Appalachia Music

I Am Bound For The Promised Land

On Jordans Stormy Banks I Stand

The hymn I Am Bound For The Promised Land was sung at practically ever baptizing I’ve ever attended. The song was written by Samuel Stennett (1727-1795), who was a Baptist Minister in England. Stennett’s father and grandfather were also ministers. Stennett’s grandfather, Joseph Stennett, was also a hymn writer.

The hymn that we know today doesn’t sound exactly like the one that Stennett wrote. Over the years the hymn was changed into the catchy song most of us are most familiar with today.

In an article published on The United Methodist Reporter, Michael Hawn offers the following details about the history of the song Stennett penned over 200 years ago:

“John Rippon, an English Baptist pastor, published in 1787 an influential collection, A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors. Thirty-eight of Stennett’s hymns appeared in this popular collection. Among those was a hymn under the heading of “Heaven Anticipated” with the title of “The Promised Land” in eight four-line stanzas.

The hymn as it appeared in America looked and sounded much different. William Walker’s The Southern Harmony (1835) was the first to include “The Promised Land.” This was one of the most popular of the 19th-century, oblong-tune books with shaped notes.

The tune PROMISED LAND was paired with the text. The Southern Harmony attributes the tune to “Miss M. Durham” but we know nothing else about the composer. The tune has many of the characteristics the traditional folk melodies of the time.

Originally written in a minor mode, Rigdon M. McIntosh, a Southern musician, altered the tune to the major mode, and as was customary among American evangelicals in the 19th century added a refrain beginning with “I am bound for the promised land.” This version was published in 1895 in H. R. Christie’s Gospel Light and has become the standard version for many hymnals since that time.

From the start, the four stanzas focus on heaven. The singer stands on the banks of the Jordan River looking across to the “fair and happy land” of Canaan—a metaphoric mixture of images from the books of Exodus and Revelation. Our true “possessions” lie in Canaan (Heaven) and not on the earthly side of Jordan.

In stanza two we find that Canaan is a land of “wide extended plains” where “the eternal day” is always shining. In this land Jesus (“God the Son”) reigns. Furthermore, stanza three tells us that Canaan is a spiritually healthful place to live: “No chilling winds or poisonous breath can reach that healthful shore.” Therefore, “sickness and sorrow, pain and death” do not exist in Canaan.

In the final stanza, the singer obviously cannot wait to get there. Upon arrival in the Promised Land, we will “see [our] Father’s face, and in his bosom rest.” The refrain gives the hymn a sense of marching forward to eternal life.

Carlton R. Young, editor of The UM Hymnal, places this hymn within the context 19th-century American expansion: “The British poet composed these apocalyptic lines with an ear towards Exodus and Revelation in another setting. USA evangelicals and their song transformed the text into earthly and vital metaphors of the vision, vigor, enthusiasm, and optimism of frontier life moving on to the promised land of Kentucky or Missouri.”

The article makes me wonder what Stennett’s original version sounded like. Hard to say for sure-since I never heard the original version, but I would wager Miss M. Durham’s and Mr. McIntosh’s changes are part of the reason it is still a popular song choice for churches in my area of Appalachia and beyond.

Almost all of the Blind Pig Gang is in this video. You can see Pap, Mark, and Paul in the video-while Ben and I are hitting a few licks off camera as well.

Hope you enjoyed the history-and the song. Paul and Pap’s version most certainly make you want to tap your toes and sing along.

Tipper

*Source: Hawn, C. Michael. ” The United Methodist Portal.”  The United Methodist Portal. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2013. <http://www.umportal.org/article.asp?id=4353>.

