Hey, Gibb, thanks for getting back to us on this. You suggestion that this ballad is actually an inversion of what would likely be sung by a seaman is very interesting. One of the issues that we have not addressed in this discussion is who did sing this song. In his book, DYLAN'S DAEMON LOVER, which we have been referring to quite often, Clinton Heylin has a whole chapter on this, entitled "(xi) "Knitters in the sun," in which he suggests that this ballad was sung by women. He says:
"Though the knitters, milkmaids, shepherds and yeomen of the sixteenth century must have had a common store of ballads and lyrics, the overlap might not have been as great as scholars have perhaps imagined. The themes reverberating through 'The Dæmon Lover' suggest a song whose main appeal would have been to womenfolk. Would a ballad of such supernatural vengeance, which places the focus so roundly upon the woman and her broken vows, suggest composition by a well-versed sixteenth century yeoman (I say compose rather than write to neatly sidestep the contentious issue of whether such ballads were orally composed. I think not, but it does not fundamentally affect my argument)? Would such a song have been adopted by the travelling minstrel? 'The Dæmon Lover' certainly does not come across as a tavern song. On the other hand, the appeal to superstitious "knitters in the sun" dreaming of an escape from the drudgery of daily existence seems self-evident."
In looking over all of the sources mentioned so far on this thread, I find that sixteen are from women and ten are from men. This means that almost two thirds of the our versions were collected from women, with the assumption being that they actually were sung by them.
While Gardner-Medwin definitely focuses her study on what happens to the young woman in the ballad, it (having been published in 1971) predates the general rise of feminist scholarship in academia and betrays no hint of this influence, and thus does not raise the issue of who might have been actually singing this song, leaving intact the assumption that it was being passed along by the men - i.e. those Scottish tobacco traders!
Gibb's point about the ballad inverting the "normal" sailor's theme of some landsman stealing away his wife while he was at sea throws this issue into relief, in that we have a tale about a mariner stealing away a landsman's wife and taking her off to sea with him. But the story is really about the woman going willingly and then having "buyers regret!" It definitely echoes the theme that we find in Child #200, "The Gypsy Davey." And in fact, the Couchey version from NY, sung by Lee Knight, demonstrates this by actually combining the two ballads, almost seamlessly. Here is the Couchey/Knight version: