Robert W. Gordon collection, ca. 1906-1939  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Creator
Gordon, Robert Winslow
Title
Robert W. Gordon collection
Dates
ca. 1906-1939 (inclusive)
Quantity
9.75 linear feet, (19 containers, 2 volumes)
Collection Number
Ax 039
Summary
Robert Winslow Gordon was an authority on American folksong. The collection contains primarily collected folksongs, ballads, and lore.
Repository
University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives.
UO Libraries--SPC, 1299
University of Oregon
Eugene OR
97403-1299
Telephone: 541-346-3068
Fax: 541-346-3485
spcarref@uoregon.edu
Access Restrictions

Collection is open to the public.

Collection must be used in Special Collections & University Archives Reading Room.

Languages
English
Sponsor
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

Robert Winslow Gordon was one of the first and foremost authorities on American folksong. Gordon was born on September 2, 1888 in Bangor, Maine. He was the eighth descendant in a direct line from Alexander Gordon, a Scotsman who came to the colonies as a political prisoner in 1652.

In 1906 Gordon attended Harvard University on scholarship to the English Department. By 1912 he was teaching within that department and he then began his research into folk poetry. Gordon's initial course work was in the ballad, but curiosity soon led him to the collection of folksongs in his spare time. He began experimenting with cylinder recordings, an uncommon practice even among established folk scholars of the time.

In 1918 Gordon accepted a position as Assistant Professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley. While at Berkeley he became editor of the "Old Songs" department of a pulp publication called Adventurer Magazine. This position allowed Gordon to collect and record a vast array of folksong material from regions spanning the entire United States. These he presented to the public with historical and critical commentary. This mingling of the popular and academic spheres was unappreciated by Gordon's Berkeley peers. However, some scholars hold this to be the finest work published in American folk song of the time.

In 1924 Gordon returned to Harvard and made plans to embark upon a field trip more extensive than any that had yet been taken in the study of folk song. He proposed to begin in Asheville, North Carolina travelling through the United States and into Canada, and ending in Newfoundland. Gordon set out in 1925 but financial and personal considerations, combined with the overwhelming amount of material that he found in and about the Asheville area, severely limited the original scope of his vision. However, it was in Asheville that he collected an array of material concerning the folksong "Dixie" among others. This was the first of many trips Gordon would make into the southern states for the collection of folk song.

Between 1925 and 1928 Gordon left the constraints and responsibilities of the university behind him and moved his family to Darien, Georgia. In Darien he conducted extensive fieldwork and supported his household through his work with Adventurer, and as a roving correspondent for The New York Times. It was here that Gordon found the time to engage in theoretical work that he felt university life had denied him. His work at this time involved the context for development and performance of Negro folksongs, chants, shouts, spirituals, and chanteys.

In 1928 Gordon established the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. This was the first national center devoted to American Folk Culture. Gordon held this position for five years during which time he continued his collection and recording in the south. By the time Gordon parted ways with the ACLS, the archive contained some 8,000 texts with music for some 700 titles, all indexed. During this period Gordon also did research and gave testimony on the behalf of Victor Records in a claim of authorship suit brought against that company concerning "Old 97." This case came before the court in 1933. At this point Gordon was recognized as an authority in his field.

From 1934 until his retirement in 1958, Gordon worked for the Department of the Interior, the English Department of George Washington University, and the Navy Department, engaging his passion for folklore in his spare time. He collaborated with many others in his field, published a number of articles, and held lectures and discussions at local social clubs in the Washington D.C. area. After his retirement Gordon moved in with his daughter and her husband in McLean Virginia. He died on March 26, 1961 at the age of 71.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The Robert W. Gordon Collection represents one of the largest collections of American folk song outside of the Library of Congress. It contains approximately 4,000 song texts and fragments, 2,250 of which were privately collected and 1,700 of which were transcribed from published sources. It also includes a comprehensive first-line index.

The Collection contains seven bound volumes of songs, ballads, and lore collected and/or transcribed from published sources. Subjects represented include sea serpents, camp meetings, contemporary Civil War accounts, Dan Emmett, pre-minstrel songs, early minstrel songs, minstrel songs, "Dixie", "John Brown", Negro and white spirituals, play-party songs, cowboy songs, and sailor songs.

