Folklorists and lovers of folk songs will delight in this collection of the lyrics of songs sung by settlers of western New York in the middle of the nineteenth century. The manuscript on which this book is based is the most important collection of traditional song-texts, British and American in origin, to survive from its period. Discovered in the 1930s in the attic of Harry S. Douglass in Arcade, New York, it was written by Julia S. and Volney O. Stevens, who transcribed nearly ninety of the songs with which their father, Artemas Stevens, so often entertained them.
The Stevens family had come to Wyoming County, New York, from New England in 1836, bringing with them traditional songs and ballads. The Stevens-Douglass manuscript contains the texts of 89 songs. In A Pioneer Songster, these are organized first by their origins (36 are from the British Isles; 53 were composed in America) and then according to themes and subjects, including love, history, politics, the pioneering life, politics, murder and shipwrecks, minstrel songs, spirituals, Indian legends, temperance, and satire. The book features a general introduction and shorter introductions to each themed section. In addition, each song is accompanied by an informative headnote detailing its history, meaning, and significance.
A Pioneer Songster, first published by Cornell University Press in 1958, has been edited for the enjoyment of the general reader, but in their annotation, the editors have aimed at assisting students and scholars of folklore, musicology, and American history. While preserving the manuscript's original punctuation and spelling, they have succeeded in creating a resource that will be of interest to all who care for the American folk tradition and the history of New York State.