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Stephen Collins Foster

Born July 4, 1826 in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, now part of Pittsburgh, Stephen Collins Foster is America’s first professional composer and the first person in the United States to make a living solely on the sale of sheet music. He was the youngest in a family with four older brothers and three older sisters; the oldest sister, Charlotte Susanna, died at age nineteen, probably of yellow fever, while visiting relatives in Louisville, Kentucky. She likely inspired the song “Oh! Susanna.”

Stephen studied at Towanda Academy and Athens Academy in Pennsylvania. He also studied music with Henry Kleber, who owned a music store in Pittsburgh, and could play the flute, piano, and guitar. Stephen wrote his first song, “The Tioga Waltz,” at fourteen and published his first song, “Open Thy Lattice Love,” at eighteen. While in Pittsburgh, he began writing songs for a neighborhood singing group and continued writing while clerking at his brother’s warehouse in Cincinnati; several of these early songs, including “Oh! Susanna,” were published in Louisville, Kentucky by W.C. Peters, a family friend. In 1849, Stephen published his first song, “Nelly Was a Lady,” with Firth, Pond & Company in New York, who became his principal publishers. They published many of his best-known songs, such as “Old Folks at Home,” “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night,” “Old Dog Tray,” “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair,” and “Gentle Annie.”

In 1850, Stephen married Jane McDowell, and they had one daughter, Marion. The couple endured several separations, and their lives took a turn for the tragic after Stephen’s parents died in 1855, and the family lost their house. They moved to New York, where Jane left Stephen in 1861 during the Civil War. Stephen died January 13, 1864, aged thirty-seven, and is buried in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Great Americans in 1940 and into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1970. His music remained popular throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and today his songs continue to inspire people with their simplicity, emotion, and beauty. In the words of his friend Robert P. Nevin: “the art in [Stephen’s] hands teemed with a nobler significance. It dealt in its simplicity with universal sympathies.”

Chapter Four

Carry Him Along—May to July 1834

That winter, Ma and Pa went sleighing with their friends Dr. Andrew and Mrs. Jane McDowell. My brothers and I skated on the frozen Allegheny River with their daughters, Marion, who was Morrison’s age, and Jane and Agnes, who were younger than we were.

“Race you, Stephy!” Morrison set off, and I skated after him, cutting a line across the ice as we hurried towards the nearest tree, which was our marker. Dunning and Henry sailed ahead of us.

“Wait for us!” Agnes wobbled after us, unsteady on her skates and holding on to Jane’s hand. Dunning reached the tree first, beating us to the finish line. We slid in behind him.

“It’s not fair,” Marion said as the girls came in behind us. “You’re bigger than we are.”

“You don’t have to skate with us,” Henry said.

“Jennie.” Agnes tugged on Jane’s hand.

“Let’s go somewhere else,” Marion told Agnes. They skated off, leaving us to race by ourselves.

“Maybe we should—” I started, but my brothers slid away. I wished my brothers would let them stay with us, but I soon got caught up in the excitement and forgot about anything else.

A thump came behind us, followed by a cry. My brothers and I turned around. Agnes had fallen on the ice, bringing Jane with her, and started crying. “We should’ve kept a better eye on them,” Dunning muttered. Morrison bowed his head. It was our fault.

We skated over to the girls, and I offered them my hand. “Here. I’ll help you up.” Jane took my hand. My brothers steadying me around the middle, I helped pull her up, and then we helped Agnes up.

“Thank you,” Jane told me, her face pink. I focused on my feet.

Jane and Marion wrapped their arms around Agnes, who was still sniffling, and led her off the ice. “Ma will be here soon,” Marion told her.

Dr. McDowell, who must’ve seen what happened, turned the sleigh around, and Mrs. McDowell hurried out to wrap blankets around Agnes and Jane. “It’s all right, Agnes,” Mrs. McDowell said, comforting her. “You’re safe now.” She turned to us. “Thank you for helping them,” she said. “It can be dangerous on the ice if you’re not careful.”

“It was mostly Stephy,” Dunning admitted. I still focused on my shoes.

“It was our fault for letting them skate off by themselves,” Henry added.

“You won’t do it again, will you?” Pa told us.

“Of course not,” Morrison said.

“Good.”

“It’s time to start for home,” Dr. McDowell said. “It’s getting chillier outside.” Our parents bundled everyone up, and we squeezed onto the sleigh to go back home.

My brothers Dunning, Morrison, and I started school at the Allegheny Academy, run by Mr. Joseph Stockton and Mr. John Kelly, his assistant. Mr. Stockton, a thin, severe-looking man, was Pa’s friend, whom he’d asked to come to Allegheny to be the principal of the Allegheny Academy. I can’t say I liked him as well as Morrison did.

The very first day, Mr. Stockton made it clear how serious he was. “Get out your readers,” he said, “and turn to ‘Select Sentences and Paragraphs.’ Who will read the first sentence?”

A copy of Murray’s English Reader stared up between Morrison and me at our shared desk, and Morrison opened it to the first sentence: “Diligence, industry, and proper improvement of time are material duties of the young. The acquisition of knowledge is one of the most honourable occupations of youth.”

All the way back to our New England Primer, readers always included passages like these to scare the pupil into learning. “What does it mean by—” I whispered to Morrison.

“Would one of you like to read it aloud?” Mr. Stockton squinted at us.

I stayed silent. Being called on always made me nervous. Morrison raised his hand, and Mr. Stockton called on him. He read it almost perfectly, except for “improvement,” “acquisition,” and “occupation.”

“Good. Now can someone tell me the verbs in the sentence?” The older boys in the back of the room, where Dunning sat, smothered their laughter as Mr. Stockton turned to them, frowning. Morrison pointed to the definition of a verb in the book, “It signifies to be, to do, or to suffer” and whispered, “Dunning says the big boys say, ‘to be, to do, and to suffer’ instead.” We both covered our mouths with our hands to stifle our giggles.

“Can someone tell me what is so amusing about what I just asked, or do I need Mr. Kelly to discipline you?” Mr. Stockton smacked a ruler in his palm, while the other, dark-haired, bespectacled teacher, who must’ve been Mr. Kelly, stood behind him. The class grew silent. “That’s better. Now, who can tell me…”

The grammar lesson dragged on until we were all watching the clock. Finally, Mr. Stockton must have seen this, so he told us to put away our readers and take out Hutton’s Mathematics and practice addition. Arithmetic wasn’t as difficult as grammar for me. Grammar and spelling made school more challenging than mathematics. “Who would like to put the proofs on the board?” Mr. Stockton asked.

Dunning’s hand shot in the air. Mr. Stockton nodded. Dunning didn’t miss a single problem on the proofs, and Mr. Stockton told him, “Good” as well. He didn’t tell me, “Good.” He singled me out.

As soon as the final bell rang, I ran to our new home on Bank Lane ahead of my brothers, leaving Morrison to carry the books. I burst in the door.

Pa and Ma were sitting with my older sister, Ann Eliza, whom we called “Siss Ann”; she had come from Eastern Pennsylvania for Ma to help with her new baby, James. They were discussing the abolition of slavery in England. British Parliament abolished the slave trade with the Slave Trade Act of 1807, but they didn’t abolish slavery itself in parts of the British colonies until 1833 with the Slavery Abolition Act. “Whig abolitionists here will use this as another reason to say our country should abolish slavery,” Pa said. “There will be chaos in England next, and the United States after that if abolition passes here, just like the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution after they freed their slaves.”

“Mr. Buchanan and I were discussing the Abolition Act before I came,” Ann Eliza said of her husband, “and how much it will cost the English taxpayers. They owe £20 million as recompense to slaveowners. Mr. Buchanan’s brother James said the slaveowners deserved compensation.”

“Of course, they do,” Pa said. “They’ll lose money without their labor.”

“The tax is forty percent of England’s budget,” Ma said. “That’s quite a lot for taxpayers.” She stood as she noticed me. “Did you run home all the way, Stephy?” she asked. I was too out-of-breath to answer.

Dunning and Morrison came in the door behind me. “How was Mr. Stockton, boys?” Pa asked.

“He was great,” Morrison said. “He told me I read well.”

“Also, he told me ‘good’ when I put the addition proofs on the board,” Dunning added. “The arithmetic was really easy. I wish we’d move on to something harder.”

Pa nodded. “I knew Mr. Stockton would be good for you. What do you think, Stephy?”

I hesitated. I couldn’t say I didn’t like Mr. Stockton because he was Pa’s friend. Ann Eliza took my silence the wrong way and said, her dark eyes bright like Ma’s, “If you need any help, I’d be happy to tutor you, Stephy. I still have some books on Plato.”

“No, thank you.” She’d tried to teach us Plato a few years before when we lived at a religious community nearby, and that was more than I wanted. I hurried out of the room.

Lieve found me hiding in the boys’ room a few hours later. “What’s the matter, Mr. Stephen?” She peered over the side of the bed.

“Mr. Stockton’s too hard. Only I can’t say so because he’s Pa’s friend, and Mit and Dunning like him.”

“How would you like to come with me to church on Sunday? Would that help?”

I nodded. The songs were the best part of going to the African Methodist Episcopal Church with her. Sunday morning, we walked to church together, Lieve singing:

“Take him to the Gulley! Take him to the Gulley!

But bringee back the frock and board.”

“Oh! massa, massa! me no deadee yet!”—

“Take him to the Gulley! Take him to the Gulley!”—

“Carry him along!”

“Why do they leave him like that?” I asked. That song scared me the first time she sang it.

“He’d done his time. He couldn’t work anymore.”

“It’s still not fair. He’s not dead yet.”

“Life’s not always fair, I’m afraid. Things happen all the time that aren’t fair.”

We reached the doorway of the church, where the congregation greeted us as we entered. “Morning, Lieve! Morning, Mr. Stephen!”

Lieve smiled and greeted them back as we found our pew. The music started playing as the preacher entered, and we stood to sing as he proceeded to the front of the church:

Hallelujah to the Lamb

Who has purchas’d our pardon,

We will praise him again

When we pass over Jordan.

