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Catalog Data

Manufactured by:
Unidentified  Search this
Owned by:
Jesse Burke, American, 1834 - 1909  Search this
Violin: wood, steel, and mother of pearl;
Bow: wood, horsehair, metal, and mother of pearl;
Case: wood, metal, and wool cotton blend flannel
H x W x D (Violin): 3 × 24 × 8 1/4 in. (7.6 × 61 × 21 cm)
H x W x D (Bow): 1 1/16 × 29 1/4 × 9/16 in. (2.7 × 74.3 × 1.4 cm)
H x W x D (Case (closed)): 4 1/4 × 30 3/4 × 9 1/2 in. (10.8 × 78.1 × 24.1 cm)
bows (chordophone components)
Place used:
Lexa, Phillips County, Arkansas, United States, North and Central America
This violin was originally owned by a slaveholder named Elisha Burke, who owned the Mount Pleasant Plantation in Phillips County, Arkansas. Before the slaveholder died in 1860, he gave the violin to an enslaved man on his plantation, Mr. Jesse Burke (b. 1834 – d. 1909). According to the family oral history, during slavery Jesse was charged with playing the violin for entertainment for the slaveholder and his guests.
A violin (.1a) with a bow (.1b) stored in a wooden case (.2), all owned and played by Jesse Burke, who used the violin during and after enslavement.
The violin (.1a) has a reddish-brown stained wooden body, neck, peg box, and scroll. The pegs, fingerboard, and tailpiece are made of wood painted black. A small piece of mother of pearl is attached at the center top of each peg. The strings are made from steel. A paper label is adhered to the interior back of the violin body, which can be seen through the sound holes. Printed on the label in black text are the words: "Antonius Stradiuarius Cremonensis / Faciebat Anno 1726".
The bow (.1b) has a rod made from a dark-stained wood with a metal tension screw. The frog is made from wood painted black and inlaid with mother of pearl and a metal ferrule. The tip is edged with a panel of an ivory imitation material. The bow hair is made from horsehair, though the horsehair is broken with several strands still attached and extending from the tip in varying lengths.
The wooden case (.2) is painted black and has a hinged lid that opens with two (2) metal hinges. On the opening side are two (2) metal tension clasps with one (1) locking hinge at the center. There is a metal plate with a keyhole to the right of the center hinged lock. A metal handle is attached at either side of the keyhole plate. The interior of the bottom and the lid is lined with a red wool and cotton blend flannel. There are two flannel-covered wooden pieces at the wide side of the case that correspond to the center bouts on the body of the instrument and secure it in place inside the case. A loop of the flannel is sewn near the thin side of the lid, presumably to hold the bow.
African American  Search this
Instrumentalists (Musicians)  Search this
Men  Search this
Music  Search this
Slavery  Search this
Credit Line:
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Donated by Shirley Burke, Great-Granddaughter, on Behalf of Jesse Burke's Descendants
Object number:
Restrictions & Rights:
No Known Copyright Restrictions
Proper usage is the responsibility of the user.
See more items in:
National Museum of African American History and Culture Collection
Slavery and Freedom Objects
Musical Instruments
Slavery and Freedom
On View:
NMAAHC (1400 Constitution Ave NW), National Mall Location, Concourse 3, C3 053
Data Source:
National Museum of African American History and Culture