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Broadside ballad entitled 'Alabama Sam'


Verse 1: 'I come from Alabama, / My name is Samuel, / The white folks call me Sam, / And that suits me quite as well. / 'Most everything I spy / Though I look so jolly green, / To take me in is all my eye, / For you'll find I'm "all serene."' This ballad was to be sung to an 'Original' tune and could be bought for one penny. It was published on 16th April 1870 by the Poet's Box, probably in Glasgow.

This narrator of this song is supposed to be an African-American slave who has come to England to make his fortune. Slave-ownership in Britain was legally abolished in 1772, ninety-three years before it was ended in the United States, although British involvement in the Atlantic slave trade continued until 1807. The impression given here of Britain treating all races equally probably bore little resemblance to the real experiences of black people in Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Suspicion and prejudice born of ignorance were still common in a Great Britain with far less ethnic variation than today, although many Britons had been active in campaigning against slavery.
The Poet?s Box in Glasgow operated from 1849 to 1911. Matthew Leitch was the proprietor at 6 St. Andrew Lane?s, a narrow street on the south side of Gallowgate, from 1850 to 1858. His son William Munsie Leitch worked at the same address from 1859 to 1865 and at varous addresses in London Street until 1911. Many of the broadsides published by the Glasgow Poet?s Box were dated and some carried advertisements, not just for printed items but also for shoe blacking and ?soap for lovers?! Like the other ?boxes? in Dundee and Edinburgh, the Glasgow one sold love songs, sea shanties, parodies and dialogues. It is not clear what the connection between the different Poet?s Boxes were. They almost certainly sold each other?s sheets. It is known that John Sanderson in Edinburgh often wrote to the Leitches in Glasgow for songs and that later his brother Charles obtained copies of songs from the Dundee Poet?s Box. There was also a Poet?s Box in Belfast from 1846 to 1856 at the address of the printer James Moore, and one in Paisley in the early 1850s owned by William Anderson.
Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.

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Date of publication: 1870   shelfmark: L.C.1269(161b)
Broadside ballad entitled 'Alabama Sam'
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