After an opening prayer, the preacher opened The Book of Common Prayer and read, “Jesus said, I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep…” 

“We are God’s sheep,” he shouted as he closed the book. “We have to give everything to follow him. We won’t be free until we do. England has freed its slaves, and we must never stop until our slaves are freed here.” His voice rose. “Freedom can’t be given to us! We have to take it up for ourselves!” He banged his hand on the pulpit.

“Amen,” Lieve called with the others. I leaned forward in my seat. Unlike the Episcopal Church my family sometimes went to, anyone at the AME Church could cry, laugh, or call out if something moved them and clap along with the songs; it was much more exciting and displayed more of a sense of spirit.

After he minister finished his sermon, and Lieve and the other members of the congregation lined up in front of the altar for communion. I was too young and stayed in my seat, singing along instead. Once communion ended, the preacher gave his final blessing before everyone exited the church, singing:

Brethren farewell, I do you tell

That you and I must part:

I go away, and here you stay;

But still we join in heart.

As Lieve and I left, still humming the songs, I said, “Everyone’s talking about England freeing its slaves. Isn’t it a good thing? Pa doesn’t seem to think so.” Pa didn’t, but the minister did; I couldn’t make sense of such different opinions. Lieve might know what to think.

“Lord bless your pa, but he doesn’t know everything. Of course, it’s a good thing, but it’d be better if the slaves were really free,” Lieve said. “They have to serve as apprentices six to twelve years before they’re free.”

“That’s not fair.” Why would England pass an act to free slaves and then not truly free them?

“It’s like I said, Mr. Stephen; things happen all the time that aren’t fair.”

“Will the slaves ever be free here?” If the slaves weren’t happy, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

“Lord, I hope so.” Lieve clasped her hands. “I hope so.”

On Monday, Pa sent us to school early to make sure we made a good impression on Mr. Stockton, but Mr. Kelly was there before Mr. Stockton, arranging the teacher’s desk and whistling.

“I know that song,” I said. “It’s “Meeting of the Waters” by Thomas Moore.”

Mr. Kelly glanced up and smiled. “You like Thomas Moore, do you?”

I nodded. He was one of my sister Charlotte’s favorite composers.

“I’m from Dublin,” Mr. Kelly said, “same city as Tom Moore.”

“Do you know him?”

Mr. Kelly laughed. “No, I don’t, unfortunately, but everyone from Ireland knows his songs. Everyone here does, too, it seems.”

“My sister liked them.” I stopped. It was too hard to talk about Charlotte. “I didn’t know her, really. I was only three when she died.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

More students entered, telling Mr. Kelly “Good morning” as they went to their seats. He greeted them and told me, “We play prisoner’s base most days after school if you want to join us.”

“Yes, I would.”

Mr. Kelly smiled. “Good, good. You’d best be to your seat; Mr. Stockton’s coming in.”

Mr. Stockton stopped at the front of the class and told us to open our readers to the “Narrative Pieces” and copy the vocabulary from the first piece: “Dionysus, Democles…”

“Stephen, spell ‘Dionysus’ for us.” Mr. Stockton looked sharply at me.

I stumbled. Spelling never came easily to me. “D-Y-” I started.

“Sit and spell it out ten times more.”

My face burned. Keeping my head down, I started copying it carefully on the slate, some of the boys in the back of the room laughing.

“Don’t worry,” Morrison whispered. “I can’t spell it, either.”

Mr. Kelly passed by and whispered, “D-I-” with a wink. For being the disciplinarian, he was much more lenient than Mr. Stockton.

After school let out, Mr. Kelly stayed and played prisoner’s base as promised. “I’ll be the prison guard. Who else wants to join my team?”

“I will!” I said.

Prisoner’s base was one of the most enjoyable parts of going to school. Morrison and Dunning also joined Mr. Kelly’s team, and the two opposing teams lined up across from each other in the schoolyard. Whoever was farthest from home base started the game. Since I was farthest, I ran to home base. The boy on the opposite team ran after me, but I was too small and too fast. I slid into home base before him.

Next in line, Morrison chased the next boy on the other team to the enemy base but wasn’t as lucky and got sent to their prison. Dunning was next. He ran to the enemy’s side and tagged Morrison, just missing the prison guard reaching out to grab him. They both ran back to safety. “Good job, Dunning,” Mr. Kelly said. I cheered with everyone else on our team.

The game ended once everyone from the other team was in Mr. Kelly’s prison, and it was too dark to continue. “Good game, everybody,” Mr. Kelly said. “Let’s play again tomorrow.”

We cheered about our victory the entire way home, where Ma greeted us as we came in. “I was starting to wonder where you were.”

“We were playing prisoner’s base,” Dunning said.

“Everyone looks as though they had a good time.” Pa nodded approvingly.

School continued until mid-July. Though I disliked the confinement of a schoolroom, especially in the heat of the summer, Mr. Kelly made it more bearable.

“I’ll see you next year, won’t I?” Mr. Kelly told me on the last day of school.

“I think so.”

“It won’t be too long then,” Mr. Kelly said. “We’ll both be back before we know it. Until then, have a good summer.”

“You, too.”

“Cheers.”

Morrison finished saying goodbye to Mr. Stockton, and I started to follow him but turned back to Mr. Kelly. “You’re the best teacher I ever had.”

“You know what, you’re one of the best students I’ve ever had. Don’t tell Mr. Stockton I told you so.” Mr. Kelly hugged me. “I think your brothers are leaving, so mind they don’t run off without you.”

“Goodbye!” I ran to catch up with Morrison and Dunning.

“Goodbye, now.” Mr. Kelly smiled until we left.

Chapter Three: Carry Him Along—May to July 1834

That winter, Ma and Pa went sleighing with their friends Dr. Andrew and Mrs. Jane McDowell. My brothers and I skated on the frozen Allegheny River with their daughters, Marion, who was Morrison’s age, and Jane and Agnes, who were younger than we were.

“Race you, Stephy!” Morrison set off, and I skated after him, cutting a line across the ice as we hurried towards the nearest tree, which was our marker. Dunning and Henry sailed ahead of us.

“Wait for us!” Agnes wobbled after us, unsteady on her skates and holding on to Jane’s hand. Dunning reached the tree first, beating us to the finish line. We slid in behind him.

“It’s not fair,” Marion said as the girls came in behind us. “You’re bigger than we are.”

“You don’t have to skate with us,” Henry said.

“Jennie.” Agnes tugged on Jane’s hand.

“Let’s go somewhere else,” Marion told Agnes. They skated off, leaving us to race by ourselves.

“Maybe we should—” I started, but my brothers slid away. I wished my brothers would let them stay with us, but I soon got caught up in the excitement and forgot about anything else.

A thump came behind us, followed by a cry. My brothers and I turned around. Agnes had fallen on the ice, bringing Jane with her, and started crying. “We should’ve kept a better eye on them,” Dunning muttered. Morrison bowed his head. It was our fault.

We skated over to the girls, and I offered them my hand. “Here. I’ll help you up.” Jane took my hand. My brothers steadying me around the middle, I helped pull her up, and then we helped Agnes up.

“Thank you,” Jane told me, her face pink. I focused on my feet.

Jane and Marion wrapped their arms around Agnes, who was still sniffling, and led her off the ice. “Ma will be here soon,” Marion told her.

Dr. McDowell, who must’ve seen what happened, turned the sleigh around, and Mrs. McDowell hurried out to wrap blankets around Agnes and Jane. “It’s all right, Agnes,” Mrs. McDowell said, comforting her. “You’re safe now.” She turned to us. “Thank you for helping them,” she said. “It can be dangerous on the ice if you’re not careful.”

“It was mostly Stephy,” Dunning admitted. I still focused on my shoes.

“It was our fault for letting them skate off by themselves,” Henry added.

“You won’t do it again, will you?” Pa told us.

“Of course not,” Morrison said.

“Good.”

“It’s time to start for home,” Dr. McDowell said. “It’s getting chillier outside.” Our parents bundled everyone up, and we squeezed onto the sleigh to go back home.

My brothers Dunning, Morrison, and I started school at the Allegheny Academy, run by Mr. Joseph Stockton and Mr. John Kelly, his assistant. Mr. Stockton, a thin, severe-looking man, was Pa’s friend, whom he’d asked to come to Allegheny to be the principal of the Allegheny Academy. I can’t say I liked him as well as Morrison did.

The very first day, Mr. Stockton made it clear how serious he was. “Get out your readers,” he said, “and turn to ‘Select Sentences and Paragraphs.’ Who will read the first sentence?”

A copy of Murray’s English Reader stared up between Morrison and me at our shared desk, and Morrison opened it to the first sentence: “Diligence, industry, and proper improvement of time are material duties of the young. The acquisition of knowledge is one of the most honourable occupations of youth.”

All the way back to our New England Primer, readers always included passages like these to scare the pupil into learning. “What does it mean by—” I whispered to Morrison.

“Would one of you like to read it aloud?” Mr. Stockton squinted at us.

I stayed silent. Being called on always made me nervous. Morrison raised his hand, and Mr. Stockton called on him. He read it almost perfectly, except for “improvement,” “acquisition,” and “occupation.”

“Good. Now can someone tell me the verbs in the sentence?” The older boys in the back of the room, where Dunning sat, smothered their laughter as Mr. Stockton turned to them, frowning. Morrison pointed to the definition of a verb in the book, “It signifies to be, to do, or to suffer” and whispered, “Dunning says the big boys say, ‘to be, to do, and to suffer’ instead.” We both covered our mouths with our hands to stifle our giggles.

“Can someone tell me what is so amusing about what I just asked, or do I need Mr. Kelly to discipline you?” Mr. Stockton smacked a ruler in his palm, while the other, dark-haired, bespectacled teacher, who must’ve been Mr. Kelly, stood behind him. The class grew silent. “That’s better. Now, who can tell me…”

The grammar lesson dragged on until we were all watching the clock. Finally, Mr. Stockton must have seen this, so he told us to put away our readers and take out Hutton’s Mathematics and practice addition. Arithmetic wasn’t as difficult as grammar for me. Grammar and spelling made school more challenging than mathematics. “Who would like to put the proofs on the board?” Mr. Stockton asked.

Dunning’s hand shot in the air. Mr. Stockton nodded. Dunning didn’t miss a single problem on the proofs, and Mr. Stockton told him, “Good” as well. He didn’t tell me, “Good.” He singled me out.

