Since tomorrow is the 4th of July, it is fitting to honor Stephen Collins Foster who was born on July 4, 1826, in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania. Lawrenceville was in Allegheny County, which is now a part of Pittsburgh. In 1851, Foster wrote the words and music for “Old Folks at Home” (“Swanee River”). This song was among his best known and most familiar songs. In 1935, Representative S. P. Robineau of Miami introduced House Concurrent Resolution No. 22 dedicating it as the state song of Florida. In 2008, the Florida Legislature designated that a revised version of the lyrics be the official version.
In Stephen Foster: a Florida Minstrel by Louise and Vernon Lamme, the authors state that in the first draft, the most famous line appeared as “Way down upon de Pedee Ribber” but Foster did not like the sound of it and sought the help of his brother Morrison. The two brothers consulted an atlas, searching the South, and agreed upon the name “Swanee” after the river that starts in Georgia and flows through North Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. The song was written for the minstrel E.P. Christy, who wanted a ballad to include the name of a Southern river but did not care what river it was. The song’s original river, the Pee Dee River (Pedee Ribber), originates in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina and flows into South Carolina.
Whenever I cross the bridge over the Suwannee River on Interstate 10 in North Florida, I want to start humming this song.