The work I’ve found is an interesting one from 1851. This manuscript is a short song arranged by a pianist by the name of George W. H. Griffin. I think this makes a particularly interesting piece to look at due to its place in history, being a work for voice modeled after slave songs, but arranged for chorus and piano. From the cover, it looks to be a work dedicated to a tenor by the name of “S. B. Ball Esq.” from the “Ordway Aeolian Vocalists.” Not much is kept on this ensemble, but as far as can be found in drawings of the composer, G. W. H. Griffin, it appears as if he is a white man.
There are certain implications to the usage of these lyrics, then, given this context. The song goes as follows:
“‘Tis just one year ago today, that I remember well,
I sat down by poor Nelly’s side, and a story did she tell
‘twas ‘bout a poor unhappy slave, that lived for many a year
but now he’s dead and in his grave, no master does he fear
She took my arm, we walked along, into an open field,
and there she paused to breathe a while, then to his grave did steal
she sat down by that little mound, and softly whisper’d there,
come to me father, ‘tis thy child, then gently dropp’d a tear
The poor old slave has gone to rest,
we know that he is free
disturb him not, but let him rest
way down in Tennessee”
First off, being released in 1851, this song was released many years before the abolition of slavery, meaning that the lyrics are not about the past, but are a commentary on the present. Additionally, from context, the story seems to take place in the north, as it, first off, references Tennessee as being “way down,” but also brings up the idea that “Nelly,” is a black woman, and the child of a slave, who is not currently enslaved herself. With this, the song, I believe, is about empathy for those who have been and were being greatly harmed by slavery, and the intent of its singing and performance is to strengthen the idea that slavery is an immoral practice. Given the context of a presumably predominantly white choir, the context of the lyrics suggest that this is a bittersweet, but ultimately pleasant song about the white person’s perspective, knowing someone who has had a close loved one taken away from her, but is now free herself to tell her story.
Griffin, George W. H. “Poor Old Slave.” Duke University Libraries, https://idn.duke.edu/ark:/87924/r4fx7867f.