“The Happy Land of Canaan”


"Down in Harper's Ferry Section there was an insurrection, John Brown thought the niggers would sustain him. But old Governor Wise put his specs upon his eyes For to send him to the happy land of Canaan." The rebels defy the abolitionist northerners


The "Governor Wise" in the first stanza of both Randolph's and Belden's texts is Henry A. Wise (1806-1876), Governor of Virginia 1856-1860 and later a Confederate Brigadier. As ex-governor, he was strongly pro-secession, and worked hard to push his state and his successor in that direction. - RBW

Historical references

  • October 16-18, 1859 - John Brown and 20 others (15 of them, including Brown's three sons, are white) capture the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, hoping to gather the weapons needed for a slave rebellion. Forces led by Robert E. Lee soon attack the rebels; only Brown and four others live to be captured and placed on trial
  • Dec 2, 1859 - Hanging of John Brown at Charlestown, Virginia

Cross references


  1. Belden, pp. 363-364, "The Happy Land of Canaan" (1 text)
  2. Randolph 226, "The Happy Land of Canaan" (3 texts (one Unionist), 1 tune)
  3. Thomas-Makin', p. 81, (no title) (1 fragment, perhaps of this piece or perhaps another "Happy Land of Canaan" variant, but it uses that line and dates from the slavery era)
  4. Roud #7705
  5. BI, R226


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1916 (Belden)
Found in: US(Ap,So)