May 8, 2012

Birth of Gibson: The jubilee proclaim

Ella Elvira Gibson was born in Winchendon, Massachusetts on May 8, 1821, though she later became better associated with Wisconsin. Living in that state during the Civil War, she helped organize soldiers' aid societies and, in 1864, was appointed chaplain of the First Wisconsin Heavy Artillery regiment at Fort Lyon — a post she was officially denied by the Secretary of War because she was a woman. She performed her duties nonetheless and was later given belated pay and a pension for her services thanks to an act of Congress. By 1999, she was posthumously granted the rank of captain.

The post of chaplain was somewhat ironic; Gibson was extremely radical in her religious views. After the war, she wrote, "Christianity is an insult to the wisdom of the nineteenth century. To place before its progress and development a leader, ruler, king, saviour, god, whose knowledge was less than a modern five year old school girl, is an outrage upon humanity." She promoted her religious "free thought" ideas with vigor; in 1858 alone, she is reported to have given 292 public lectures. She married in 1861 (becoming Mrs. Hobart) but divorced three years later. Less controversially, she also wrote poetry; her poem "The Jubilee" spreads the news about the emancipation of enslaved people:

From Scotia's frozen region
   To Texas' burning zone,
Where Afric's swarthy legion
   The driver's lash have known:
From many a flowing river,
   From many a cotton plain,
They call us to deliver
   Their land from slavery's chain.

What though the balmy breezes
   Blow soft o'er southern soil.
Though every prospect pleases,
   The slave must sweat and toil.
In vain with lavish kindness,
   The gifts of God are strewn,
The master, in his blindness,
   Sells muscle, brain and bone.

Shall we by Freedom lighted,
   With banners floating high,
Shall we to slaves benighted
   A freeman's rights deny?
O shout Emancipation,
   The jubilee proclaim
Till earth's remotest nation,
   Has heard Abe Lincoln's name!

Waft, waft, ye winds, the story,
   And you, ye waters, roll.
Tell, like a sea of glory,
   It spreads from pole to pole;
Till o'er our ransomed nation
   The Flag of Freedom wave,
And slavery, wrong, oppression,
   Find one eternal grave.

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