As soon as the final bell rang, I ran to our new home on Bank Lane ahead of my brothers, leaving Morrison to carry the books. I burst in the door.

Pa and Ma were sitting with my older sister, Ann Eliza, whom we called “Siss Ann”; she had come from Eastern Pennsylvania for Ma to help with her new baby, James. They were discussing the abolition of slavery in England. British Parliament abolished the slave trade with the Slave Trade Act of 1807, but they didn’t abolish slavery itself in parts of the British colonies until 1833 with the Slavery Abolition Act. “Whig abolitionists here will use this as another reason to say our country should abolish slavery,” Pa said. “There will be chaos in England next, and the United States after that if abolition passes here, just like the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution after they freed their slaves.”

“Mr. Buchanan and I were discussing the Abolition Act before I came,” Ann Eliza said of her husband, “and how much it will cost the English taxpayers. They owe £20 million as recompense to slaveowners. Mr. Buchanan’s brother James said the slaveowners deserved compensation.”

“Of course, they do,” Pa said. “They’ll lose money without their labor.”

“The tax is forty percent of England’s budget,” Ma said. “That’s quite a lot for taxpayers.” She stood as she noticed me. “Did you run home all the way, Stephy?” she asked. I was too out-of-breath to answer.

Dunning and Morrison came in the door behind me. “How was Mr. Stockton, boys?” Pa asked.

“He was great,” Morrison said. “He told me I read well.”

“Also, he told me ‘good’ when I put the addition proofs on the board,” Dunning added. “The arithmetic was really easy. I wish we’d move on to something harder.”

Pa nodded. “I knew Mr. Stockton would be good for you. What do you think, Stephy?”

I hesitated. I couldn’t say I didn’t like Mr. Stockton because he was Pa’s friend. Ann Eliza took my silence the wrong way and said, her dark eyes bright like Ma’s, “If you need any help, I’d be happy to tutor you, Stephy. I still have some books on Plato.”

“No, thank you.” She’d tried to teach us Plato a few years before when we lived at a religious community nearby, and that was more than I wanted. I hurried out of the room.

Lieve found me hiding in the boys’ room a few hours later. “What’s the matter, Mr. Stephen?” She peered over the side of the bed.

“Mr. Stockton’s too hard. Only I can’t say so because he’s Pa’s friend, and Mit and Dunning like him.”

“How would you like to come with me to church on Sunday? Would that help?”

I nodded. The songs were the best part of going to the African Methodist Episcopal Church with her. Sunday morning, we walked to church together, Lieve singing:

“Take him to the Gulley! Take him to the Gulley!

But bringee back the frock and board.”

“Oh! massa, massa! me no deadee yet!”—

“Take him to the Gulley! Take him to the Gulley!”—

“Carry him along!”

“Why do they leave him like that?” I asked. That song scared me the first time she sang it.

“He’d done his time. He couldn’t work anymore.”

“It’s still not fair. He’s not dead yet.”

“Life’s not always fair, I’m afraid. Things happen all the time that aren’t fair.”

We reached the doorway of the church, where the congregation greeted us as we entered. “Morning, Lieve! Morning, Mr. Stephen!”

Lieve smiled and greeted them back as we found our pew. The music started playing as the preacher entered, and we stood to sing as he proceeded to the front of the church:

Hallelujah to the Lamb

Who has purchas’d our pardon,

We will praise him again

When we pass over Jordan.

After an opening prayer, the preacher opened The Book of Common Prayer and read, “Jesus said, I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep…”

“We are God’s sheep,” he shouted as he closed the book. “We have to give everything to follow him. We won’t be free until we do. England has freed its slaves, and we must never stop until our slaves are freed here.” His voice rose. “Freedom can’t be given to us! We have to take it up for ourselves!” He banged his hand on the pulpit.

“Amen,” Lieve called with the others. I leaned forward in my seat. Unlike the Episcopal Church my family sometimes went to, anyone at the AME Church could cry, laugh, or call out if something moved them and clap along with the songs; it was much more exciting and displayed more of a sense of spirit.

After he minister finished his sermon, and Lieve and the other members of the congregation lined up in front of the altar for communion. I was too young and stayed in my seat, singing along instead. Once communion ended, the preacher gave his final blessing before everyone exited the church, singing:

Brethren farewell, I do you tell

That you and I must part:

I go away, and here you stay;

But still we join in heart.

As Lieve and I left, still humming the songs, I said, “Everyone’s talking about England freeing its slaves. Isn’t it a good thing? Pa doesn’t seem to think so.” Pa didn’t, but the minister did; I couldn’t make sense of such different opinions. Lieve might know what to think.

“Lord bless your pa, but he doesn’t know everything. Of course, it’s a good thing, but it’d be better if the slaves were really free,” Lieve said. “They have to serve as apprentices six to twelve years before they’re free.”

“That’s not fair.” Why would England pass an act to free slaves and then not truly free them?

“It’s like I said, Mr. Stephen; things happen all the time that aren’t fair.”

“Will the slaves ever be free here?” If the slaves weren’t happy, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

“Lord, I hope so.” Lieve clasped her hands. “I hope so.”

On Monday, Pa sent us to school early to make sure we made a good impression on Mr. Stockton, but Mr. Kelly was there before Mr. Stockton, arranging the teacher’s desk and whistling.

“I know that song,” I said. “It’s “Meeting of the Waters” by Thomas Moore.”

Mr. Kelly glanced up and smiled. “You like Thomas Moore, do you?”

I nodded. He was one of my sister Charlotte’s favorite composers.

“I’m from Dublin,” Mr. Kelly said, “same city as Tom Moore.”

“Do you know him?”

Mr. Kelly laughed. “No, I don’t, unfortunately, but everyone from Ireland knows his songs. Everyone here does, too, it seems.”

“My sister liked them.” I stopped. It was too hard to talk about Charlotte. “I didn’t know her, really. I was only three when she died.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

More students entered, telling Mr. Kelly “Good morning” as they went to their seats. He greeted them and told me, “We play prisoner’s base most days after school if you want to join us.”

“Yes, I would.”

Mr. Kelly smiled. “Good, good. You’d best be to your seat; Mr. Stockton’s coming in.”

Mr. Stockton stopped at the front of the class and told us to open our readers to the “Narrative Pieces” and copy the vocabulary from the first piece: “Dionysus, Democles…”

“Stephen, spell ‘Dionysus’ for us.” Mr. Stockton looked sharply at me.

I stumbled. Spelling never came easily to me. “D-Y-” I started.

“Sit and spell it out ten times more.”

My face burned. Keeping my head down, I started copying it carefully on the slate, some of the boys in the back of the room laughing.

“Don’t worry,” Morrison whispered. “I can’t spell it, either.”

Mr. Kelly passed by and whispered, “D-I-” with a wink. For being the disciplinarian, he was much more lenient than Mr. Stockton.

After school let out, Mr. Kelly stayed and played prisoner’s base as promised. “I’ll be the prison guard. Who else wants to join my team?”

“I will!” I said.

Prisoner’s base was one of the most enjoyable parts of going to school. Morrison and Dunning also joined Mr. Kelly’s team, and the two opposing teams lined up across from each other in the schoolyard. Whoever was farthest from home base started the game. Since I was farthest, I ran to home base. The boy on the opposite team ran after me, but I was too small and too fast. I slid into home base before him.

Next in line, Morrison chased the next boy on the other team to the enemy base but wasn’t as lucky and got sent to their prison. Dunning was next. He ran to the enemy’s side and tagged Morrison, just missing the prison guard reaching out to grab him. They both ran back to safety. “Good job, Dunning,” Mr. Kelly said. I cheered with everyone else on our team.

The game ended once everyone from the other team was in Mr. Kelly’s prison, and it was too dark to continue. “Good game, everybody,” Mr. Kelly said. “Let’s play again tomorrow.”

We cheered about our victory the entire way home, where Ma greeted us as we came in. “I was starting to wonder where you were.”

“We were playing prisoner’s base,” Dunning said.

“Everyone looks as though they had a good time.” Pa nodded approvingly.

School continued until mid-July. Though I disliked the confinement of a schoolroom, especially in the heat of the summer, Mr. Kelly made it more bearable.

“I’ll see you next year, won’t I?” Mr. Kelly told me on the last day of school.

“I think so.”

“It won’t be too long then,” Mr. Kelly said. “We’ll both be back before we know it. Until then, have a good summer.”

“You, too.”

“Cheers.”

Morrison finished saying goodbye to Mr. Stockton, and I started to follow him but turned back to Mr. Kelly. “You’re the best teacher I ever had.”

“You know what, you’re one of the best students I’ve ever had. Don’t tell Mr. Stockton I told you so.” Mr. Kelly hugged me. “I think your brothers are leaving, so mind they don’t run off without you.”

“Goodbye!” I ran to catch up with Morrison and Dunning.

“Goodbye, now.” Mr. Kelly smiled until we left.

Character List

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864): America’s first professional composer.

Eliza Clayland Foster (1788-1855): Stephen’s mother. A woman of faith and conviction.

William Barclay Foster, Sr. (1779-1855): Stephen’s father. Politician, land speculator, temperance advocate.

William Barclay Foster, Jr. “Brother William” (1807-1860): Stephen’s oldest, adopted brother. Canal superintendent and head of Pennsylvania Railroad. Marries twice, to Mary Wick, then to Elizabeth Burnett. Father figure to Stephen when growing up.

Charlotte Susanna Foster (1809-1829): Stephen’s oldest sister. Dies of yellow fever (bilious fever) while visiting relatives in Louisville, Kentucky, at the age of nineteen. A possible inspiration for “Oh! Susanna.”

Ann Eliza “Siss Ann” Foster Buchanan (1812-1891): Stephen’s second-oldest sister. Marries Edward Buchanan, a minister, brother of President James Buchanan.

Henry Baldwin Foster (1816-1870): Stephen’s second-oldest brother. Canal and railroad worker. Marries Mary Burgess.

Henrietta “Etty” Angelica Foster Thornton (1819-1879): Stephen’s third-oldest sister. A good pianist. Marries twice, first to Thomas Wick, then to Jesse Thornton.

