English Baptist minister Samuel Stennett wrote the text to the hymn, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand in 1787, and it was first published in the London Baptist pastor John Rippon’s famous hymn collection, A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors (London: 1787; reprinted, New York, 1792). With the title “Heaven Anticipated,” Stennett’s hymn had eight four-line stanzas with no refrain. The popular refrain, “I am bound for the promised land” probably originated in the frontier camp-meetings revivals of early 19th century America.
The tune PROMISED LAND was first published in South Carolinian William Walker’s Southern Harmony (Spartanburg, 1835). Walker attributed the authorship of the music to “Miss M. Durham.” As usual in Southern shape-note tunebooks published before the Civil War, PROMISED LAND appears in three voice parts: treble, tenor, and bass, with the melody in the tenor part.
The tune exists in two modes, major and minor. In Southern Harmony and in subsequent tunebooks such as The Sacred Harp (1844), it appears in minor. This tune is still sung in this mode in shape-note tunebook singings such as in the Georgia Sacred Harp. In the late 19th century, PROMISED LAND transitioned to a major key to accommodate the newer gospel hymn style. This change to a major key was made by Rigdon M. McIntosh, and seems to have been first published in A Collection of Hymns and Tunes for Public, Social, and Domestic Worship (Nashville, 1874, no. 807). In addition to the change to major, the rhythms beginning and ending most of the phrases were altered. Hymnologist William J. Reynolds rightly observed that although a great deal of the folk character of the original tune was lost in this alteration, the tune has enjoyed immense popularity and has far surpassed other tunes for On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand (1976, 175).
Written by Harry Eskew who has been a teacher of hymnology for his entire adult life. An active member of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada and a former editor of its journal The Hymn, with Hugh McElrath he wrote Sing with Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Hymnology. Read full bio at singwithunderstanding.com.