The Gordon collection also contains songs and lore privately collected by Gordon in California, North Carolina and Georgia, as well as from readers of Adventurer Magazine, in which Gordon edited a column called "Old Songs Men Have Sung." Included are songs of war, camp songs, soldier songs, early American minstrel, Negro and white spirituals, murder ballads, sea songs, Irish ballads and songs, many versions of various classed folksongs, cowboy songs, and some songs from folk-song collector Mary Newcomb not included in her manuscript, "Songs My Mother Sang".

The collection includes three apparently complete manuscripts from private collectors that may not be found in the Library of Congress. The first is Songs of the Dogwatch by Joseph McGinnis, which contains carbon copies of song texts and hand printed music representing songs of the sea, whaling ships, the Great Lakes, the Erie Canal, and chanteys. The second is a photostat copy of Songs My Mother Sang by Mary Newcomb, which contains song texts with music representing Child ballads, ballads and songs of the British Isles, sentimental and humorous songs, Negro and pseudo-Negro songs, and dance and play-party songs. The third is Collection of Folksongs by Betty Bush Winger, which contains white, Negro, and pseudo-Negro religious and spiritual songs.

Included as well are papers from Joanna Colcord's Roll and Go, with notes and variants of songs appearing in that book. There are also letters, documents, bills and accounts for Gordon's role in the George vs. Victor suit concerning "The Old 97", as well as various texts of that and other classed folksongs.

The collection also contains tear sheets from "Old Songs That Men Have Sung" dating from June 1922 to September 1927, as well as published material from the New York Times and Gordon's book Folksongs of America. Finally, there are volumes of Gordon's class notes from Harvard University in the collection as well.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Property rights reside with Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections & University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Archival may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws and other regulations.

Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g. a cause of action for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of Oregon assumes no responsibility.

If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Robert W. Gordon Collection, Ax 039, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Or.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Series I:  Collected Folksongs, undatedReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 1
Collected Folksongs (published sources)
1 2
Collected Folksongs (published sources)
1 3
Index to correspondents and folksongs on record
1 4
Collected Folksongs-McIlhenny/Purcell MSS
1 5
Bound personal journal of folksongs
1 6
Collected Folksongs-Bound (published sources)
2 1
Collected Folksongs-Bound (published sources)
3 1
Collected Folksongs-Bound (published sources)
3 2
Collected Folksongs-Bound (published sources)
4 1
Collected Folksongs-Bound (published sources)
5 1
Collected Folksongs-Bound (published sources)
5 2
Collected Folksongs-Bound (published sources)
6 1
Collected Folksongs-songs and ballads-mostly murder
6 2
Collected Folksongs-songs and ballads-Newcomb
1931
6 3
Collected Folksongs-misc. from various informants (published sources)
6 4
Collected Folksongs-songs and ballads-misc.
6 5
Collected Folksongs-songs and ballads-misc.
6 6
Collected Folksongs-songs and ballads-misc.
6 7
Collected Folksongs-songs and ballads-misc.-Collected in Calif.
6 8
Collected Folksongs-songs and ballads-misc.-Collected in Calif.
6 9
Collected Folksongs-songs and ballads-misc.-Collected in Calif.
6 10
Collected Folksongs-Irish and misc. songs
6 11
Collected Folksongs-misc. from various informants
7 1
Collected Folksongs-ballads: MSS Volume
7 2
Collected Folksongs-songs, ballads, misc. from singers and reciters
7 3
Collected Folksongs-recorded songs and ballads-"Asheville Collection"
7 4
Collected Folksongs-recorded songs and ballads-"Asheville Collection"

