Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice

    Description

    Was Daniel Emmett the Real Author of "I wish I was in Dixie"?

    Daniel T. Emmett (1815-1904) Autograph Letter Signed, " Daniel D. Emmett ", one page, 5.75" x 9", Mt. Vernon, Ohio, July 6th, 1895 to R. U. Johnson Esqr. of the Philadelphia Times. Emmett, a pioneering mid-nineteenth century minstrel performer, is widely credited for the composition of "Dixie's Land" (or "Dixie") which became the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Emmett writes to the editor of the Times complaining of inaccuracies in an article discussing the authorship of the famous song: "Mr. Shrin has shown me the article written up in the Philadelphia Times which you sent him. It only remains for me to say that I am displeased with the person or persons who had to do with it. Mr. Shreen's article was written at my side and approved by me. No other strictly truthful account has been given out but this. I with you would do me the favor of publishing it, it is the only account that I can sanction or vouch for. You may use the photograph of the song if you desire." Provenance: Walter R. Benjamin, The Collector, December, 1949, No. 691. Slight separation at horizontal fold, minor losses at corners, else very good.

    During his lifetime, Emmett's authorship of "Dixie" had been the subject of much dispute. Emmett claimed to have written the song in the spring of 1859 while performing with Bryant's Minstrels in New York. The song proved to be a favorite throughout the country and counted Abraham Lincoln among its fans. The tune also became the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Because of the song's huge success (and by the fact that it took Emmett nearly a year to secure copyright) others stepped forward to claim credit, the most prominent was William Shakespeare Hays (1837-1907), composer of such tunes as Evangeline, and The Drummer Boy of Shiloh.

    Included in this lot is an excellent letter disputing Emmett's authorship of the song by former Confederate General Edward P. Alexander (1835-1910) in an Autograph Letter Signed, "E. P. Alexander" four pages, 5" x 8", South Island, South Carolina, January 8, 1908. Alexander, also alluding to an 1895 article in the Philadelphia Times writes to Cooper DeLeon noting that he has "...read with great pleasure you[r] admirable & really wonderful article on the 'Belles, Beaux & Brains' of the Confederacy - but I think you're a/c[count] of the origin of Dixie is not complete, as the following narrative will show. I was married in April 60 (to Betty Mason one of the '5 Mason girls' of whom your story speaks) & in June or July of that year returned to my post at West Point. Soon after, my wife & myself went down to New York to see a play than running at Laura Kenne's called The 'Japanese Embassadors' [sic]... one of Jos[eph] Jefferson's sons told me that Jos. Jeff[erso]n was its author. It was an 'Extravaganza' & in the play some bogus 'Embasadors, ' introduced by 'Brown of Grace Church' (when the real Embassadors were not able to attend) were called upon to sing a 'Japanese Song'... George G Hull... told me about the play before taking me to hear it, & said that when the Japanese song was called for 'They played that old thing Dixie' with an accent on the 'old.' So I went that night & heard Dixie for the first time, perhaps, but I believe it was already in print in an old sort of 'circus song Book' that I had had as a boy, before I left Washington... in 1853 to go to West Point. The words given to the song then, were the same which have stuck to it ever since 'Semmon Seed & Sand Bottom'... Dixie was born from that play of the Japanese Embassadors. It was given in June or July 1860, sometime before the election of Lincoln in November. All the newsboys in NY were whistling it within a week. On Aug 9th 1860 I sailed for Colon [Panama], & when we arrived, then days later, Dixie was there ahead of us, & we found it had already proceeded us to San Francisco Portland & even to Washington Territory. All of our passengers made it a subject of common conversation. The stories you tell of the writing of the Wall at Mobile by Emmett, or rather for him & later occasions at Nashville & New Orleans are all far later than the appearance of 'the Japanese Embassadors' in New York & the Revival of Dixie dated from this..." Alexander continues disputing Emmett's claims noting contradictory stories and assures his correspondent that "...I believe it was a still older 'walk around' & will be easily found by any one who will search old Theatrical & Circus records of the times...". A fascinating pair of letters, worthy of further research. Usual folds, else very fine condition. From the Henry E. Luhrs Collection. Accompanied by LOA from PSA/DNA.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    February, 2006
    20th-21st Monday-Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 4
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 308

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $9) per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    VIEW BENEFITS
    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
      winnings 
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2020 March 4 Rare Books Signature Auction Books Signature Auction - New York .

    Learn about consigning with us

    The resulting auction of my property overwhelmed me. I want to thank Tom Slater and the Heritage team for a very satisfactory experience and profitable result with my historical consignment.
    Henry L.,
    Lexington, KY
    View More Testimonials

    HA.com receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source: Similarweb.com)

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search

    Recent auctions

    2019 July 16 - 18 The Armstrong Family Collection III Space Exploration Signature Auction - Dallas
    2019 July 16 - 18 The Armstrong Family Collection III Space Exploration Signature Auction - Dallas
    REALIZED SO FAR $4,499,551