« In Memoriam—July 30 » by Cora L. V. Daniels (1840-1923), a poem read on the first anniversary of the Mechanics’ Institute massacre of 1866

Born in western New York state, Cora Lodencia Veronica Scott (1840-1923) gained fame while a teenager as a Spiritualist medium, supposedly communicating with the dead to transmit messages to the living. After a divorce from her husband, a well-known mesmerist, in 1859, she married a Union officer, Nathan W. Daniels, a captain in the Louisiana Native Guards, composed of black soldiers. (Daniels’s Civil War diary has been published by Clare Weaver under the title Thank God My Regiment an African One [LSU Press, 2000]). In New Orleans, she became involved in the post-war movement for racial equality. That movement, as noted elsewhere, was marked by the horrific Mechanics’ Institute massacre of July 30, 1866. On that day, when a state constitutional convention assembled to grant the vote to African Americans, more than 40 individuals, both delegates and innocent bystanders, were murdered in cold blood by defenders of white supremacy, including members of the police. The incident sparked national outrage. As highlighted in my book Afro-Creole Poetry in French from Louisiana’s Radical Civil War-Era Newspapers: A Bilingual Edition (2020), the New Orleans Tribune, founded by French-speaking Creole activists, led the charged in denouncing the reactionary forces behind the massacre. The paper later featured poems in memory of the victims, most notably Camille Naudin’s stirring « Ode aux martyrs » (July 30, 1867). Although most were written in French, Daniels composed one such poem in English. A year after the massacre, she was invited to read her elegy at a commemorative ceremony, described in the previous blog post. The text appeared in the Tribune the same day, as did Naudin’s poem. To my knowledge, it has not been republished since then. A final note: Daniels lost her husband and their daughter to yellow fever a few weeks later [1].

IN MEMORIAM — JULY 30
By Mrs. Cora L. V. Daniels
1866-1867

I
Toll, toll, toll!
Oh, ye solemn—sad’ning bells
We have need of mournful knells,
Need of penitence and tears—
Grief grows strong with length’ning years,
But no grief hath cause so strong—
No year of woe so drear—so long,
As that which brings us, pale with pain,
So weep at Death’s dark door again:
We weep because our tears are all in vain.
Woe, woe, woe!
They came not with the Harvest moon—
Death gathered them, alas, too soon.
They came not with the winter chill,
Our winter—grief—lingereth still.
The fair child spring hath come and gone,
And still we weep in woe alone.
Why did she leave her blossoms—fair?
The blighting breath of sin is there
And Death lurks in the pois’nous air.
Mourn, mourn, mourn!
Dark Erebus hath did their light
In Lethes’ stream—Death’s shadowy night.
Ye orphans—ye can only weep,
And widows pale your vigils keep.—
Ye children of a dusky race
Draw near, and in this sacred place
Pour all your offerings of grief;
These dead are yours—but find relief
In this—they died for your reprieve.
Toll, toll, toll!
Where wert thou Freedom, when they lay
In gory shrouds on that sad day,
When thy sons lay, for thy dear name,
Pierced to the heart? Foul murder came,
Companion’d by Hatred and scorn,
Clouding the sky that morn:
That dreadful morn—when Treason smiled,
With grim and ghastly smile beguiled
Our loved ones to a death so wild,
Woe, woe, woe!

II
Swing, swing, swing,
O, ye sighing, sobbing Pines,
Mystic, music-haunted Pines,
Orphic anthems still ye pour,
Chant low dirges evermore.
Wave and waft your weird-like  tones,
Mournful murmurings and moans,
Swelling like a sea of sound,
Bursting like a breaker bound,
Bring the burthen’d breezes back
From the far off Merrimac,
Linger near the liquid lakes,
Where the Western war cry wakes,
Rugged Rocky Mountains roar
Sighs that reach from shore to shore,
Swing, solemn pines, chant dirges evermore.

III
Weep, weep, weep.
Flora, bring the children dear,
Bid them deck this bloody bier,
No festive garlands, brightly strung
But pale flowers on our dear ones flung.
Viola, with dewy eyes—
Weep thy tears of Paradise.
Lily toll thy waxen bell,
Toll thy life out in their knell.
Laurel with the cypress twine—
Myrtle and sweet columbine;
Cassia and lime trees swing—
Star-like incense o’er them fling,—
Jasmine and sweet orange blooms,
Die in fragrance on their tombs.
Hyacinth and Phoebus dear,
From thy chalice drop a tear
Sweet as honey dew that fell
From the fabled Asphodel—
Wild flowers blossom on each brow
Snowy vestals breathe love’s vow—
Amaranth doth crown our heroes now.

IV
Toll, toll, toll,
O, ye fearful, warning bells,
Down to the murderers’ deep hells,
Send swift your piercing fitful notes—
Send your terrifying strokes!
The brand of Cain, resteth on one
Whom falsehood freedom’s son.
High on the seat of his dark power,
He waiteth now the dreadful hour;
His minions see the light to-day,
And laughing—mock us—while we pray.
The Seasons drag their length along—
No hand hath yet avenged our wrong,
The silent stars with woe are pale,
The Hours die with a mournful wail,
Columbia—betrayed—distrest,
Folds her dead children to her breast.
Doth Justice sleep—his iron will
Palsied with woe? Or doth be still,
Await the Final Fatal day
Once promised? Lord, thou still dost say,
“Vengence is mine alone, I will repay.”

V
Toll, toll, toll!
By the scourge and lash and chain,
By the torture and the pain,
Which in Slavery’s dark night
Hid humanity from sight;
By their patience and their tears,
By their Faith, lasting thro’ years;
By the blood in Kansas’ shed,
By that snowy, martyr’d head;
By the message John Brown bore
To Heaven’s purple Temple door,
That voice whispers forever, ever more,
“I will repay.”
By the war Fiends’ horrid cry,
Bidding Freedom yield or die;
By our Sons and Fathers slain;
By our tatter’d banners’ stain;
By our murder’d President;
By the hours in dungeons spent;
By the latest, foulest wrong,
Wrought by Treasons’ serpent throng;
By these walls stained with their blood;
By these streets, o’er which the flood
Of precious life—tides ebb’d away.
By Brave Dostie’s words that day.
“O Let the good work still go on”;
By Horton and young Henderson
Bearing youths banner as he fell;
By Loups’ loving, sad farewell;
By those slaughtered, murdered ones,
Freedoms’ latest franchised sons;
By the tombs o’er which we pray;
By our tears and prayers to-day;
By tardy justice long delay,
He “will repay.”

Toll, toll, toll!
Oh, ye silver, starry bells,
Swinging from yon azure wells,
Something in your ringing tells
We have need of Faith and Prayer
For our dead—due not—lo there
Opening the golden gates
The avenging angel waits,
Flowers bloom above the plain
Where our brave heroes were slain,
From the martyrs’ funeral pyres
Lo, Religion lights her fires,
From the fields of bloody strife
Liberty renews her life,
See, our lov’d our martyr’d slain
Join the shining starry train
Rob’d in light, crowned with love
Bending from their homes above.
Justice comes with kindly band
Peace, white winged—waves her wand
And Freedom—chasened’t smileth on the land
Thine hour is come—Oh, Liberty.
Gethsemane, and Calvary!
Christ of all truth and love make us like Thee.

[Transcription par Bailey Ross, 30 juillet 2020] 

[1] Melissa Daggett, Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2017), p. 80-81.

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