« 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].

By Mrs. Cora L. V. Daniels

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!

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