried to a woman named Harriet Bell and they escaped with their son Joseph to Canada in 1844, and then to Detroit in 1845.
The Hayden family made their way to Boston by January 1846. Lewis ran a clothing store and quickly became a leader in the black community. In 1850, the Haydens moved into the house at 66 Phillips Street. The Hayden’s routinely cared for self-emancipated African Americans at their home, which served as a boarding house. Records from the Boston Vigilance Committee indicate that scores of people received aid and shelter at the Hayden home between 1850 and 1860. Lewis Hayden was one of the men who helped rescue Shadrach Minkins from federal custody in 1851 and he played a significant role in the attempted rescue of Anthony Burns. Hayden also contributed money to John Brown, in preparation for his raid on Harper’s Ferry.
William and Ellen Craft were among Lewis and Harriet Hayden’s most famous boarders. The Crafts escaped from slavery by riding a passenger train to the north. Lewis Hayden was determined to fight for their protection. Hayden threatened that two kegs of gun powder were kept near the entryway of his home. Should slave catchers come and attempt to reclaim their “property,” Hayden would sooner have blown up the house than surrender the Crafts.
During the Civil War, Lewis Hayden worked as a recruiter for the 54th Regiment. Later he served a term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and worked for the Massachusetts Secretary of State. Lewis Hayden died on April 7, 1889.
(Source: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior; http://www.nps.gov/boaf/historyculture/lewis-and-harriet-hayden-house.htm)