Black Abolitionists: “Michael, Row The Boat Ashore” An African American Spiritual

0 Posted by - March 12, 2018 - BLACK ABOLITIONIST, BLACK MUSIC, LATEST POSTS

By Lesley Gist, The Gist of Freedom

“Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” is an African-American spiritual. It was first noted during the American Civil War at St. Helena Island, one of the Sea Islands of South Carolina, USA.

The song was sung by former slaves whose owners had abandoned the island before the Union navy arrived to enforce a blockade. Charles Pickard Ware, an abolitionist and Harvard graduate who had come to supervise the plantations on St. Helena Island wrote the song down in music notation as he heard the freedmen sing.

The lyric describes the simple crossing of the River Jordan with macabre undertones provided by reference to trumpets, eternal life, and unknown lands. Despite its deathly connotations, the song is affirming, a celebration of faith under oppression.

docsouth.unc.edu/church/allen/allen.html

Here are the lyrics of the Peter, Paul, and Mary version of the song.

Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah

Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah

Sister help to trim the sail, hallelujah
Sister help to trim the sail, hallelujah

Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah

River Jordan is chilly and cold, hallelujah
Chills the body but not the soul, hallelujah

Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah

Jordan river is deep and is wide, hallelujah
I’ve got a home on the other side, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah

Michael’s Boat is a music boat , hallelujah
Michael’s Boat is a music boat , hallelujah

Michael row the boat, the boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah

docsouth.unc.edu/church/allen/allen.html

[Artwork by Stanislav Plutenko] [1. Michael row de boat ashore, Hallelujah!

2. Michael boat a gospel boat, Hallelujah!]

3 I wonder where my mudder deh (there).

4 See my mudder on de rock gwine home.

5 On de rock gwine home in Jesus’ name.

6 Michael boat a music boat.

7 Gabriel blow de trumpet horn.

8 O you mind your boastin’ talk.

9 Boastin’ talk will sink your soul.

10 Brudder, lend a helpin’ hand.

11 Sister, help for trim dat boat.

12 Jordan stream is wide and deep.

13 Jesus stand on t’ oder side.

14 I wonder if my maussa deh.

15 My fader gone to unknown land.

16 O de Lord he plant his garden deh.

17 He raise de fruit for you to eat.

18 He dat eat shall neber die.

19 When de riber overflow.

20 O poor sinner, how you land?

21 Riber run and darkness comin’.

22 Sinner row to save your soul.

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