Dunning McNair Foster (1821-1856): Stephen’s third-oldest brother. Partner at Irwin and Foster, Agents in Cincinnati, where Stephen works briefly as a clerk, before buying a steamboat, the James Millinger. Fights in Mexican War.

Morrison “Mit” Foster (1823-1904): Stephen’s fourth-oldest brother and the one closest to him. Works at McCormick’s Cotton Mill. Marries Jessie Lightner.

James “Jim” Clayland Foster (1829-1830): Stephen’s younger brother, who dies as an infant.

Atkinson Hill Rowan (1803-1833): Cousin of William Foster, Sr. Son of Judge John Rowan, who owned Federal Hill in Bardstown, Kentucky. Courted Charlotte Foster. Dies of cholera.

William Cumming “W.C.” Peters (1805-1866): Partner of Smith and Mellor’s Music Store, Pittsburgh, and later opens own music store in Cincinnati, Peters, Field and Company, and in Louisville, Peters and Co., where he publishes Stephen’s first songs, including “Oh! Susanna.”

Olivia “Lieve” Piese: Fosters’ African-French servant from Haiti. Works for them until they move to Allegheny Town, on the North Side of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Joseph Tomlinson: Eliza Foster’s half-brother and Stephen’s uncle. Minister and president of Augusta College in Kentucky. Abolitionist.

Dr. John Tomlinson: Eliza Foster’s half-brother and Stephen’s uncle. Doctor in Augusta, Kentucky.

Mrs. Harvey: runs the first school Stephen and Morrison attend.

Michael Cassilly: Dry goods merchant in Cincinnati. Foster family friend.

Sophia Cassilly: Wife of Michael Cassilly. Foster family friend.

Ann Marshall: Daughter of Michael and Sophia Cassilly. Friend of Charlotte Foster’s.

Sophie Marshall Miller: Daughter of Ann Marshall. Marries Henry Miller. Soprano and friend of Stephen’s. Stephen dedicates “Stay Summer Breath” to her.

William Cassilly: Son of Michael and Sophia Cassilly.

George Barclay: William Foster, Sr.’s uncle. Lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Father of Joshua Barclay and father-in-law of Sally Barclay. Charlotte Foster was visiting the Barclays when she died.

William Christian Bullitt (1793-1877): Owner of Oxmoor House in Louisville, Kentucky. Married to Mildred Ann Fry Bullitt.

Mildred Ann Fry Bullitt (1798-1879): Owner of Oxmoor House in Louisville, Kentucky. Married to William Christian Bullitt.

John Christian Bullitt (1824-1902): Son of William and Mildred Bullitt. Later a lawyer in Pennsylvania.

Titus, “Uncle” Jack, and Caroline: Some of the Bullitt slaves. Caroline worked in the kitchens, and Jack and Titus were William Bullitt’s slaves. Titus was married to “Aunt” Phyllis, who lived on another plantation.

Sarah Collins: Eliza’s friend. Stephen is named for her deceased son, Stephen Collins.

Dr. Andrew McDowell (d. 1849): Doctor. Friend of the Fosters’. Father of Jane McDowell. Dies suddenly.

Jane Denny Porter McDowell (1806-1895): Mother of Jane, Agnes, and Marion McDowell, as well as three other daughters, Mary, Elizabeth, and Alice.

Marion McDowell Scully: Sister of Jane and Agnes McDowell.

Jane “Jennie” McDowell Foster (1829-1903): Daughter of Dr. McDowell and sister of Agnes Cummings and Marion Scully. Marries Stephen. “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair.”

Agnes McDowell Cummings (1831-1906): Sister of Jane and Marion McDowell.

Joseph Stockton: Teacher at the Allegheny Academy, the second school Stephen and Morrison attend.

John Kelly: Disciplinarian at Allegheny Academy. Native of Dublin, Ireland. Stephen’s favorite teacher.

James Buchanan, Jr.: Son of Ann Eliza and Edward Buchanan. Political hopeful.

Kitty: Fosters’ indentured Black servant with three years to serve, given to them by Ma’s friend.

Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice (1808-1860): One of the first minstrel performers. Creator of “Jump Jim Crow.”

Andrew “Andy” Robinson: Neighbor and friend of Stephen’s. One of the Knights of the Square Table. Marries Susan Pentland.

Thomas Wick: Henrietta Foster’s first husband. Lives in Youngstown, Ohio. Brother of Mary Wick. Dies of tuberculosis (consumption).

Mary Wick: Brother William’s first wife. Lives in Youngstown, Ohio. Sister of Thomas Wick. Dies of tuberculosis (consumption).

Mary “Siss” Wick: Daughter of Henrietta and Thomas Wick.

John Struthers (1759-1845): William Foster, Sr.’s brother-in-law. Has a farm in Poland, Ohio. Revolutionary War veteran. One of Stephen’s favorite uncles.

Cadwallader Evans: Operates steamboat company. Husband of Jane Evans. Cousin of Eliza Foster’s.

Jane Evans: Wife of Cadwallader Evans. Cousin of Eliza Foster’s.

Sarah, Annie, and Mary Evans: daughters of Cadwallader and Jane Evans. Annie is a possible inspiration for “Gentle Annie.”

William Wallace Kingsbury (1828-1892): Stephen’s friend at Towanda Academy. Later one of the first delegates from Minnesota.

Frederick Gunn (1816-1881): Teacher at Towanda Academy. Abolitionist. Later founds the Gunnery, a liberal arts school in Connecticut.

David Wilmot (1814-1868): Towanda lawyer, later a Pennsylvania Representative and Senator known for helping to establish the anti-slavery Free Soil Party and the Republican Party.

Mr. Herrick: Stephen boards at his house while at Athens Academy.

James Forbes: Friend of Stephen’s at Athens Academy. Accompanies Stephen on flute for “The Tioga Waltz.”

William Warner: Friend of Stephen’s at Athens Academy. Accompanies Stephen on flute for “The Tioga Waltz.”

Frances Welles Stuart: Older friend of Stephen’s at Athens Academy. Good pianist. Marries Charles Stuart.

Mrs. Welles: Mother of Frances, Henry, and George Welles.

Francis Tyler: Teacher at Athens Academy.

Mr. Vandercook: Recitation teacher at Athens Academy.

Charles Stuart: Marries Frances Welles.

Mr. Vosberry: Mathematician. Stephen’s tutor.

Mr. Kettle: An artist. Stephen boards with him in Towanda.

Samuel “Sam” Montgomery: Friend of Stephen’s at Jefferson College.

Mrs. Paul: Runs the boarding house William Sr. and Eliza Foster stay at in Pittsburgh.

Capt. Jean Herbst: Native of Belgium. Stephen’s French and German instructor.

Henry Kleber (1816-1897): Native of Germany. Stephen’s music instructor. Composer. Opens a music store in Pittsburgh and presents concerts.

Catharine Russell: Fosters’ Black servant.

Martin Delany (1812-1885): Medical student of Dr. McDowell’s. Later attends Harvard. Black abolitionist, writer who edits The North Star with Frederick Douglass, and separatist who tries to found a Black colony in Liberia, Africa, before serving as a Union soldier.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870): One of the best-known and loved novelists of the English language, famous for Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and many other stories. His works inspire some of Stephen’s songs, such as “Hard Times Come Again No More.”

Matilda “Lidie” Wick: Daughter of Henrietta and Thomas Wick.

Thomas Wick, Jr.: Son of Henrietta and Thomas Wick.

Elizabeth Burnett Foster (1819-1856): Widow. Second wife of Brother William.

Francis “Frank” Johnson (1792-1844): Black brass band player, leader of Frank Johnson Band.

Henry Russell (1812 or 1813-1900): English Jewish performer, famous for composing music to popular poems like “Woodman! Spare That Tree!” His work inspires Stephen’s early songs.

Susan “Siss” Pentland Robinson: Neighbor and friend of Stephen’s. Soprano. Marries Andy Robinson. Stephen dedicates “Open Thy Lattice, Love” to her.

George Willig: Philadelphia music publisher. Publishes Stephen’s first published song, “Open Thy Lattice, Love.”

Richard “Dick” Cowan: Lawyer, one of the Knights of the Square Table, and Jane McDowell’s other suitor.

Charles “Charley” Shiras (1824-1854): Poet, abolitionist, and friend of Stephen’s. Stephen works on many songs, including “Old Folks at Home” and “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night,” at his house. Starts a short-lived abolitionist paper, The Albatross, after talks with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Dies of tuberculosis (consumption).

Jesse Thornton: Henrietta Foster’s second husband.

Mary Burgess (1825-1908): Marries Henry Foster.

Archibald Irwin: Business partner of Dunning Foster’s in Cincinnati at Irwin and Foster, Agents.

Jane Griffin: Runs boarding house Dunning and Stephen stay at in Cincinnati.

Samuel P. Thompson: Boarder at Mrs. Griffin’s.

William Gallagher (1808-1894): Editor of Cincinnati Gazette, abolitionist, and poet.

J.C. Benson: the manager of the Sable Harmonists.

Nelson Kneass: Member of minstrel troupe Sable Harmonists. Later starts Kneass Opera Troupe.

Joseph Murphy: Member of minstrel troupe Sable Harmonists. Later joins Kneass Opera Troupe. Stephen dedicates “Lou’siana Belle” to him.

William Roark: Member of minstrel troupe Sable Harmonists. Later joins Kneass Opera Troupe. Stephen dedicates “Uncle Ned” to him.

George “G.N.” Christy: Member of Christy’s Minstrels. Sings “Susanna.”

T. Vaughn: Member of Christy’s Minstrels.

Charles White: Black minstrel who tries to claim “Nelly Was a Lady” as his own.

Rachel Wood: friend and neighbor.

Nelly Bly: Black servant of Rachel Wood’s. Inspiration for “Nelly Bly.”

Joe: McDowells’ Black servant. “Old Black Joe.”

Morgan Jenkins: Runs a grocery. Father of Annie Jenkins.

Rev. Lyman: Minister at Trinity Episcopal Church. Marries Stephen and Jane.

Uncle Snaith: Jane McDowell’s uncle.

