By Marian Bailey Presswood, Polk County, TN Historian
From an article written by J. D. Clemmer
“Home, Sweet Home” is a song that has remained well known for over 190 years. Adapted from American actor, author, playwright and dramatist John Howard Payne’s 1823 opera Clari, or the Maid of Milan, the song’s melody was composed by Englishman Sir Henry Bishop with lyrics by Payne. The words are as follows – sing along with me:
“Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home; A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there, Which seek thru’ the world, is ne’er met elsewhere. Home! Home! Sweet, sweet home! There’s no place like home There’s no place like home!”
John Howard Payne (pictured) was born in 1791 on Long Island, New York into a large well to do family. He was not happy working in his father’s business, but had a passion for being an actor, was later in life the American Counsul for Tunisia. He put the immortal words into a song to use in an opera to be given in London, England while he was staying in Paris, and it became the world’s most popular song, selling over 100,000 copies! After his passing in 1852, someone said of him, “Never was a dead poet so famous for a single song, or so honored.”
After John came back to America from Europe he came here to the Cherokee Nation to gather material for the first issue of a magazine in New York of which he became editor. He visited John Ross, the great Cherokee leader, who helped him with maps and manuscripts. Ross, at the time, lived in a log cabin in Bradley County, having been driven from his fine residence at Rossville by Georgians.
On the night of November the 7th, 1835 while Payne was a guest at the Ross cabin, a detachment of the Georgia State Guard came across the state line and arrested both Payne and Ross. As they took them horseback toward Georgia, some of the guards began to sing “Home, Sweet Home.” Payne said to them, “I composed that song,” but they hooted at him and didn’t believe him. They were kept prisoners in a log cabin in Springplace. Ross was released in eight days, and Payne in twelve days after his arrest. Bradley County Historian, John W. Wooten, wrote that Payne and Ross were never charged or brought to trial. He said the real object of their arrest was “to give Georgia authorities a chance to examine their private papers, hoping to find some evidence of sedition so as to convict them, and remove Ross from the Nation, and so deprive the Cherokees of his wise leadership.”
When released, Payne being in a strange country, had no clue in which direction to go to reach the Ross home, but feeling in great danger of being robbed, turned into the first highway, the Vann Road and old Federal road. Fortunately, he made his way to the McNair home across the state line in Tennessee – in land, which would become Polk County after the Forced Removal. He was warmly received and later wrote, “Nothing could be more cordial, nor kinder than my reception and treatment by the McNairs.” He sent word to Ross as to his whereabouts and was taken again to the Ross cabin and from there went on to Knoxville where he had influential friends. A largely attended indignation meeting was held there to protest the illegal arrest and ill treatment of such an important visitor. Before he continued his journey home to New York, he published a lengthy address to the American people giving an account of his arrest and ill treatment by Georgians. They must have been embarrassed by their actions, for Georgia later erected a monument at Spring Place to honor him for the wrong they had done. Although he died in Tunisia, he was reinterred in Oak Hill in Washington, D.C. and a large monument marks his final resting place there.
During the War Between the States, the song was reputedly banned from being played or sung in Union Army camps for being “too redolent of hearth and home and so likely to incite desertion.”
So, how many of you knew that the author of “Home, Sweet Home” was once a visitor here in what later became Polk County? Not I! That’s one of the reasons I enjoy doing the heritage articles because I learn as much as the readers do. We are indeed fortunate to have the preserved writing of such great historians as J. D. Clemmer and his daughters, Misses Sudie and Lucy, who faithfully kept his articles and clippings, and filled volumes of scrapbooks with additional genealogy information mostly collected by another great historian, Uncle Billy Harrison. Uncle Billy took his little Blue Horse lined notepads and went door to door and wrote down all the oral history he could get from Polk families. I can just see them sitting in the front porch rockers chewin’ tobacco and spittin’ and talking about their ancestors, their children, who they married, and how they were related to other Polk Folks. Those nineteen little Blue Horse notebooks were ‘borrowed’ by a relative visiting here from Texas who promised to return them – and, of course, never did. Luckily, Miss Sudie and Lucy had copied most, if not all, of the information they contained. I consider that to have been the absolutely greatest resource on Polk County history there was until the current historical hociety gathered over 700 family stories and wrote dozens of topical history article for the Heritage of Polk County published in 1997.
Yep, you’re right, it’s nag time, so get out your little Blue Horse notebook and get busy Preserving YOUR History! We’d love to have a copy for our files at the PCHGS Genealogy library if you would be so kind as to share.