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Tipper
    September 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    B. Those old songbooks sound great! No chicken yet : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia
    http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 22, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Tipper,
    I loved the post and song this morning. I love old Gospel songs.
    You know that I am a “flea market junkie” and this summer I hit paydirt…at least for me! LOL
    I usually go thru the old book boxes if anyone has any…This time I found Rodeheaver’s Gospel Songs for Church, Sunday School and Evangelistic services…dated 1922..It also had Billy Sunday’s and his wifes pictures in it as well as some of the Tabernacle staff. Billy Sunday was indirectily responsible for Billy Grahams baptism that was done by Morceia Ham…It is divided into Church Hymns, songs for male voices, Sunday school songs, Rivival songs, childrens songs, solos and choruses and responsive readings.
    It was 35 cents back in the day they were printed. In the same box I also found a 1949 “Lasting Covenant” songbook. It is very worn paperback with a stamp of “The Sacred Singers” This book is in shape notes…I wonder if the Sacred Singers are still singing shape note songs?
    I love old church song books and grab them whenever I can find them. They are like cook books…very fasinating to read…
    Whether you cook from them or not! The song books whether you can play the songs or not.
    A lot of them I already know the meloday so I can make do…LOL
    Thanks for this post,
    PS….Did you all find the chicken?
    PS..2..I one of those old antique book boxes I hope to find one day the Smokey Mountain English Book that you refer to frequently…I just can’t afford the $300.00 plus that they sell it for on Amazon…University of Tennessee Press was, I thought, supposed to release a reprint…but haven’t heard..

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 22, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    I noticed you have add pictures of two beautiful songstresses on the left side of your blog. I’ll bet you and the Deer Hunter are busting with pride.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 22, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Tipper,
    That was Beautiful! I enjoyed all
    the history of the song too. And
    it makes me proud of the Whole Gang
    the way you uphold Christ as God’s
    Son…Ken

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    September 22, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Great history lesson on this song Tipper. I’ve heard this old song ever since I was knee high to a duck but never knew this. Your family does an awesome job on it as usual. Thanks for the very interesting post. Hope you have a nice Sunday.

  • Reply
    Howland
    September 22, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    I believe this is the first time I’ve heard your Pap play lead. Clean and pure!

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    September 22, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Absolutley love the photo!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    September 22, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Tipper–A nice bit of research on your part, and I say that as someone who has, for better or worse, devoted much of my life to digging into the past.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    September 22, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Tipper: Those fellows sound mighty fine – ‘smooth as silk’ we would say!
    We are running up and down those crooked roads (through the Tellico Mountains) in Western NC marketing “Fiddler” but your weekend we will be in Tennessee. Of course Oct.4/5th is our multi-class reunion @ Hayesville. So we will surely be there. That Friday night there will be MUSIC ON THE SQUARE and hope you are THERE!
    Regards,
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    September 22, 2013 at 10:45 am

    toe tapping for sure — smile making, too.

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    September 22, 2013 at 9:41 am

    You’re right about it being a toe tapper. Nice job! The history of the song was very interesting.

  • Reply
    dolores
    September 22, 2013 at 8:19 am

    A great Sunday morning start! The guys did a great job and I am ready to head to church and pray that the world has a blessed day!

  • Reply
    Dan McCarter
    September 22, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Nice posting on this song. I still sing with a group of singer that use the William Walker Book “the Christian Harmony”. Thera are several singings in East NC and Western TN during the year.
    http://www.christianharmony.org

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    September 22, 2013 at 7:39 am

    What a delightful way to begin a Sunday morning–with being reminded of the orgigin of “The Promised Land” and hearing Pap and Paul play and sing (with also the one providing back-up!). Yes! The song is one of my favorites, and I well remember that Sunday afternoon in August away back there (1939) when we gathered at Morris Ford on the Nottely River, our chruch’s “baptizing place.” A large crowd had come to the baptizing because we had 23 candidates, new-born and eager to be baptized, from our July revival at Choestoe Church. I remember how cold the water was! But that didn’t matter that much–the coldness of the water–for inside I had a glow that only the love of Jesus could have lighted! Whether you entered cold waters of a nearby stream, or had some other mode of baptism, I hope the song helped you to remember and be grateful for your own salvation. Have a wonderful Lord’s day as you worship where you are and remember all the influences in your life that brought you along your own spiritual journey to this point. I invite you to see my Facebook posting day by day. There I give a snippet both of teaching and testimony of how God has touched and is touching my life. Ethelene Jones

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    September 22, 2013 at 7:38 am

    Wonderful,, a good song to start the day… Hopefully that ole song will continue to be sung long after we’re all gone, if time stands that long,, And I believe it will, but, according to the way I read the Bible not as many will be sing those ole songs, we can see it today in most Churches, a great falling away..

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 22, 2013 at 7:23 am

    It is interesting how we humans take everything and turn it to what we want it to be, ever trying to bring heaven to us, here and now.
    A fine job of singing, as always. I notice that Tipper manages to be out of the line of the camera, again. LOL

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