Henry Clay Work
By Frank D. Andrews
Among the prominent people who have resided in Vineland no one has been so widely known as Henry Clay Work, the author of "Marching Through Georgia," and other well-known songs and ballads.
Henry Clay Work was born in Middletown, Conn., October 1st, 1832. The city of his birth erected a monument to his memory, a huge boulder of Quincy granite, weighing ten tons, bearing a bronze tablet inscribed:
In Memory of
HENRY CLAY WORK
"Marching Through Georgia."
Born in Middleton, Conn.
Near This Site
October 1st, 1832.
A massive bronze bust of the song writer surmounts the boulder.
In the cemetery at Hartford where he is buried is also a monument upon which is his bust. The writer was present at the unveiling of this memorial a few years ago, when a distinguished company, including the governor of the state, the mayor of the city and friends who had known him, were present to pay tribute to his memory. Vineland's interest in these memorials is due to the fact that Henry Clay Work, with his family, made this place their home in the early days of its settlement. He was no doubt attracted to the town by the presence of relatives, T. K. and A. Work, who had located here and were engaged in the real estate business.
He purchased a farm on Wheat Road and engaged in fruit raising. It did not prove a profitable employment to him, and he removed with his family into the village, where he boarded with Mrs. Holden on West Avenue.
While residing in Vineland he wrote some of his songs, and in 1868 published a serio-comic poem entitled "The Upshot Family," a pamphlet of 64 pages, which he had printed in Philadelphia. In this poem he touches upon some of the distinguishing features of Vineland at that time, particularly of the ImBtdtfttf reformers who then advocated and practiced wearing pants. "To think that a female - I can't say lady, Whose province is modest, and quiet, and shady, Should step from her place With a bold, brazen face, And bring on herself and her sex a disgrace By wearing in public - on rostrum perchance - A tight pair of broadcloth or calico pants." It is said when he was about to meet one so attired he "dodged" and went another way.
While boarding he made frequent trips to Philadelphia in the interest of his profession, upward of fifty of his songs and choruses having been published before he removed from Vineland. The loss of a daughter, Clara E., who was born April 13, 1868, and died August 2 the same year, was a sorrow to him and a calamity, his wife's mind becoming impaired, so that she was placed in an asylum in Connecticut, where she died.
Mr. Work's father was an active abolitionist, fearless in his opposition to what he believed to be a national wrong. With his family he removed to Illinois for the sole purpose to be better able to help slaves to their freedom. Through his efforts in their behalf he was arrested in Missouri and sentenced to twelve years' imprisonment. After serving three and a half years he was released through the influence of Abraham Lincoln and others on condition he should return to Connecticut.
He settled in Hartford, where he wrote and published antislavery literature. Among his publications was a book giving an account of his and his companion's experience in prison. He traveled about New England selling his book and other publications devoted to the cause in which he was so deeply interested.
The writer, who when a boy lived for awhile next door to the residence of the Works on Chestnut Street, in the city of Hartford, and was intimate with a younger member of the family, remembers the stern, sturdy abolitionist as he returned from his bookselling trips. To one who is at all familiar with the type of Garrisonian abolitionists, imbued with deep religious convictions of the evils of slavery and endeavoring in every way in their power to have it abolished, it is not difficult to imagine the home life of the song writer and its influence upon his character.
In such a household, where righteousness and duty were paramount, Henry Clay Work grew to manhood, a thoughtful, serious nature, with those irrepressible longings to help the oppressed and a sympathetic insight into their lives which found expression in his soul-stirring songs.
"Marching Through Georgia" has been termed "the chief musical legacy of the war." Eight hundred thousand copies of "Grandfather's Clock" were sold in this country and nearly as many in England. His temperance song, "Father, Dear Father, Come Home," had a great run, and his negro melodies, "Kingdom Coming," "Babylon Is Falling," "Wake, Nicodemus," and others have been sung north and south as only negroes can sing.
In the published biographies of Henry Clay Work it is stated that after his return from Europe in 1865 "he invested the fortune his songs had brought him in a fruit-raising enterprise in Vineland, N. J., which was a failure. So far as fruit raising was concerned, it was doubtless an unprofitable venture to him, as it was to others who had no more experience. The statement, however, that he lost any considerable amount of money through his investments here is unwarranted. He made few friends during his residence in Vineland, and is represented as being a quiet, thoughtful and reserved gentleman by those who remember him. His picture and a copy of "The Upshot Family," of which he was compositor as well as author, may be seen in the rooms of the Historical Society. Mr. Work died in Hartford, June 8, 1884.