Wade In The Water is one of the spirituals that has many secret codes embedded within the song that was used to give guidance to the slave as he embarked on his journey to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The lyrics in this spiritual talk not only about the religious ceremony as it pertains to the Christian Church where the religious rite of sprinkling water onto a person’s forehead or of immersion in water, or as John the Baptist baptized people in the river symbolizing purification or regeneration and admission into life as a Christian. ‘Wade in the water, ‘God’s gonna trouble the water’ for the slaves trying to escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, meant the first thing the slave master would do would be to send out the bloodhounds to track the slaves down. The bloodhounds could track the slaves easily on land, but the lyrics “God’s gonna trouble the water” tell the slave to actually find a body of water and then walk or wade in the water in that way the bloodhounds would lose the scent of the escaping slave and the slave would be safe from the dogs tracking them down.
Also in the lyrics ‘See that band all dressed in red, looks like the band that Moses led’ -It is thought that the lyrics reference Harriet Tubman whose nickname was ‘Moses of her people’. Many of the spirituals lyrics have dual meanings in the songs and in this song Moses and Harriet Tubman’s names are interchangeable because Harriet like the story in the Bible where Moses led the slaves to freedom, Harriet did the same for the slaves in the 1800’s in America.
In the last verse of Wade in the Water the lyrics are: If you don’t believe I’ve been redeemed, follow me down to Jordan’s stream – In the Bible there are several references to the Jordan River, and what the Jordan River meant to the slaves here in America was the secret code name for the Ohio River. If the slave could get across the Ohio River he or she would be free.
It is also noteworthy to hear the tone of the lyrics in ‘if you don’t believe’ was meant to be a dare or a challenge for you to face your fears because if you cross the river you will be free or as the slaves put it you will be ‘redeemed’. The spirituals including Wade in the Water all have this sense that the slave is trusting God to deliver justice either now or in heaven and that they believed and found real hope in God’s promise that if ‘you ask it shall be given’. Download my CD “GRATITUDE” a collection of spirituals for your enjoyment: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/calvinearl