Thaddeus Firth: Partner of Firth, Pond and Co., Stephen’s New York publisher.

William Pond (d. 1885): Partner of Firth, Pond and Co., Stephen’s New York publisher.

Edwin Pearce “E.P.” Christy (1815-1862): Leader of Christy’s Minstrels. Sings many of Stephen’s minstrel songs, including “Old Folks at Home” and “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night.”

Rev. Edward Buchanan (1811-1895): Minister. Husband of Ann Eliza Foster. Brother of President James Buchanan.

Charlotte Buchanan: Daughter of Ann Eliza and Edward Buchanan. Dies young.

Ann Evans: Servant of the Fosters’.

Mary Burgess “Birdie” Foster: Daughter of Henry and Mary Foster.

Marion Foster (1851-1935): Daughter of Stephen and Jane.

Jessie Lightner Foster (d. 1882): Contralto. Marries Morrison. Sister of Julia Lightner.

Julia Lightner: Sister of Jessie Lightner.

Charles Avery (1784-1858): Head of Allegheny Institute and Mission Church in Pittsburgh for free Blacks. Abolitionist.

Richard Storrs Willis (1819-1900): Editor of The New York Musical Times. Composer of melody for “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” A critic of Stephen.

Joseph Foster: Owner of Foster Theater in Pittsburgh (no relation of Stephen’s).

Mrs. Shiras: Wife of Charles Shiras.

Rachel Shiras: Daughter of Charles Shiras.

Mr. Loy: neighbor and shopkeeper.

Biddie and Margaret: Stephen’s Irish servants.

Annie Jenkins: Daughter of Morgan Jenkins. A possible inspiration for “Gentle Annie.”

Judge Irwin: The judge who copyrights Stephen’s “Away Down Souf.”

Col. William “Billy” Hamilton: Friend of Stephen’s who gives him dog “Rat-trap.”

Mrs. Johnston: Runs boarding house Jane, Marion, and Stephen stay at in Pittsburgh.

Robert Wray: Runs grocery below Stephen’s office in Pittsburgh.

Bill Blakely: Friend of Stephen’s who dies of Mexican War wounds.

Mrs. Miller: Runs boarding house Jane, Marion, and Stephen stay at in Pittsburgh.

Mrs. Schoenberger: Runs the Gaskill House in Ohio, where Jane, Marion, and Stephen stay. Her daughters befriend Marion.

Louisa Stewart: Runs boarding house in New York Jane, Marion, and Stephen stay at.

Rushanna and Mattie Stewart: Daughters of Louisa Stewart. Friends of Marion’s.

John Mahon: Native of Ireland. Newspaperman. Friend of Stephen’s in New York.

Mrs. Mahon: Wife of John Mahon.

Annie Mahon: Daughter of John Mahon.

John J. Daly: One of Stephen’s publishers in New York.

S.T. Gordon: One of Stephen’s publishers in New York.

Clement Vallandigham (1820-1871): Ohio politician exiled for supporting the Confederacy. Friend of Morrison’s and Henrietta’s.

George Birdseye: Acquaintance of Stephen’s in New York.

George Cooper (1840-1927): Union soldier. Friend of Stephen’s in New York, with whom he writes many songs, including “While the Bowl Goes Round.”

Henry Wood: New York minstrel performer. George Cooper and Stephen may have written “A Soldier in de Colored Brigade” for him.

Tony Pastor (1837-1908): Father of vaudeville. Stephen writes “The Song of All Songs” for him.

Edward Buchanan, Jr.: Son of Ann Eliza and Edward Buchanan.

Horace Waters (1812-1893): New York publisher of religious music. Publishes several of Stephen’s hymns.

Susan McFarland Parkhurst (1838-1918): Works at Horace Waters’s office. Befriends Stephen and arranges a few of his songs, including “The Pure, the Bright, the Beautiful” with words by Charles Dickens.

Chapter Two

Come Rest in This Bosom—May 1833

The steamboat Napoleon stopped in the harbor of Augusta, Kentucky, the Ohio River swelling under it and the stars winking at Ma, Henrietta, and me as we filed off the boat. The gas lights illuminated the white buildings of the town almost as much as the stars did. Uncle Joseph and Uncle John, Ma’s brothers, greeted us as we reached the landing. “Welcome, Eliza,” Uncle Joseph told Ma, hugging her. “How was your trip?”

“It was pleasant,” she said. “The captain took good care of us, and I met one of our neighbors on the boat.”

“Wonderful. I’m glad you had a nice time.”

“How are Etty and Stephy?” Uncle John asked us, hugging Henrietta and ruffling my hair. I hid behind Henrietta’s skirt. I was always a little shy of people I didn’t know well.

“We’re well,” Henrietta said, “but a little tired.” She yawned.

“Then we should get you to bed as soon as possible.” Uncle John picked up some of the luggage, and Uncle Joseph the rest. They led the way into town, the streets quiet without anyone in them, a bell somewhere ringing eleven times. Uncle Joseph and Uncle John continued talking with Ma about the trip, but my head began to droop; we couldn’t reach Uncle Joseph’s house fast enough.

“Here we are.” Uncle Joseph set down the luggage and unlocked the front door of his Dutch Colonial house, white but almost yellow in the glow of the streetlamp. He and Uncle John carried the bags upstairs, setting them down in the guest bedroom. There were two beds, a larger one for Ma and Henrietta and a smaller one for me, and I wasted no time lying down on it.

“He must be tired,” Uncle Joseph said.

“Stephy, don’t fall asleep yet.” Ma touched my arm. “Tell your uncles goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Uncle John said from the doorway, smiling. “I’ll come back by tomorrow.”

“Goodnight,” Henrietta and I said. Uncle John closed the door behind him, and I must’ve fallen asleep as soon as my head reached the pillow.

We had more for breakfast the next morning than I was ever used to having at home. Ma and Pa usually had toast and sometimes coffee or tea to fill up the empty spots, but Uncle Joseph had everything—tea, toast with jelly, ham, eggs. I devoured it as if I’d never eaten anything else like it again. “Don’t eat so quickly, Stephy,” Ma told me. “Breakfast is delicious, Joseph,” she added to my uncle. “Who do I have to thank for the cooking?”

Uncle Joseph seemed uncomfortable. “I’m able to keep a servant or two. Kentucky might be a slave state, but I don’t hold with the practice.”

“I wasn’t sure. Slavery isn’t legal in Pennsylvania,” Ma said delicately, “but some of our relatives in the South have slaves.” Pa’s cousins, the Rowans in Kentucky, kept many slaves.

“Slavery shouldn’t be allowed in the North or the South. The Declaration says all men are created equal. When will that include slaves?”

Ma was silent for a moment. No one spoke this way in our own house. Pa praised President Andrew Jackson any chance he could, but he didn’t spare any words on slavery, and Ma knew when to keep quiet.

“Hopefully, this country will one day live up to the ideals of all men being created equal,” Ma said. “Until then, everyone is equal before God.”

“I can’t hold with the argument that slaves will only be free after death. If God created everyone equal, He would want everyone to be able to be equal and, most of all, free before entering His Kingdom. Our current president does not help. Andrew Jackson brought slaves to Washington for the first time since John Quincy Adams. I wish Henry Clay had won the election last year; he has a more moderate position towards slavery.” Andrew Jackson defeated Henry Clay, the Kentucky State Senator, in the Election of 1832.

“President Jackson has done some good,” Ma said. “He stopped last year’s Nullification Crisis; South Carolina had no right to pass a state act that they could nullify federal law. Senator Clay isn’t completely blameless, either. He owns several slaves.” South Carolina passed the South Carolina Act of Nullification in 1832 to avoid federal laws in response to a tariff they believed unfair to the South, causing the Nullification Crisis.

Henrietta glanced between Ma and Uncle Joseph, and I kept my head down. I didn’t want Ma and her brother to argue.

“Jackson’s handling of the crisis angered many in the South,” Uncle Joseph said. “He wanted to use armed troops against South Carolina. Clay reached a compromise without resorting to force; he would make a better president. Andrew Jackson is too hot-blooded.”

“Be that as it may, President Jackson has helped the common people. He’ll help us get the money back the federal government owes William for sending supplies to the Battle of New Orleans.”

“Your husband puts an extraordinary amount of faith in Andrew Jackson,” was all Uncle Joseph said.

Through the silence, singing drifted outside from the hill:

The time draws nigh when you and I

Are to be separated;

But this doth grieve, our hearts to leave

Each other to be parted;

But let us see eternity,

And meet the saints with joy,

Our sighings o’er, we’ll part no more

But reign with Christ in glory.

“Where’s that music coming from?” I asked. The songs seemed sad, and I loved listening to spirituals. The melodies left a profound effect on me, always remaining with me and joining with the strains of music in my own mind.

“The African Methodist Episcopal Church,” Uncle Joseph said, “the one on the hill. They sing up there every day and every night.”

“Can we go there?” Lieve took me to the AME Church in Pittsburgh all the time. We sang the songs on the way to and from church, and I learned to play them once I owned a flute, sometimes improvising new notes or bars.

 “May,” Ma corrected me, “and I don’t think we need to go there now. I’m sure Uncle Joseph is very busy.” My shoulders slumped. I could go at home, but not here.

“I do have a class to teach at one. Natural Philosophy.” Uncle Joseph pushed back his chair. “I’m available until then if you’d like to see the town.”

“May we visit Augusta College?” Henrietta asked. “I’d like to see a girls’ college.” Uncle Joseph was the president of Augusta College.

“Of course. We can go now if you’d like.”

Why anyone wanted to visit a school was beyond me. I never liked school, not since I was five years old at infant school with my older brother Morrison. The teacher, Mrs. Harvey, handed us copies of the New England Primer, which included lessons as fitting for infants as a man burning at the stake. When she asked me to read the alphabet, I ran screaming the entire mile home.

“I would like to,” said Henrietta, who was a much better student.

It was decided. After breakfast, we walked up to Augusta College, a large brick schoolhouse topped by a bell, and several teachers greeted Uncle Joseph as we entered. “This is the elocution room,” Uncle Joseph said as we passed, students standing and practicing recitations. “This is the composition room,” where students sat, their pencils scratching over the page under the watchful eye of the teacher. “The students learn Latin and Greek here.” The pupils stood inside, reciting in a foreign language. “And this is the Natural Philosophy room for the seniors.” Uncle Joseph beamed proudly as we passed his room.

