Musical Gems in the James Ritchie Sparkman Medical Library

by Craig Keeney, Cataloger, South Caroliniana Library

The South Caroliniana Library has held the correspondence and journals of James Ritchie Sparkman (1815-1897), a physician and plantation owner in Georgetown County, South Carolina, for years. It has only recently, however, acquired Sparkman’s private library. The collection contains devotional literature, historical works, travelogues, and as one might expect, a variety of 18th and 19th-century medical texts. It also includes three bound volumes of sheet music that merit special attention. Two volumes contain scores arranged for voice and piano and bear the bookplate of James Sparkman’s wife, Mary Elizabeth Heriot Sparkman (1827-1912). The third contains handwritten and published scores arranged for voice and guitar and appears to have belonged to Esther Ball (her connection to the Sparkman family is unclear). Taken together, these volumes offer a snapshot of the music publishing industry and musical tastes in the United States in the early to mid-19th century.

Cover of Ester Ball's notebook of handwritten and published scores.

Cover of Esther Ball’s notebook of handwritten and published scores.

Philadelphia dominated the sheet music industry during the antebellum period, a fact borne out by the number of scores in the Sparkman library published by Philadelphia residents Augustus Fiot (1803-1866), George Willig, Sr. (1764?-1851), and Leopold Meignen (1793-1873). Charleston, South Carolina, was also a leader, with George Oates (1821-1897), Orville Augustus Roorbach (1803-1861), and John Siegling (1789-1867) publishing and distributing sheet music at a competitive clip. Examples of their output are extremely rare; of the 17 titles in the Sparkman library published by John Siegling, only one–The Light House–is known to exist elsewhere. The scores in the Sparkman library are also among the earliest ones published in South Carolina. The Greek Exile’s Farewell to Naxos, for example, gives Siegling’s business address as 109 Meeting Street, indicating it was published in the 1820s (after Siegling opened his first store at 69 Broad Street and before he moved it to the corner of King and Beaufain Streets). Only two other music publishers—Charles Gilfert (1787-1829) and Philip Muck (active 1803-1822)—are known to have been in operation in Charleston prior to or during that time.

"Greek Exile’s Farewell to Naxos."

“Greek Exile’s Farewell to Naxos.”

A comparison of the scores for piano and guitar in the Sparkman library confirms the two instruments shared a similar repertoire. Excerpts of Italian opera tunes, musical adaptations of Thomas Moore’s poems, polkas, and waltzes appear to have been especially popular. The prevalence of scores for guitar may at first seem unusual, but in fact the instrument was widely popular during the antebellum period and only lost ground as mass-produced pianos became available later in the 19th century. The Sparkman library attests to the instrument’s popularity, including not only a copy of one of the earliest instructional books for guitar published in the United States, Otto Torp’s New and Improved Method for the Spanish Guitar, but a handful of handwritten scores, presumably intended as copying exercises.

One piece, titled Didst Thou Ever Think of Me, is especially interesting. The arrangement is credited to S.M. White, of whom the publisher offers few details. It turns out S.M. White was an alias for Samuel L. White, an African American musician and composer based in Philadelphia.

"Didst Thou Ever Think of Me." Arranged by S.M. White.

“Didst Thou Ever Think of Me.” Arranged by S.M. White.

A black man writing for a white audience, Samuel White embodied a contradiction: he could freely contribute music, but he could not reveal his identity. He eventually left Philadelphia for Louisville, Kentucky, where he founded the Mozart Society, a music appreciation society that gave concerts in African American churches. This rare copy of Didst Thou Ever Think of Me is one of the few surviving examples of his work.

You can browse the sheet music and other portions of James Sparkman’s library by visiting and doing an author search on “James Ritchie Sparkman Medical Library.”




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