History of the Song “John Brown’s Body”, the tune for US labor anthem, “Solidarity Forever”

This submission to PNLHA was suggested by Dr. Mark Gregory
Honorary Post-Doctoral Research Associate
School of Humanities and Social Inquiry
University of Wollongong Australia

Sydney Morning Herald, 23 December, 1861 p. 3.

JOHN BROWN OF HARPER’S FERRY.-The following is from the New York Independent, August 29 :—

Who would have dreamed, a year and a half since, that a thousand men in the streets of New York would be heard singing reverently and enthusiastically in praise of John Brown ! Such a scene was witnessed on Saturday evening last. One of the new regiments from Massachusetts, on its way though this city to the seat of war, sang—

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering In the grave,
His soul’s marching on !
Glory Hallelujah ! Glory Hallelujah ! Glory Hallelujah !

The stanzas which follow are in the same wild strain—

He’s gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord, &c,
His soul’s marching on !
John Brown’s knapsack is strapped upon his back, &c,
His soul’s marching on !
His pet lambs will meet him on the way, &c.
They go marching on !

Seldom, if ever, has New York witnessed such a sight or heard such strains. No military hero of the present war has been thus honoured. No statesman has thus loosed the tongues of a thousand men to chant his patriotism. Little did Captain Brown think of the national struggles that were to follow his eventful death. But his calmness and firmness gave evidence of his faith that the cause of freedom demanded the sacrifice of his life, and he nobly died. It was a notable fact that while the regiment united as with one voice singing this song, thousands of private citizens, young and old, on the sidewalks and in crowded doorways and windows, joined in the chorus. The music was in itself impressive, and many an eye was wet with tears. Few who witnessed the triumphal tread of that noble band, arrayed for the war for freedom, will ever forget the thrilling tones of that song.