“I wish I could go to school here,” Henrietta said. “Everyone must be learning so much.”

“I’m sure there are exemplary schools in Pittsburgh,” Uncle Joseph said. “I take it you’re a good student?”

“Yes. School isn’t as much fun without my sisters, but I still like it.”

“Good. How about you, Stephy?” Uncle Joseph turned to me as we left the school.

I shook my head. “I don’t like school.” Why did we have to go to school to learn to read and write when we could learn just as well at home?

“He’s not a bad student,” Ma said quickly. “He—prefers being out-of-doors.”

“You could study to be a doctor,” Uncle John said, coming towards us from down the street. I didn’t want to be a doctor; I wanted to play music.

“John, I’m glad you came to join us.” Ma smiled at him.

“I thought I might find you here before Joseph’s class, and I was right.”

“What would you like to do before then?” Uncle Joseph asked, checking his watch. “I still have a little time before then.”

“Let’s see the town,” Henrietta suggested before I could ask to visit the church on the hill.

We wandered up and down Main Street, the buildings brick and decorated with painted signs on the sides like “Dry Goods” or “Apothecary.” Men in top hats held their arms out for ladies in bonnets, their servants or their slaves behind them, and children ran up and down the street playing hoops and dodging carriages. Horses stood silently at hitching posts outside businesses, and dogs tied up outside of shops barked at passersby. Uncle Joseph and Uncle John tipped their top hats to the ladies as they passed, and I stopped to pet a dog, laughing as it licked my hand, before running to catch up. I’d always wanted a dog.

Ma asked to stop in a dry goods store, so we stepped inside. She and Henrietta examined rolled bolts of cloth, while Uncle John and Uncle Joseph looked over bags of seed in the corner. I wandered to the counter. Bushels of apples and barrels of potatoes sat on either side of the counter, full of jars of sweets: peppermints, lemon drops, licorice, and taffy. My mouth watered. Uncle John winked as he paid two pennies for two peppermints, one for me, one for Henrietta.

“Thank you,” Henrietta said, nudging me.

“Thank you,” I said.

Uncle John laughed. After we left the store, he pointed out his doctor’s office, the sign with the snake and staff swinging over the door.

“You and Joseph look as though you’ve done well for yourselves,” Ma said.

“We certainly try,” Uncle John said.

The bell at the College chimed twelve times. Uncle Joseph said, “We should get back home for dinner, and John can get you settled afterward.” The sun was now high overhead and the humid Kentucky heat wilting, so returning inside was welcome. Once the servants cleared dinner at Uncle Joseph’s house, he hurried to the College, while Uncle John apologized for having to return to his doctor’s office. Ma insisted it was quite all right. We stayed inside Uncle Joseph’s house until our uncles returned from work in time for supper.

“I hear you’re very accomplished at the piano, Etty,” Uncle Joseph told Henrietta after supper.

She blushed. “I wouldn’t say accomplished.”

“That’s not what I’ve been told.” He glanced at Ma, whose dark eyes sparkled.

“I’ll play if Stephy can accompany me. He’s got a flute, and he’s very good at it.” She glanced at me, and I ran upstairs to retrieve it. I never liked performing for crowds, but I played if the family asked me to, and I wanted to show the flute off.

“What should we play?” Henrietta asked.

“You could play something by Thomas Moore, like ‘Come Rest in This Bosom,’” Uncle John said.

“That was Charlotte’s favorite song,” Ma said quietly, her eyes shadowed with a memory.

“I didn’t mean—if you’d rather a different song—”

“No, it’s quite all right. I haven’t heard it in a long time.”

Henrietta struck up the first note for me, and we played together as well as if we’d practiced it a thousand times while she sang:

Come rest in this bosom,

My own stricken deer,

Tho’the herd may have fled from thee,

Thy home is still here,

Here still is the smile that no cloud can o’er cast,

And the heart and the hand

All thy own to the last.

“Bravo!” Uncle John clapped when we finished, the others clapping, too.

“You’re both very accomplished,” Uncle Joseph told us. Henrietta blushed, and my face lit up.

The trip didn’t continue as well as it began. The next morning, I woke with my stomach cramping and a fever. “Ma,” Henrietta called. “Stephy’s ill.”

Ma entered, a dark shadow against the doorway. “So is Joseph. It must be cholera.” Cholera was terrible this year in Pittsburgh. It was part of why Ma wanted to come South, though it proved to be as bad there, too. We didn’t know where the disease came from, but it was highly contagious and left people dehydrated and weak if they recovered at all.

Red spots flashed before my eyes. My insides turned shriveled up and cramping, and I had never been this ill in my life, not even when I’d had whooping cough. Ma sat beside me, more a shadow than anything, trying to force me to drink weak beef tea and barley water when I’d rather eat or drink nothing. She made me sing with her to keep me awake when I just wanted to drift off. It must’ve worked. The delirium wore off, leaving me weak and unable to leave the bed.

“I’m sorry Stephy’s been ill,” Ma told Uncle John in the doorway.

“These things can’t be helped. I’m just glad I was able to be here when he was.”

Ma sat beside me, offering me a bowl of soup, and I drained it, a little strength coming back. “I didn’t mean to be ill.”

“I know you didn’t.” She stroked my hair. “Sometimes, things just happen.”

She helped me walk across the floor, her arm around me until my strength came back, and I could walk on my own. As soon as I was well, she said we needed to leave before the cholera worsened.

Uncle Joseph and Uncle John carried our luggage to the harbor, where the packet boat the Champlain waited. “I’m sorry you couldn’t stay longer,” Uncle Joseph said, “but I understand you want to be safe.”

“Come see us again soon,” Uncle John added.

“We will,” Ma said.

“Please come back and play for us,” Uncle Joseph told Henrietta. After the last round of hugs and farewells, we boarded the Champlain, smoke billowing above us as it steamed away.

When we arrived in Cincinnati, we walked down the Champlain’s gangplank to the stone levee, me between Ma and Henrietta. The harbor at Cincinnati was busier and livelier than Augusta. Packets and steamboats docked all up and down the Ohio River, and black stevedores in omnibuses called the names of peoples’ hotels as they drove by. Cincinnati’s buildings were cleaner and whiter than the smoke-streaked ones of Pittsburgh, and the city was much more attractive.

I clung to Henrietta’s hand as we stopped by a man in front of a shiny new state coach, but Ma smiled at him. “I wasn’t expecting you, Michael.” Mr. Cassilly, who was Ma and Pa’s friend, moved to Cincinnati a few years ago for his dry goods business.

The man in the coach beamed at us. “You deserve to see the city in style. Well, get in, get in.” We stepped into the coach.

Mr. Cassilly clicked the reins, and we were off. I ran my hands over the smooth walls and bounced on the seat; Pa never had carriages this fancy. “Stephy,” Henrietta said.

“The little man’s excited is all,” Mr. Cassilly said over his shoulder. “Have you ever been on a steamboat before?” he asked, smiling at me.

“No, never,” I said, starting to warm up. There were steamboats in Pittsburgh, but this was my first steamboat ride to the South. The same Ohio River took on a different character from Pittsburgh to the South, row houses turning to a few towns scattered with rural plantations and steamboats with black workers plying the river.

Front Street passed by, then First Street, Second Street, Third Street, and finally, Fourth Street. “Here we are.” Mr. Cassilly stopped the coach, and a tall brick mansion stood in front of us as we got out. My eyes widened. I’d never been in such a big house.

Mr. Cassilly laughed as he carried the luggage up to the door. Ma smiled at Mrs. Cassilly as they entered. “Sophia.”

“I’m glad to see you again, Eliza.” Mrs. Cassilly hugged her. “We haven’t seen each other in too long.”

Henrietta smiled at a young woman standing by Mrs. Cassilly. “Ann, I’ve been looking forward to talking with you. I haven’t seen you since you moved to Cincinnati.” It had to be Ann Marshall, Mrs. Cassilly’s daughter, who had gone to school with Charlotte.

“Henrietta, it’s good to see you again. You’ve really grown up. I’m sorry about Charlotte, but I’m glad I got to see her before she went to Louisville.”

Henrietta bowed her head. “Thank you. I wish she could be here with us; she’d love to see you.”

“I’m glad we’re able to come and see you,” Ma told Ann. “You remind me of Charlotte.” 

A girl a little younger than me clung to Ann’s skirt, peering around her. “This is my daughter, Sophie. She’s been waiting to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, Sophie. I hope we get to know each other.” Henrietta bent towards her, but Sophie buried her face against her mother’s skirt, looking at me.

“She’s not usually this shy,” Ann said.

“It’s all right.” Henrietta stood, smiling at Sophie. “There are a lot of new people here. I’m sure she’ll get used to everyone.”

A man lifted me in the air. “This is little Stephy, isn’t it?” He set me back down. I laughed, surprised, and ran back to Ma.

“Be careful, William,” Ann said, but she smiled. Ann’s brother, William Cassilly, grinned at me. He was a lot like my brothers.

“I should show you to your room.” Mr. Cassilly picked up the luggage, and we went after him up the wide, sweeping stairs; the guest bedroom was even grander than Uncle Joseph’s, with several stuffed chairs. Ma touched the thin blue curtains over the bed. “This is very lovely. Thank you.”

“It’s our pleasure. I know you traveled all day; if you’d like to retire, I shouldn’t blame you in the slightest.”

“We might stay up a little longer.”

Everyone gathered in the parlor, Ma sitting with Mr. and Mrs. Cassilly while Mrs. Cassilly talked about a place called Mrs. Trollope’s Bazaar. “It’s closed now. Fortunately, Mrs. Trollope moved back to England; she said many a scathing thing about Cincinnati.”

“How could anyone not like such a beautiful city?”

“It’s beyond me. Someone once described the bazaar as ‘part church, part jail, part bank, and part dwelling house.’ If you pass by there, you can decide if you agree.”

