Stephen Collins Foster Biography - online book

A Biography Of America's Folk-Song Composer By Harold Vincent Milligan

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copyright on December 30th, 1848, by W. C. Peters, of Louisville. On May 16th, 1848, seven months prior to the Peters publication, a version of the song had been deposited for copyright by W. E. Millet, of New York, under the title, " 'Old Uncle Ned,' written and composed for Wm. Roark of the Sable Harmonists, by S. C. Foster of Cincinnati." Later in the same year, on December 16th, just two weeks before the deposit of the Peters edition, the publisher, F. D. Benteen, of Baltimore, deposited for copyright a song with the title, " 'Old Uncle Ned,' an Ethiopian melody arranged with sympho­nies and accompaniment for the voice and piano by R. O. Wilson."
Oscar G. Sonneck, formerly Chief of the Music Di­vision of the Congressional Library, calls attention to the fact that Stephen Foster is not mentioned on this version of the song, although it is merely an arrangement (and a poor one at that) of the original song. The ar­ranger apparently remembered only half of Foster's melody. The other half is woefully incorrect.
Evidently the songs had been made popular by a minstrel company known as "The Sable Harmonists," and their publication was the result rather than the cause of their popularity. It would also appear that Stephen Foster had no idea of the commercial value of his songs, and gave manuscript copies of them to any who asked. This attitude toward his music is further corroborated by the following letter written a few months after the publication of the songs:
Cincinnati, Ohio, May 25, 1849. Mr. Wm. E. Miller, Dear Sir:
I hasten to acknowledge receipt of your favor of the 21st, and to give you what information I can touching upon the subject of your inquiry.
I gave manuscript copies of each of the songs, "Louisiana Belle," "Uncle Ned," and "O Susannah" to several persons before I gave them to Mr. Peters for publication, but in neither instance was there any permission or restriction in regard to publishing them unless contained in a letter to Mr. Roark, accompanying the manuscript

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III