2 Oct 2016

Nat Turner sings the Psalms

The October 2016 issue of National Geographic carries a fascinating article, "I, Too, Am America," about the African American experience in the United States, with this description: "A dazzling new museum in the nation's capital and its eclectic collection show the personal side of the suffering, perseverance, and triumphs of African Americans." Among the artefacts housed in the National Museum of African American History and Culture is the personal Bible of Nat Turner, who led a famous slave revolt in 1831.

The image above appears on p. 124 of the article. A careful examination of the page indicates that Turner's Bible contained a metrical psalter, the Scottish Psalter of 1650, in fact. In the right hand column we read Psalm 121:

I to the hills will lift mine eyes,
from whence doth come mine aid.
2 My safety cometh from the Lord,
who heav'n and earth hath made.

3 Thy foot he'll not let slide, nor will
he slumber that thee keeps.
4 Behold, he that keeps Israel,
he slumbers not, nor sleeps.

5 The Lord thee keeps, the Lord thy shade
on thy right hand doth stay:
6 The moon by night thee shall not smite,
nor yet the sun by day.

7 The Lord shall keep thy soul; he shall
preserve thee from all ill.
8 Henceforth thy going out and in
God keep for ever will.

The author of the article makes no mention of this, but it prompts me to wonder whether the old black American churches might once have sung the Psalms according to the well-known Scottish versifications. Singing the Psalms would be a natural for a community that suffered so much during the centuries of slavery and after. More research is obviously needed to answer this question.

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