Henrietta sat with Sophie in her lap and Sophie’s favorite doll while Ann talked about school. “I remember when we first went to St. Joseph’s in Pittsburgh, Charlotte was very homesick; we all were. My sister and I tried to pretend not to be for Charlotte’s sake. I was happy to see her when she came to visit us after we moved to Cincinnati and sad to hear when she passed away.”

William called me over beside him. “You’re a musician, aren’t you?”

“I can play the flute.”

“Could you play something for us?”

“If Etty plays, too.” She always played with me.

Henrietta set Sophie down off her lap. “I’m going to play the piano now, if that’s all right?”  Sophie nodded. “Which song do you want?”

“Play ‘I Have Loved Thee, Mary,’” Ann said. “Charlotte liked that one.”

Henrietta played the first note for me, and we played the rest of it together, Henrietta singing along, “Once I loved thee, Mary dear, O how truly!”

Everyone clapped when we finished. Ann smiled. “I’m glad to hear that song again; I haven’t heard it since Charlotte was here.”

Ma wiped away a tear.

Mrs. Cassilly, Ann, Ma and Henrietta went to Mrs. Trollope’s Bazaar the next day, while William and I went to the music shops near the house. William set me on his shoulders as I pressed my face against the glass. There were lots of instruments inside, pianos, melodeons, guitars, and woodwinds. I pointed inside. “Etty has a guitar like that, but she really wants a piano.”

“I’m sure you’ll get a piano.”

“I don’t know…” Henrietta said Brother William bought Charlotte a piano, but we had moved too much to keep it.

“I bet you will. The Western Museum’s right up the street if you want to go. They have live snakes.”

Snakes were even more fun than musical instruments. “Can we go?”

“Of course.” William laughed. We walked up Fourth Street to the museum, white with a clock tower on top. Lots of people stared at the snakes in cages under a sign that said: “Snakes of India—ALIVE!” Cages held thick, brown spotted snakes, red snakes, and yellow-and-brown snakes. “There are some boas,” William read. “A red one and a common one.”

“Like a boa constrictor?”

“No, it’s from somewhere different. There’s a rat snake.” It was eating a rat, the long tail sticking out of its mouth. I stood there, the snake staring back. “We should get back. Your mother will wonder where you are.” William picked me up again, the snakes still watching us as we left.

Too soon, it was time to leave Cincinnati, and Mr. Cassilly took us back to the river in his stagecoach. “I hope you have a pleasant journey to Louisville.”

Ma smiled.

The Napoleon was waiting for us again. The captain winked at me as I ran up the gangplank, Henrietta hurrying after me. Ma said goodbye to Mr. Cassilly before joining us, and I waved at Mr. Cassilly from the deck until the boat steamed away slowly from the dock.

Louisville was a lot like Cincinnati, with steamboats along the Ohio and black stevedores racing the streets in omnibuses. Ma gripped my hand tightly as we made our way along the busy waterfront, and I turned every which way, trying not to miss anything.

“There’s George Barclay.” Ma smiled at Pa’s uncle, who waited by a hackney coach.

“Welcome to Louisville, Eliza.” Uncle Barclay opened the doors to let them in. “Etty and Stephy, too, of course.”

“Thank you for meeting us,” Ma said as she settled into the coach.

“My pleasure.” Uncle Barclay shut the doors and climbed in the coach’s front seat, and we started out. I stuck my head out the window. The rows of stores and houses passed by, omnibuses and carriages going down the streets.

After a few more blocks, we stopped at Market Street. Uncle Barclay helped us out of the coach when we got to his brick house with columns over the door. “I’m sorry that Joshua and Sally are not here to welcome you. They just moved to Trimble County.” Joshua and Sally Barclay were the cousins Charlotte had been visiting in Louisville before she died. Sally and her daughters were ill with bilious fever, and Charlotte took ill while caring for them.

Uncle Barclay carried our luggage up the steep, narrow stairs to the guest bedroom, full of heavy, dark furniture. “I’ll give you a moment to rest and arrange yourselves; you may come down at any time.”

As soon as Uncle Barclay left, Ma sank on the bed with a sigh, and Henrietta sat beside her. “We must act brave for Charlotte’s sake,” Ma said.

“Everything will be all right, Ma.” Henrietta patted her arm.

I stood by her. How could I help Ma feel better?

We rode to the cemetery in Uncle Barclay’s hackney coach the next day. I squirmed. Everyone seemed serious and sad. It was raining by the time we reached the cemetery, and Ma and Henrietta pulled their hoods closer around them as Uncle Barclay helped them out. I walked with my head bent past the stone fence and the rows of headstones, the name “Bullitt” on most of them.

“I’m sorry about Charlotte,” Uncle Barclay said. “She was an angel to Sally and her girls and took such good care of them while they were ill. We tried to save her. We truly did.”

“I’m sure you did everything,” Ma said. She cried when she touched “Charlotte Susanna Foster” on the headstone. Under her name was when she was born, 14 December 1809, and when she died, 20 October 1829. Henrietta put her arm around Ma. She was crying, too.

“Ma?” I touched Ma’s hand.

“Oh, Stephy.” Ma hugged me close. “She’d be glad we came to see her at last.”

Afterward, we visited the Barclays’ friends, the Bullitts, in whose cemetery Charlotte was buried. We drove from the graveyard to their estate, Oxmoor. A road led to the porticoed brick front of the house, which overlooked Beargrass Creek. Several outbuildings, including the smokehouse, the ice house, and the kitchen, stood near the house with slave cabins farther away. The mansion was impressive; a slave led us through the hall past the dining room on the right into the yellow parlor on the left, where the Bullitt family was. “That’ll be all, Titus,” Mr. Bullitt said, and the slave left.

Mr. and Mrs. Bullitt stood and greeted us as we entered. “How wonderful to see you, George,” Mrs. Bullitt greeted Uncle Barclay with a smile.

“You as well, Mildred and William,” Uncle Barclay said to Mr. and Mrs. Bullitt. “This is Eliza Foster, my nephew William Foster’s wife, and her daughter and son, Henrietta and Stephen.” The

Bullitt children glanced at us curiously. The two dark-haired girls, who were my age or younger, surrounded Henrietta.

“Come sit with us.” the older one said

“Of course,” Henrietta said as the girls pulled her aside to sit with them on a bench.

The boys, who were my age or older, came up to me. “Come over here with us,” the youngest one told me. Ma urged me on, so I went with the boys.

“Please make yourselves comfortable,” Mr. Bullitt said, and everyone sat down.

“Would you care for some refreshments?” Mrs. Bullitt asked. “Tea or coffee, perhaps?”

“Tea would be nice,” Ma said. “Thank you.”

Mr. Bullitt rang for one of the slaves. “Bring us some tea and cake, Caroline, and maybe some coffee.”

“Yes, Master,” Caroline said, bobbing and exiting. Though my family kept servants, and I knew some free blacks, this was one of the only times I met any slaves. It left quite an impression on me.

“I haven’t been this far South in a long time,” Ma said. “We usually have a few servants to help us, but we never have any slaves.”

“The slaves are perfectly happy,” Mr. Bullitt assured Ma. “We have over a hundred of them, and they’re well-fed and well-housed, and they’re certainly not overworked.”

Caroline didn’t seem happy when she returned; she set the dishes and silverware on the tea table with her head down and backed out of the parlor with the tea tray, disappearing. Soon the clattering of cups and saucers filled the room. Mrs. Bullitt admonished the boys for taking too much cake, but I could hardly eat at all. Caroline’s downcast face lingered in my mind.

“Thank you very much for the tea and refreshments,” Ma told the Bullitts. “They were delicious.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed them,” Mrs. Bullitt said.

“I’m thankful you were in town,” Uncle Barclay said. “The Fosters just came into Louisville yesterday, and they wished to visit the cemetery while they were here.”

“I’m very sorry about Charlotte,” Mr. Bullitt said.

“Thank you,” Ma said, her voice sad.

“She was a dear,” Mrs. Bullitt added, “and high-spirited when she came to visit us. We loved hearing her play piano, and she danced every set at parties.”

“We used to play piano together,” Henrietta said.

“I’m sure you miss her terribly,” Mrs. Bullitt said.

“I do,” Henrietta said.

“They must have good music teachers up East; she played very well.”

“We learned from Mr. Peters; he came from England and opened a music store here.”

“That must be the same Mr. Peters who opened a music school in Louisville recently. He has a business in Pittsburgh.”

They continued talking while Uncle Barclay and Mr. Bullitt talked about Mr. Bullitt’s law practice. The boys began to fidget, the older boys nudging each other mischievously. It was hard to sit still for that long. “Why don’t you go outside, boys?” Mr. Bullitt suggested.

The rain had cleared up. We raced each other outside in the direction of the creek, the older boys hurrying ahead of us and laughing. “They always beat me,” the youngest boy, John, said. “I don’t have anyone my age to play with.”

“My brothers are all older, too,” I said. “I know what it’s like.”

“I’ve got an idea.” John took two sticks from the ground. “We could be explorers.” He motioned for me to join him as we ran outside and across the field, pretending to be explorers with walking sticks, and wandered up by the kitchen. An older slave sat outside the kitchen door playing the fiddle, and I stood transfixed behind the kitchen wall. He had no sheet music, but he played perfectly, his music and voice mournful. Titus, the slave who brought us into the house, came up and stood over him. “Master will whip you if he finds you sitting there, Jack.”

Jack just looked up at Titus. “You don’t do much work yourself. You had too much to drink when you visited your wife yesterday, didn’t you? Master will find out, and he won’t be happy.” Jack went back to playing. Titus staggered back in front of the kitchen, and I shrank against the kitchen wall.

 “Let’s go,” John whispered, his eyes as wide as mine must’ve been. We snuck away back towards the house. “Titus is always getting in trouble with Father.”

“Are the slaves really happy?” I asked. Jack didn’t seem any happier than Caroline or Titus did, and they weren’t always as well-treated as Mr. Bullitt said they were.

“I think so. Their songs are happy.”

“I’ve been to a black church with one of our servants, and they sing a lot of spirituals. Some of them are happy, but a lot of them are sad.”

“Do your parents let you go?”

“Yes, they do.” Church with Lieve was one of the best parts of the week. Though the songs could be sad, they also uplifted whoever heard them with a promise of better times in another life.

