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Abolition and Music in New Hampshire: The Hutchinson Family Singers

Sepia photograph of the four Hutchinson Family Singers. Left to right: Judson, Abby, John, Asa Hutchinson
The Hutchinson Family Singers. Left to Right: Judson, Abby, John, Asa Hutchinson

“GENTLEMEN, WE ARE GOING TO SING THIS TONIGHT IF WE HAVE TO DIE FOR IT.”


These words were spoken by Abby Hutchinson, aged 15, to her brothers Judson, John and Asa in New York City, March 18,1845, the day of their scheduled family concert.


What was the reason behind this dramatic declaration?


The quartet, native to Milford, NH, and known as the Hutchinson Family Singers, was the most popular singing group in the United States. Their rapid rise to fame started in 1842 when the four began touring through the New England states. During the early tours they were listened to eagerly and written about with great favor but often experienced disappointing profits. But the singers didn’t quit and during the second half of 1842 were heard by two men who were instrumental in turning their dream into reality.


In Concord, NH, a well known abolitionist, Nathaniel P. Rogers, attended a concert and began promoting the idea that the singers would be of benefit to the Anti-slavery movement.

Illustrated sheet music cover for the song "Get Off the Track!" by Jesse Hutchinson, Jr. The printed black and white illustration pictures a train representing emancipation with people waiting in the foreground and a church in the background. Various labels and text refer to abolitionist references from the 1840s United States.
Sheet music cover for "Get Off the Track!," an abolitionist song by Jesse Hutchinson, Jr. This song was dedicated to Nathaniel P. Rogers and brought on threats to the quartet in 1844.

Later that summer, in Albany, NY, they found themselves nearly broke and ready to go back to the farm, when a local business man, Luke Newland, offered them a “deal” and ultimately showed them how to go about advertising in advance and how to introduce themselves to potential audiences as respectable people.


Beginning in January 1843, the quartet attended Anti-slavery meetings throughout the northeast and drew thousands to the cause through the power of their beautiful voices and their steadfast commitment.


They continued to perform family concerts, in addition to donating their talents to many causes, thereby having a double exposure to Americans. In less than 1 year, they went from being obscure to being national treasures. They were Americans singing to Americans and have been credited with developing a style of uniquely American music and for developing the concert format singers followed well into the middle of the 20th century.


The threat of dangerous mobs and personal bodily harm began happening in 1844 when these wildly popular singers started including anti-slavery songs in their family concerts. As reflected in Abby’s statement to her brothers, they never backed down when faced with such danger. When encouraged by friends to take the safer route and not include anti-slavery songs in their concerts, the response was “If we can’t sing the truth, we can’t sing at all.”


The beauty of their voices, their unaffected stage presence, understanding of American lives and commitment to the causes they sang for are well documented by scholars of music, culture and politics. The Hutchinson Family Singers, of Milford, NH, literally changed America through song.


Want to learn more about the Hutchinson Family Singers? Join us at the Nashua Historical Society for the talk by Charlie Annand and Marcia Nelson:


New Hampshire's Fab Four: The Hutchinson Family Singers

When: Saturday, February 3, 2024, 1:00 pm

Where: Florence H. Speare Memorial Museum

Arrive early to hear music by the Hutchinson Family Singers!

For more information, please visit our Events Page.


Charlie Annand and Marcia Nelson co-chair a Milford all-volunteer group determined to create a public memorial to the Hutchinson Family Singers. For more information, please visit the Hutchinson Family Singers Memorial Project website or the Milford Historical Society website.

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