Series II:  Classed Folksongs/Origins and Variants of Individual Songs, UndatedReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
8 1
Classed Folksongs - Cowboy songs- E.C. Will. Murpheysville
8 2
Classed Folksongs - Judgement Day
8 3
Classed Folksongs - Soldier, War, Camp
8 4
Classed Folksongs - "Singer's Journal"
8 5
Classed Folksongs - Americana
8 6
Classed Folksongs - Emmett
8 7
Classed Folksongs - Pre-Minstrel
8 8
Classed Folksongs - Folk-Minstrel Interrelations
8 9
Classed Folksongs - Mountain (dance, fiddle, banjo)
8 10
Classed Folksongs - White Spirituals
8 11
Classed Folksongs - White Spirituals
8 12
Classed Folksongs - White Spirituals
9 1
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Frankie and Johnny"
9 2
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Frankie and Johnny" (papers)
9 3
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Frankie and Johnny"
9 4
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Frankie and Johnny"
9 5
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Frankie and Johnny"
Box Folder
9 5
Unmarked (brown) Classed Individual Folksongs - "Frankie and Johnny"/Vulgar
9 6
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Frankie and Johnny"/Vulgar
9 7
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Frankie and Johnny"/Vulgar
9 8
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Frankie and Johnny"/Vulgar
9 9
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Frankie and Johnny"/Vulgar
9 10
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Springfield Mountain"
9 11
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Stackalee"
9 12
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Brady"
9 13
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Railroad Bill"
9 14
Classed Individual Folksongs - "John Hardy/Casey Jones/Railroad"
9 15
Classed Individual Folksongs - "John Henry"
10 1
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Old 97"
10 2
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Old 97"
10 3
Classed Individual Folksongs - "Old 97" - George vs. Victor
10 4
Classed Individual Folksongs - George vs. Victor-correspondence
February 12, 1923-September 5, 1930
10 5
Classed Individual Folksongs - George vs. Victor-correspondence
September 11, 1930-November 6, 1930
10 6
Classed Individual Folksongs - George vs. Victor-correspondence
November 7, 1930-January 4, 1934
10 7
Classed Individual Folksongs - George vs. Victor - misc.
10 8
Classed Individual Folksongs - George vs. Victor - expenses
10 9
Classed Individual Folksongs - George vs. Victor - expenses

Series III:  MSS/Collections for Review by Gordon, UndatedReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
11 1
MSS/Coll-Newcomb-"Songs My Mother Sang" -songs and ballads (Kentucky)
11 2
MSS/Coll- Newcomb- "Songs..."- Preface - English/Scottish Traditional
11 3
MSS/Coll- Newcomb- "Songs..."- Imported
11 4
MSS/Coll- Newcomb- "Songs..."- Native
11 5
MSS/Coll- Newcomb- "Songs..."- True-Love
11 6
MSS/Coll- Newcomb- "Songs..."- Sentimental/Religious/Humorous
11 7
MSS/Coll- Newcomb- "Songs..."- "Negro"/"Pseudo-Negro"
11 8
MSS/Coll- Newcomb- "Songs..." - Dialogue/Sequence
11 9
MSS/Coll- Newcomb- "Songs..."- misc./fragments
11 10
MSS/Coll- Newcomb- "Songs..."- Dance Plays/ Children's Games/Nursery
11 11
MSS/Coll- Newcomb- "Songs..."- Notes and Index
11 12
MSS/Coll- Colcord- "Roll and Go"- Notes (A-C)-Sea Chanteys
11 13
MSS/Coll- Colcord- "Roll and Go"- Notes (D-H)-Sea Chanteys
11 14
MSS/Coll- Colcord- "Roll and Go"- Notes (I-L)-Sea Chanteys
11 15
MSS/Coll- Colcord- "Roll and Go"- Notes (M-P)-Sea Chanteys
12 1
MSS/Coll- Colcord- "Roll and Go"- Notes (Q-Z)-Sea Chanteys
12 2
MSS/Coll- Colcord- "Roll and Go"- Intro/Chantey/Forecastle/Short-Drag/ Halyard
12 3
MSS/Coll- Colcord- "Roll and Go"- Negro/Windlass/Capstan/Forecastle/Sentimental Ballad
12 4
MSS/Coll- Colcord- "Roll and Go"- Conclusion
12 5
MSS/Coll- Colcord- "Roll and Go"- Notes/Text/Sources/Clipping
13 1
MSS/Coll-McGinnis- "Songs of the Dogwatch," Forecastle songs pp. 1-60)
13 2
MSS/Coll- McGinnis- "Songs of the Dogwatch," Forecastle songs (pp. 61-119)
13 3
MSS/Coll- McGinnis- "Songs of the Dogwatch," incomplete copy
13 4
MSS/Coll- McGinnis- "Songs of the Dogwatch," incomplete copy
13 5
MSS/Coll- McGinnis- "Songs of the Dogwatch," words only
13 6
MSS/Coll- McGinnis- "Songs of the Dogwatch," words only
13 7
MSS/Coll-Winger- "Folk Songs...," Point Pleasant, W.Va
13 8
MSS/Coll-Winger- "Folk Songs...," Point Pleasant, W.Va.

Series IV:  Published Works, 1939 1922-1927Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Subseries A1: "The New Green Mountain Songster", in Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society
1939
Box Folder
14 1
The Negro Spiritual
1939
14 2
Golden Box/Etchings/Barry
1939
14 3
Folk Songs of America
1939
14 4
Folk Songs of America
1939
Subseries A2: "Old Songs That Men Have Sung", in Adventure
June 20, 1922-June 15, 1927 (non-inclusive)
Box Folder
15 1
Multiple columns
15 2
Multiple columns
15 3
Green Grow the Rashes, O!
June 20, 1922
15 4
The Lakes of Pontchartrain
July 10, 1922
15 5
The Land of Beyond
July 30, 1922
15 6
The Cumberland's Crew
August 20, 1922
15 7
The Bold Nor'westmen
September 10, 1922
15 8
Ten Thousand Miles Away
September 30, 1922
15 9
Tim Finnigan's Wake
October 20, 1922
15 10
The Hoboes' Convention / The Cove of Cork
November 10, 1922
15 11
Susanna, Don't You Cry/ United States Marine Song
November 30, 1922
15 12
The Braw Glen Wharple Heilan' Men / My Billet in Bully Grenay / The Wabash Cannon-Ball
December 20, 1922
15 13
Inching Along / The Legend of Boastful Bill / The Banks of the Nile
January 10, 1923
15 14
The Dreadnaught / Old English Chantey / Off to Sea Once More
January 30, 1923
15 15
Across the Western Ocean / Jack and Polly
February 20, 1923
15 16
The Cruise of the Bigler
March 10, 1923
15 17
Noah and the Wine / The Marine Corps / The Marines' Hymn / The Plainsman's Prayer
March 30, 1923
15 18
The Jim River Line /John Henry / Down in the Old Cherry Orchard / The Murder of Blue-Eyed Ella
April 20, 1923
15 19
The Night That Murphy Died / Casey Jones / The Wabash Cannon-Ball / The Bobtail Cannon-Ball
May 10, 1923
15 20
A Yankee Ship and a Yankee Crew / Away off in the West / The Rose of Tralee / Sailing Orders
May 30, 1923
15 21
The Gaycat / Dat Yallah Gal in Texas / Three Leaves of Irish Shamrock/ A Tramp
June 20, 1923
15 22
Springfield Mountain / King Brady
July 10, 1923
15 23
The House Carpenter / Elegy On The Young Man Bitten By a Rattlesnake / Springfield Mountain / Short'nin' Bread / Yaller Gal
July 30, 1923
15 24
Frankie and Johnnie
August 20, 1923
15 25
Bow Down/ Ol' Bill
September 10, 1923
15 26
The Ocean Burial / The Bold Benicia Boy
September 30, 1923
15 27
The Sunday School Song
October 20, 1923
15 28
Ole Aunt Dinah
November 10, 1923
15 29
Pretty Polly / Andrew Bardeen
November 30, 1923
15 30
December 20, 1923
15 31
Steel-Driving Chant
January 10, 1924
15 32
Old Ninety-seven/ A Long Time Ago
January 30, 1924
15 33
February 20, 1924
15 34
The Folier Execution / The Silvery Tides
March 10, 1924
15 35
The Boston Burglar
March 30, 1924
15 36
Charles Guiteau / The Rambling Blade / The Roaming Gambler
April 20, 1924
15 37
Dese Bones Gwine Rise Ag'in/ Rosalie
May 10, 1924
15 38
Young Charlotte
May 30, 1924
15 39
McAffee's Confession
June 20, 1924
16 1
John Hardy / Vilikins and His Dinah
July 10, 1924
16 2
Lovel / Brady / Olive Jackson
July 30, 1924
16 3
The Hunter's Death / A Hunting Song / Old Darby
August 20, 1924
16 4
The Days of 'Forty-nine / Joe Bowers
September 10, 1924
16 5
The Dying Stockman / A Filipino Family
September 30, 1924
16 6
The Buffalo Skinners / Railroad Bill
October 20, 1924
16 7
Ellen Smith / Sourwood Mountain / Nigger Lost John
November 10, 1924
16 8
James Bird
November 30, 1924
16 9
Lady Margaret and Sweet William / Sam Bass
December 20, 1924
16 10
Rolling Home
January 10, 1925
16 11
The Noble Lands of Canada
January 30, 1925
16 12
Quantrell / Lost John / Hi-Yi-Yippee-Yippee-Yi / Sixteen Years on the Erie Canal
February 20, 1925
16 13
Johnny Greene / Barbary Ellen
March 10, 1925
16 14
Guy Reed / The Old Gray Mare
March 30, 1925
16 15
Buffalo Song / Frog Went A-Courting
April 20, 1925
16 16
Maggie Was a Lady / Frankie and Johnnie
May 10, 1925
16 17
Willie and Mary / Flow Ella / Willie and Weeper
May 30, 1925
16 18
Original Casey Jones / Casey Jones / The Train I Ride
June 20, 1925
16 19
July 10, 1925
16 20
Donald Monroe
July 30, 1925
16 21
The Rowan County Crew
August 20, 1925
16 22
The Wahnapitae
September 10, 1925
16 23
The Rambling Boy/ Behind the Stone Wall
September 30, 1925
16 24
The Mutiny on the Saladin
October 20, 1925
16 25
The Train I Ride
November 10, 1925
16 26
The Game of Coon-Can / My Wild Colonial Boy
December 20, 1925
16 27
Stackalee
January 10, 1926
16 28
The Merrie Golden Tree / Cindy, Cindy
January 30, 1926
16 29
Old Smokey
February 20, 1926
16 30
Barbara Allen
March 10, 1926
16 31
The Mutiny of Saladin / The Canada Pine
March 30, 1926
16 32
The Bishop of Old Canterbury / The Butcher Boys
April 23, 1926
16 33
William Craig / Nebraska Land
May 23, 1926
16 34
Wild Bill Jones / Railroad Bill
June 23, 1926
16 35
Fair Alender / Johnnie Dear
July 23, 1926
16 36
The Margaret and the Mary / Young Johnny / Johnny Cook
August 23, 1926
16 37
The Train I Ride / Mah Baby
September 23, 1926
16 38
The Lady LeRoy / A Lullaby
October 23, 1926
16 39
The Flying Cloud
November 8, 1926
16 40
Rye Straw / Howard Curry
December 8, 1926
16 41
Joe Clark / The Gambling Man / Ole Joe Clark
December 31, 1926
16 42
President McKinley / Red River Valley / Seven Years in Prison
January 1, 1927
16 43
Hobo Song/ The Bums' Convention
February 1, 1927
16 44
Wandering Jack / Sanford Burns
March 1, 1927
16 45
Lowlands Low / The Three Liars
April 1, 1927
16 46
The Lime-Juice Ship / The Banks of Newfoundland
April 15, 1927
16 47
Song of the Immigrant Trail / Bold Jack Donahoe
May 15, 1927
16 48
The Princess Royal / The Lass o' Mohea
June 15, 1927
16 49
The Highway Robber / The Gambler
July 15, 1927
16 50
The Maid on the Shore / A Love Song / Pretty Maggie
August 15, 1927
16 51
The Twelve Days of Christmas / The Shady Green Tree
September 15, 1927

