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Immigrants to Salem join the abolitionist cause

Posted by Marjorie Nesin  February 1, 2011 10:00 AM

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Captain Luis F. Emilio from Emilio, "History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 1863-1865" (1894)

"There are so many blacks here, that makes one sick to look upon so much degradation. Instead of horse-power to carry goods to & fro, negro power is substituted, & the streets are literally swarming with strings of blacks, each carrying either a bag of coffee, a bale of goods or other description of merchandise on their heads."
~ from Manuel Fenollosa, "Journal of Manuel Fenollosa," 

In this quote from April 1849, a recent immigrant to Salem, traveling in Rio de Janiero, recounts what was likely his first up-close encounter with the institution of slavery. It certainly affected him emotionally. It also moved him to action.

Manuel Fenollosa, a native of Malaga, Spain, had come here eleven years earlier in the company of his brother-in-law-to-be, Manuel Emilio. They had been musicians on an American naval vessel, the frigate "United States," then in the Mediterranean.

According to a memoir written by Emilio’s son Luis:
"Naval regulations gave only a few musicians to a vessel of the frigate’s class and under a rate of pay that precluded the enlistment of a sufficient number of competent men for a well balanced band of instrumentalists. But from a ship’s funds and the contributions of officers this had already been remedied, while some skillful players were subsequently secured by the band master at various ports of the Mediterranean. They were mostly Italians and Spaniards."

Manuel Emilio was the bandmaster and when the ship received orders to return to Boston, though many of the musicians took a discharge and stayed behind, he and Fenollosa, among others decided to try their fortunes on this side of the Atlantic.

When they arrived at the Charlestown Navy Yard on November 8, 1838, the band was discharged. According to Luis Emilio, the musicians performed throughout New England for a few months as “the Italian Band.”

Their first Salem performance was held in the home of John P. Jewett of Ives and Jewett, a book and music store. Jewett later started a publishing house and in addition to publishing books and sheet music, including those of Emilio and Fenollosa, achieved renown as publisher of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

After deciding to settle in Salem (influenced, no doubt, by the enthusiastic reception to their several Salem concerts in 1838 – ’39), Fenollosa struck up a friendship with Jewett and later recalled learning English from him. This early connection may have also influenced Fenollosa’s abolitionist tendencies.

Both Fenollosa and Emilio contributed to the cause with their musical talents:
Emilio wrote a song to lyrics by another famous Essex County abolitionist, John Greenleaf Whittier entitled “Little Eva : Uncle Tom's guardian angel.” Published by Jewett & Co. in 1852 it bore the inscription “most respectfully dedicated to Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of ‘Uncle Tom's cabin.’ "

In celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation, Fenollosa composed “Emancipation Hymn” a choral work published in June 1863. The lyrics, by “R.T.L.” include the following:

"He hath heard; O give Him glory! Heard the Bondman's pray'r:
O'er the war path, red and gory Thro' the slave-hound's lair,
Peals the mandate of salvation, "Let my people go."
Humbled, bleeding, hear the nation Answer, "Be it so!"

After Emancipation, the plight of the former slaves was still a concern to these gentlemen. On February 21, 1864, Fenollosa directed a concert in Salem “in aid of the Freedmen of the Country.”

When the first Union regiment of African-American soldiers, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was formed, both Fenollosa and Emilio were among “those who aided the organization in various ways.” This regiment is memorialized by the Saint-Gaudens sculpture on the Boston Common and the movie Glory.

Emilio’s eldest son, Luis enlisted in the Union army, became a Captain in the 54th and later wrote the regimental history. He also wrote of the moral and material support he received from his father and uncle (his mother was Fenollosa’s sister) throughout his service.

At the time of their deaths in the 1870s, the obituaries of these two Spanish immigrants remarked upon their generosity and dedication to civic causes throughout their time in Salem. In his journal Fenollosa remarked:

"Every body cannot be a great man, nor a remarkable character, for then there would be no great men, nor remarkable characters. So let us be satisfied with truth, & aspire to greatness of soul, which is better than what the world can give."

Jim Dalton is a founding board member of the Salem History Society and is a professor of music theory and music education at The Boston Conservatory. As a performer, he specializes in American 19th century music and can be reached at He and his wife, Maggi, are co-authoring a book on music in Salem's history. For information on joining the Salem History Society, go to


from author's private collection


American Memory, Library of Congress

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