"Music Hath Charms"
Wood Engraving by William Allen Rogers
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 57, No. 342, November 1878
Printed size: 2 7/8” x 4 3/8”, Collection of Old Hat Records
Here we see an African American worker on a 19th-century Georgia rice plantation creating diversion with his homemade fiddle. The scene is depicted by William Allen Rogers (1854-1931), a staff artist for Harper’s in the days before halftone photography. His illustrations accompany a lengthy travelogue describing the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina, penned by Samuel Greene W. Benjamin (1837-1914), who uses a patronizing tone so typical of the era:
“The rice lands are very unhealthy, and no white man should spend the night in their vicinity after the crop begins to come up. They are infested with the most poisonous malaria. The negroes build their rude shanties on the dikes and hummocks in the midst of the rice swamps, and dance and play on their one-stringed fiddles with infantile security. No doubt they endure malarial exposure and a blazing torrent of sunlight far better than the whites, but even they not rarely succumb.”