Queer Places:
Trinity Church Graveyard Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA

Charles Peter Shiras (1824 - July 26, 1854) was an abolitionist and poet; he was a close friend of Stephen Foster rumored to have written the lyrics for Foster's songs. Among the published works of Charles P. Shiras, the best known perhaps are "Redemption of Labor" (a volume of poetry which gives strong indications of genius), "Dollars and Dimes", "The Blood Hounds Song", and "I Owe No Man a Dollar". He is also the author of a drama called "The Invisible Prince, or the War of the Amazons," which was played at the Old Drury Theatre in the 1850s.

He was the son of George Shiras, Sr. (1774-1840) and Jane Hull Sloan (died 1879). George Shiras was the second son of Peter Shiras Sr, who emigrated to America in 1765 and settled in New Jersey. Young George was sent to Pittsburgh as a member of the militia at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion and, having decided to settle there, was joined by his parents and brothers in 1795. Peter Sr and his brother Alexander established a brewery on the site of Fort Pitt, which they later sold to James O'Hara. Their sons, however, continued to operate it for O'Hara and eventually gained control of it.

“Nelly was a Lady” marks an important milestone in Stephen Foster’s minstrel style with its radical suggestion of an African-American “Lady” and its heavy borrowings from the parlor ballads. This shift in Foster’s style reflects a changing racial attitude and may have been precipitated or enhanced by several events. In 1850 Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, permitting slave owners to send bounty hunters or “slave catchers” to the north to recuperate run-away slaves. This led to numerous demonstrations in Foster’s home city of Pittsburgh and put new emphasis on the plight of African Americans. Charles Shiras, one of Foster’s closest friends, wrote a poem entitled “Bloodhound” in reaction. Shiras paints a frightening picture wherein the slave catchers run violently through Pittsburgh (the City of Smoke).

In 1847 Shiras started an abolitionist journal, the Albatross. While the journal only lasted a few months, Shiras remained an anti-slavery activist until his death from consumption in 1854. It seems likely that the poet had long preached to Foster about the injustices of slavery, but the new law may have helped him to secure Foster’s sympathies. This is corroborated by a reactivation of their friendship at that time including collaborations on a song entitled “Annie My Own Love” and a play, “The Invisible Prince,” in 1853.

At one time was an editor on the Commercial Journal (Commercial Gazette) of Pittsburgh.

Charles P. Shiras married Mary Closey. Both, however, died a little over a year later, leaving an infant daughter, Rebecca Shiras. Charles Shiras's burial was the last internment to be made in the Trinity Burying Ground. A short time after Shiras’s death, Foster wrote music for a show commonly called “The Abolition Show,” indicating that by then Shiras’s influence had had the desired effect.


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