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Origins: Georgia Sea Island Boat Songs

GUEST,Phil d'Conch 17 May 24 - 08:57 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 17 May 24 - 09:03 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 17 May 24 - 09:06 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 17 May 24 - 09:09 PM
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Subject: Origins: Georgia Sea Island Boat Songs
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 17 May 24 - 08:57 PM

Spinning the east coast periago martime culture off from the Ohio River-Shawneetown thread:

“Households were organized on the English model, except in so far as it was modified by the institution of slavery, which modification was chiefly in the number of servants. In every well-organized planter's household there were three high positions, the objects of ambition of all the negroes on the plantation. These were the butler, the coachman, and the patroon….

...The oldest plantations were upon the rivers; a water front, indeed, and a landing were essential to such an establishment, for it must have the periago* for plantation purposes, and the trim sloop and large cypress canoes for the master's use. So beside the master of the horse- the coachman- there was a naval officer, too, to each planter's household, and he was the patroon** a name no doubt brought from the West Indies. The patroon had charge of the boats, and the winding of his horn upon the river told the family of his master's coming. He, too, trained the boat hands to the oar and taught them the plaintive, humorous, happy catches which they sang as they bent to the stroke, and for which the mother of the family often strained her ears. to catch the first sound which told of the safe return of her dear ones.”
[The History of South Carolina Under the Royal Government, 1719-1776, Vol.2, McCrady, 1899]
Edward McCrady (1802-1892)

*periago: Periagua (from Spanish piragua, in turn derived from the Carib language word for dugout) is the term formerly used in the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of North America for a range of small craft including canoes and small sailing vessels. The term periagua overlaps, but is not synonymous with, pirogue, derived through the French language from piragua.”

Note: McCrady's spelling is Romanized Greek-to-Spanish for To lead around, to lead about with one's self, to go about, walk about... &c. In transportation: a “runabout.”

**Patroon. Dutch West India Company-speak. A patron, schipper or baas (skipper, boss &c.)

The patron usually sings the first couplet, the chorus is then sung by the whole; the songs are very trifling, but the tunes not disagreeable.
[Journal of a Voyage up the River Missouri - 1811, Brackenridge]

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Subject: RE: Origins: Georgia Sea Island Boat Songs
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 17 May 24 - 09:03 PM

“At the period alluded to in their voyages to the city they were wont to beguile the time and the toil of rowing with songs and extravagant vociferations, and were accustomed to devote their holidays to dancing, dissipation and irregularities often to the prejudice of their health and destruction of their lives.”
[The History of South-Carolina: From Its First Settlement in 1670, to the Year 1808. Vol.2, Ramsay, 1809]

South Carolina ferry, Elkanah Watson, 1777
The Advent and Development of Chanties

Charleston “galley-slaves”, William Faux, 1823
The Advent and Development of Chanties

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Subject: RE: Origins: Georgia Sea Island Boat Songs
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 17 May 24 - 09:06 PM

Advent and Development
...It refers to observations by W.J. Grayson (born 1788) of South Carolina,...
Epstein, Slave Music in the United States before 1860, Journal of the Music Librarians Association, 20: 1 and 2 (1963): 127-45; 377-90.

All that and more in:
Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: black folk music to the Civil War, 1977
Dena Epstein (1916 – 2013)

1803 Charleston, SC.
“The canoes of six, eight, ten or twelve oars, in which planters were accustomed to visit the city from great distances were no longer used. The spacious steamer took their place. It is more expeditious and comfortable than the small boat. Yet the steamer was not free from discomforts. Great facilities multiplied travelers…. In the still night, when the weather was fine, the full moon shining and the rivers and broad sounds calm and unbroken except by the dip of the oar or the wake of the boat where the agitated water gleamed with phosphoric light, the passage was full of enjoyment. Nothing in the gondolas of Venice, whether on her dirty canals or more open and airy Lido, could surpass it. Nor was the accompaniment of music wanting. The songs were not so refined as passages from Tasso which are said to be common with the Venetian gondoliers but they were interesting in their way and sung as joyously. The singers were the negro oarsmen. One served as chief performer, the rest as chorus. The songs were partly traditionary, partly improvised. They were simple and inartificial consisting of one line only and the chorus. The singer worked into his rude strain any incident that came in his way relating to the place of destination, the passengers on board, the wife or sweetheart at home, his work or amusements by field or flood. There was sometimes a playful humour about them; sometimes compliments were introduced to the master or mistress more hearty than polished. The voices were generally good, the tunes pleasing and various, sometimes gay, sometimes plaintive. They were sung con amore and imparted fresh vigour to the sturdy crew. “Cantantes minus via laedit.” Light is the rower’s toil that song relieves.* Other stimulants were not wanting. The planter in those days carried with him his case of square bottles well filled and the rowers shared the contents from time to time with the master. Sometimes a race varied the scene. Then, mile after mile, the toiling crews stript of jacket and vest urged each other to desperate exertions, while the sweat rolled from their faces and the speed of the boats was quadrupled. At the end of the race the victorious oarsmen boasted of their exploits and taunted their defeated antagonists. In the race, the song, the scenery, the night bivouac with its broad contrasts of fire light and darkness, its busy faces and social enjoyment, there was material for both the planter’s and poet’s art.”
[Chap III, Autobiography of William John Grayson, Stoney ed., South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol.XLIV, No.1, 1948]
William J. Grayson (1788 – 1863)
*Pedant alert: The original (Virgil) is a walking cadence.

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Subject: RE: Origins: Georgia Sea Island Boat Songs
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 17 May 24 - 09:09 PM

“Negro Boat Song
...We started from Purrysburgh about two o;clock and were rowed by four negroes, for canoes are not paddled here as in Canada. They seemed to be jolly fellows, and rowed lustily to a boat song of their own composing. The words were given by one of them, and the rest joined the chorus at the end of every line. It began in the following manner:
        We are going down to Georgia, boys,        Aye, aye,
        To see the pretty girls, boys,                        Yoe, yoe.
        We'll give 'em a pint of brandy, boys,        Aye, aye.
        And a hearty kiss besides, boys.                Yoe, yoe.
                &c. &c. &c.

The tune of this ditty was rather monotonous, but had a pleasing effect, as they kept time with it, at every stroke of their oars. The words were mere nonsense; any thing, in fact, which came into their heads. I however remarked, that brandy was very frequently mentioned, and it was understood as a hint to the passengers to give them a dram*. We had supplied ourselves with tis article in Purrysburgh, and were not sparing of it to the negroes in order to encourage them to row quick.”
[Travels Through Lower Canada, and the United States of North America, in the Years 1806, 1807, and 1808, Lambert, 1810]

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