Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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@ElizaBTweetin: March 22, 1873: Jubilee Singers

Posted on March 19, 2014

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary, 17-22 March 1873

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary,
17-22 March 1873

Winter was as tenacious in 1872-73 as it has been in 2013-14!  On March 17th, Mrs. Wheaton could not keep her house warm, and on the 22nd it was “cold enough for fur cloaks.”  Brrr!  Despite the bitter weather and suffering a cold, Eliza enjoyed a very busy week, entertaining visitors and attending local and Boston events.

Mary Chapin was still with her, and Mrs. Comstock arrived for a visit of several days. They, together with Mrs. Beane, attended the Seminary's Public Examination followed by a concert. The students’ anxiety over reciting their lessons in public must have been offset by the excitement of the concert given by “6 young men” from Brown University (identified as “Providence College” by Eliza).

These young gentlemen, at least three of whom were known to Eliza, also took tea with her in her home.  “Miller & Taylor” may have been from Norton, but “Emory Holman” was family. David Emory Holman's (1852-1924) father was Laban Morey Wheaton’s cousin and business associate David E. Holman, with whom the Wheatons had traveled to Europe. After receiving his A.B. from Brown in 1876 and then an M.A., Emory earned an M.D. in 1880 from the Long Island College Hospital and studied at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. He became New York City’s deputy health officer, and served on its board of health. In 1885, Dr. Holman married Sarah Palmer Round, daughter of Eliza’s health care provider, Dr. Round, of Norton. Sadly, Sarah and her infant son died only ten months later. Recognized as “gifted by nature in feature and physique,” Emory became “a prominent figure among a large circle of musical and literary people of New York City,” but later returned to Attleboro.

In the evenings, Eliza read The Architect of Cologne and Other Poems, by Mary Ellen Atkinson. The frontispiece, an engraving of Cologne’s Cathedral, probably brought back fond memories of her 1862 visit to the city with her husband. Many of the poems are melancholy references to the loss or death of loved ones.

The Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, ca. 1873

The Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, ca. 1873

Even more interesting to us, Eliza and Mrs. Beane visited Boston on Saturday, March 22, to purchase carpeting and attend a concert by the “col[ore]d Jubilee Singers” from Fisk University in Nashville, TN. Eliza paid $1.50 for their concert tickets, and also purchased a book about the group (The Singing Campaign, in our stacks, is a later volume). Under the direction of Choirmaster George L. White, the Jubilee Singers became the first internationally acclaimed group of African-American musicians. The money they raised on concert tours financed their college, helping to build Jubilee Hall. They introduced "slave songs" to the world and helped to preserve this music from extinction.

"Go Down Moses" from The Story of the Jubilee Singers, 1876

"Go Down Moses" from The Story of the Jubilee Singers, 1876

At first unpopular among both black and white audiences, the group of eleven singers were often heckled and turned away from hotels and train stations, but after they performed for Pres. Ulysses S. Grant at the White House, their popularity grew. Their first concert tour in 1871 was followed by another in 1872, during which they performed at the World Peace Festival in Boston, where they were probably heard by Mrs. Wheaton.  In 1873, the Jubilee Singers toured the north again, including the Boston concert attended by Mrs. Wheaton; they even sang in Taunton. Later the same year they toured Europe, ultimately singing for Queen Victoria.

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