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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"Oh Susanna" with Peters Colony on your knee

Stephen Collins Foster (July 4, 1826 – January 13, 1864),
What does the song "Oh Susanna" have to do with Ellis County? 20 petitioners were originally involved in the Peters Colony that was a major force in bringing settlers into the Ellis County area. Of the American petitioners, 4 were from the Peters family and seemed to be the prime mover's in the organization of the colony. Hence the name Peters Colony. In the 1840's one of the major players in the Peters Colony was William C Peters a music teacher turned publisher. One of his students, Stephen Foster, as a gift, gave him the copyright to "Oh Susanna". W C Peters with his company Peters, Field and Company from Cincinnati did pay Stephen Foster a $100. People claim that W C Peters did not treat Stephen Foster fairly. But there was not really a song writers industry at the time and Foster never proclaimed to have been treated wrong by W C Peters. In fact he had written someone on the "delight" he experienced when he received two $50 bills for "Oh Susanna." "Oh Susanna" became a big hit and made W C Peters wealthy. W C Peters sold the song for $10,000. Using an inflation calculator the song would have sold today for about $200,000. Seeing that Foster died impoverished at the age of 37 with 38 cents on him, you can see where people feel he was taken advantage. The song was influenced by minstrel music Foster was exposed to at the age of 16 and by the full lyrics is very offensive and definitely politically incorrect. Though it is said that Stephen Foster was not a racist and instructed his performers to sing his songs with compassion towards the slave. Only God knew his heart I guess. Stephen Foster never visited Ellis County but his successful hit "oh Susanna" did help make W C Peters wealthy and maybe helped keep his investment in the Peters Colony alive a while longer.

reference "The Peters Colony" by Seymour V. Conor, Wikipedia

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