We reached the front of the mansion, where my family was at the door. “There you are, Stephy.” Ma put her arm around me. “Are you ready to go?” I nodded.

“Thank you for allowing us to visit,” Ma told Mr. and Mrs. Bullitt. “We had a delightful time.”

“If you’re ever in Louisville again, please come by,” Mrs. Bullitt said.

“We will,” Henrietta promised her.

“Could you stay longer next time?” John asked, and Henrietta laughed.

Uncle Barclay brought the hackney coach around and helped us in. “Goodbye!” Henrietta and I called, waving at everyone as we drove away.

“You’re being very quiet, Stephy,” Henrietta said while the coach started towards the road. “What’s wrong?”

I didn’t know what to say. How could people be kind and mean at the same time?

We didn’t stay in Louisville much longer. Ma said she needed to return to Pennsylvania soon; she still seemed downhearted because of Charlotte. Uncle Barclay drove us back to the Ohio River, where the Napoleon was waiting. “Take care. Have a safe journey back to Pittsburgh.” He handed us the luggage as we got on the boat.

“Goodbye,” I called.

“Farewell.” Uncle Barclay stood by the dock and waved as the boat steamed away from the waterfront, and we waved back. We were going home.

We returned in time for the Fourth of July. Every year, Ma told me about the day I was born:

“Pa had a big party behind our house for the Fourth of July when we still lived at the White Cottage, but I stayed inside with you. We were afraid the cannons booming in town would be too loud for you. You’d only just been born. Later, we learned that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had died the same day in our country’s jubilee year. Everyone told us to name you ‘Jefferson Adams,’ but I liked ‘Stephen Collins’ better. My close friend Mrs. Collins lost a boy by that name, and I thought it would help to remember him.”

July 4, 1833. I turned seven that day. Allegheny Town had an annual Fourth of July party in the square. They raised the flag, and Pa read part of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

“It’s good to live in a country where people can be free, isn’t it?” Henrietta asked.

Lieve was with us. Did she think like Henrietta or like Uncle Joseph, that not everyone was as free as they should be? She came from Haiti, where the slaves revolted to be free. “Yes, Miss Henrietta, it is.”

After the reading, everyone sang “Hail, Columbia”:

Hail! Columbia happy land

hail! ye Heroes, heav’n born band

Who fought and bled in freedom’s cause

who fought and bled in freedom’s cause

and when the storm of war was gone

enjoy’d the peace your valor won.

I put a feather in my hat and played along on my drum. Everyone clapped when the song was over.

A couple of boys came up to our older brothers, Dunning and Henry, and said, “We found some fireworks. Let’s shoot them off!” Dunning and Henry exchanged glances with a mischievous sparkle in their eyes.

“That sounds like fun!” Henry said as he and Dunning ran after them.

“Mr. Dunning, Mr. Henry, wait until your pa finds out,” Lieve said, but they were laughing and soon out of sight.

“Why can’t we go?” Morrison asked. The big boys got all the fun.

“It’s dangerous, that’s why. People could get killed.”

Paper rockets and loud cannon-like booms started shooting from the alleys. Pa looked around and realized who was missing. He was only gone for a few minutes before he returned, shouting and dragging Henry and Dunning back by their ears. I was glad Morrison and I hadn’t gone.

Pittsburgh shot off spectacular fireworks that night, and they lit up over the Allegheny River, flashes of color, red and blue in the dark. Everyone sat out in the square to watch. There was no better day or place to be born.

Prologue and Chapter One

Prologue

Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts—January 9, 1864

“I have an idea for another song,” I told my friend, George Cooper, and showed him a scrap of paper from my pocketbook with “Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts” written on it. We’re partners in a music business that I call a “song factory.” He writes the poetry and I the music, and we already have a couple of similar titles, “When Dear Friends Are Gone” and “When Old Friends Were Here.”

“That could work, Steve.” He sat beside me in my room at the New England Hotel. Another song I’d started, “Kiss Me Dear Mother Ere I Die,” was also waiting for me in the dresser drawer. “Who did you have in mind for the song?” George asked.

I hadn’t thought about that yet. Perhaps friends like George in New York or old friends from Pittsburgh. Or possibly my parents and my sister, Charlotte, who died long ago. “Maybe my ma or my sister Charlotte. They were gentle hearts.”

Chapter One

Hail Columbia—May 1828 to May 1833

Charlotte wanted to return to Louisville, so she and Ann Eliza left for Kentucky almost as soon as Charlotte came home. They stayed until Cousin Sally Barclay and her daughters fell ill with bilious fever. Pa asked for Ann Eliza to return home but for Charlotte to stay to take care of the Barclays, which he said later was a mistake. Charlotte also fell ill with bilious fever, and her boat couldn’t come home because of the weather. Whenever anyone asked me where she was, I said, “Down the river, stuck in the mud.” It was true. In her last letter, she said, “The weather has been extremely warm, and we had a great deal of rain.” Cousin Hill, who came up to Louisville to be with her, sent a tear-stained letter after she died about how peaceful she looked. She was only nineteen years old. The Barclays recovered, but Cousin Hill never married and died four years later of cholera.

The following year, baby James died, too. It took Ma a long time to recover. I didn’t remember, but Ann Eliza and Henrietta, my third-oldest sister, said Ma used to sit about listlessly in her chair, and only the Bible and the Church saved her. She finally said it was God’s will and began to accept James’s and Charlotte’s death. I’m not sure. Why would any god do that?

We had to move on before Ma was ready. We lived in rented houses, visited family friends, or broke up the family altogether. Once, when I was five, we even lived with a religious community, where Ann Eliza met and married someone from school, Edward Buchanan, who was training to be a minister. We then moved to a rented house near the Federal Street Bridge in Allegheny Town, on the North Side of smoky Pittsburgh.

While we lived there, Ma took me to visit Smith and Mellor’s Music Store when I was six. W.C. Peters, who taught my sisters music, worked there and greeted us at the shop’s door. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Foster,” he said. He wore a hat and had a large, dark mustache.

“Good afternoon.” Ma turned to me. “Stephy, this is Mr. Peters. Mr. Peters, this is my youngest, Stephen.”

“Does he play an instrument?” Mr. Peters asked.

“He wants to play every one he sees.”

The shop was full of instruments, harmonicas, music boxes, and woodwinds, and I wandered over to the counter, where there were several flutes. Ma called me over, but I already picked up a simple-looking flute called a flageolet and studied the stops on it. Placing all my fingers on the holes, I blew a “C.” I found the other notes and played a few scales before starting to play “Hail, Columbia,” played every year on the Fourth of July, my birthday. Ma, Mr. Peters, and everyone else in the shop stopped to watch as I played. When I finished, they burst into applause. I’d never had a real audience before, besides my family.

“That was perfect,” Mr. Peters told me. “It’s a wonder someone your age can play as well as you can. He needs to take music lessons,” he told Ma. “That talent can’t be wasted. We have an opening now—”

“Perhaps, when he’s older,” Ma said, her smile fading. Ann Eliza and Henrietta had to quit lessons because Ma and Pa couldn’t afford it, and I wouldn’t be able to start. “But we would like to buy him his very own instrument.” I perked up at that; Ma had put aside enough money for that, at least.

“If you insist.” Mr. Peters looked disappointed as Ma handed him a shiny black and silver-keyed instrument, a clarinet, which he rang up at the counter.

But Ma beamed as she handed me the clarinet. “I’m proud of you,” she told me, her dark eyes bright. That was better than any applause.

After supper, Ma told everyone about the music store and my performance. My sister, Henrietta, whom everyone called “Etty,” was the first to speak. She was fourteen, dark-eyed, and a good piano player. “We should play something together.”

“Are you going to learn to play ‘The Three Rogues,’ Stephy?” Pa’s blue eyes twinkled. He preferred rough songs to popular music and never missed an opportunity to play his favorite song.

Pa took out his fiddle and started singing, his voice rough and laughing:

In the gold old Colony days

When we were under the King

Three roguish chaps

Fell into mishaps

Because they could not sing.

The first he was a miller,

The second he was a weaver,

And the third, he WERE

A little tail-ER,

Three roguish chaps together.

The miller he stole corn,

The weaver he stole yarn,

And the little tail-OR

Stole broadcloth FOR

To keep these three little rogues warm.

The miller got drown’d in his dam,

The weaver got hung in his yarn,

And the devil clapped his CLAW

On the little tail-AW

With the broadcloth under his arm!

My brother, Morrison, called “Mit” and three years older than I was, and I laughed and clapped our hands, always delighting in Pa’s playing that song. Dunning, who was twelve and had red hair like Pa, said, “Sing it again, Pa.”

Even Lieve, the Haitian servant, smiled a little as she cleaned up the few potatoes and turnips leftover from supper. As little money as my family had, we still managed to afford servants, who had even less.

“I don’t think we’re going to play that, are we, Stephy?” Henrietta asked. She liked sentimental music better.

“Play the butterfly song.”

Henrietta brought out her guitar. She strummed “I’d Be a Butterfly” and sang, “Living, a rover, Dying while fair things are fading away,” while I found the notes for it on my clarinet, hardly missing a single one.

“You play pretty well already, Stephy. It’s hard to believe you just got that today,” Henry, my seventeen-year-old, dark-eyed brother, said. I spent the rest of the night playing it.

A few mornings later, Pa’s and Ma’s voices drifted from the dining room downstairs. “I can’t keep them together,” Pa said, his voice tired.

“Let’s think about it,” Ma replied. “The older boys can get jobs and help with expenses. That way, you don’t have to worry about keeping them together. I asked my brothers, and they’re more than happy to let Etty and Stephy stay with them for a while. Mit can go to Ann Eliza’s until we’re back.”

Pa sighed. “It’s better than nothing, I suppose.”

I ran out of the boys’ bedroom. They were going to make us leave again.

“Good morning, Stephy,” Ma said as I came into the dining room.

“I don’t want to leave,” I said and grabbed her arm.

“Don’t worry, Stephy. We’re only leaving for a little while. You and Etty get to come with me on a steamboat to Kentucky to visit your uncles, and we’ll travel to Cincinnati to see our friends, the Cassillys.”

I nodded. Ma and Pa weren’t breaking up the family.