Series V:  Class Notes, undatedReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
17 1
Class Notes - English 39
17 2
Class Notes - English 39
17
Bound Volume - Class Notes-Harvard, Volume #1 0f 6
17
Bound Volume - Class Notes-Harvard, Volume #2 0f 6
17
Bound Volume - Class Notes-Harvard, Volume #3 0f 6
17
Bound Volume - Class Notes-Harvard, Volume #4 0f 6
17
Bound Volume - Class Notes-Harvard, Volume #5 0f 6
17
Bound Volume - Class Notes-Harvard, Volume #6 0f 6
Folder
18 1
Class Notes - Philosophy
18
Bound Volume - Class Notes-Harvard, Volume #1 0f 4
18
Bound Volume - Class Notes-Harvard, Volume #2 0f 4
18
Bound Volume - Class Notes-Harvard, Volume #3 0f 4
18
Bound Volume - Class Notes-Harvard, Volume #4 0f 4
Folder
19 1
Class Notes - English 41
19
Bound Volume - Class Notes-Harvard, Volume #1 0f 2
19
Bound Volume - Class Notes-Harvard, Volume #2 0f 2
19
Bound Volume - Class Notes-"Notes in English 15" #1 of 1

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Ballads, Irish--United States
  • Folk songs--United States
  • Murder--Songs and music
  • Sea songs
  • Spirituals (Songs)
  • Personal Names :
  • Colcord, Joanna Carver, 1882-1960
  • Gordon, Robert Winslow--Archives
  • Newcomb, Mary, 1894-1967
  • Geographical Names :
  • Asheville (N.C.)--Social life and customs
  • United States