“Go Down, Moses”

Alternate titles: “The Song of the Contrabands”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1861 (sheet music published under title "The Song of the Contrabands 'O Let My People Go'")
Keywords: religious Bible freedom escape death
Found in: US(SE)


Moses is commissioned to free the Israelites: "Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt's land. Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go." The firstborn of Egypt are specifically threatened; the rest is more general


Rev. L. C. Lockwood, described as "Chaplain of the 'Contrabands' at Fortress Munroe," [sic. -- the fort's name was Fort Monroe - RBW] collected the song, reporting that "This Song has been sung for about nine years by the Slaves of Virginia." The original has 11 verses, only a few of which seem to have made it into tradition. - PJS

Moses's specific threat against the firstborn of Egypt is made in Exodus 11:4f. and is carried out in 12:29f. The rest of this song is based loosely on the background in Exodus. - RBW



  1. BrownIII 570, "Go Down, Moses" (1 text)
  2. Silber-CivWar, pp. 26-27, "Go Down, Moses" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Lomax-FSUSA 109, "Go Down, Moses" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Courlander-NFM, p. 42, "Go Down, Moses" (partial text)
  5. Darling-NAS, pp. 354-355, "O! Let My People Go" (1 text -- an excerpt)
  6. Silber-FSWB, p. 294, "Go Down Moses" (1 text)
  7. Fuld-WFM, p. 247, "Go Down, Moses"
  9. Roud #5434
  10. BI, LxU109