When people think of protest music, they might picture folk singers from the 1960s. Using music to make a statement started much earlier than that, however. The Hutchinson Family Singers, from New Hampshire, were one of the most popular musical performing groups in the 1840s. They sang pieces promoting prohibition and other social reforms, but their biggest support went to the abolitionist movement. Wanting to sing for the causes of freedom, the Hutchinson Family Singer provided the soundtrack for immediate emancipation before the Civil War.
"Ten of the Hutchinsons"
Published in 1844
Milford, New Hampshire
CPM ID: MAN-PR-00032
In one of their most famous songs, "The Old Granite State," the Hutchinson Family Singers declare themselves to be a "band of brothers ." This photo shows part of that band. From left to right, there is Asa, Andrew, Jesse, Joshua, David, Caleb, Noah, Judson, Zephaniah, and John. The siblings not pictured are Abby, Rhoda, and Benjamin. Their parents were Jesse Hutchinson and Mary "Polly" Leavitt, making them the "Tribe of Jesse."
"The Hutchinson Family"
Published in 1843
Milford, New Hampshire
CPM ID: MAN-PR-00031
The main performers of the Hutchinson Family Singers were these four siblings, Judson, Abby, John, and Asa. They began performing in 1840 with their brother Jesse. Abby joined in 1842 and the group soon gained popularity touring throughout the Northeast region. Known for their pure voices, the family members harmonized with each other and began writing original musical pieces.
"Book of Words of the Hutchinson Family"
Published in 1855
J.S. Potter and Co. Printers
CPM ID: SP-086071
The Hutchinson Family Singers were known for their songs advocating for reform. While their repertoire included pieces about temperance and workers' rights, the biggest cause they supported was abolition. They first performed at an antislavery meeting in 1843, deciding to go public with their personal convictions about the issue. The journal they kept while our tour indicates they caused some controversy by performing to integrated audiences. In January 1844, the journal declares they will "tune our voice to the cause of freedom, for the overthrow of slavery, for the promotion of Tetotalism and every moral and Christian act."
"The Hutchinson Family's Book of Words"
Published in 1851
Baker, Godwin, and Co.
New York, New York
CPM ID: SP-085642
This songster holds the lyrics to the Hutchinson Family Singers' songs. Their first major hit was "The Old Granite State." First introducing the family members and their home state, they then profess that "Yes we're friends of emancipation, and we'll sing the proclamation, 'til it echos through our nation from the Old Granite State." Even more direct support for abolition comes through the lyrics of "Get Off the Track!" They call "all true friends of emancipation, haste to freedom's rail road station; quick into the cars get seated, all is ready and completed."
"The Hutchinson Family: Respectfully Announce to the Citizens of Lowell, that they will give a vocal entertainment"
Published in 1844 or 1850
CPM ID: 000530-PERFORM
Even with their vocal support of abolition and social reform, the Hutchinson Family Singers still filled the concert halls for their performances. This program advertises the various songs the group would sing on the Fourth of July, 1844 in Lowell, Massachusetts, with the crowd favorite "The Old Granite State" as the closing number. The next year, the group traveled to Great Britain with their friend Frederick Douglass and enjoyed a welcoming reception by the British.
"The Hutchinson Family will Sing at…Evening…"
Published in 1850
CPM ID: 000010-PERFORM
Here is a standard advertisement for a Hutchinson Family Singers performance. The blank places of location and date allowed different venues to fill in their specific information for various concerts. On this copy, the brothers filled in that they would sing at the "court of heaven some evening in the future God willing." This shows a more playful side of these performers.
Published in 1901
CPM ID: MAN-PR-00036
Showing two unidentified men, this photograph was originally in a scrapbook probably made by Judson Hutchinson's grandson. The image was made after the height of the Hutchinson Family Singers' fame. Abby Hutchinson married Ludlow Patton in 1849 and retired from the group. In the 1850s, the original quartet split up to be replaced by several "tribes" of Hutchinson Family Singers head by various siblings and relatives. The Hutchinson Tribes continued to tour and sing throughout the nation well into the 1880s. All told, the Hutchinsons were probably the best-known American-born musicians of the whole century.
This online exhibit was curated by Rachel Smith in collaboration with the Center for Popular Music for HIST 6535: Essentials of Museum Management.
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