I am still on the hunt for WHAT happened with this song between ca. 1811 (when one source says the lyric is first mentioned) and its appearance on record in 1927 ... one can assume lots of people knew it, but how did it get to be this song?
I do it in kind of a '50s 'teen tragedy' style, D, Bm and A -- and I sing 'burglar's wine' - it gives some weight to the planning/plotting of the young man.
I heard from someone that in the American tradition, pregnancy or illegitimacy are often not mentioned (hence all the songs that skirt around the issue of 'why' when lovers kill).
My sister was a Celtic studies Ph.D. and said that in much Irish folklore the hero would have to be killed 3 times ... that's the aspect of the song that many hearing it for the first time are particularly floored by. ("he poisoned her, stabbed her, and drowned her?")
Even if I do eventually discover more about its 'missing years' the song remains an endless source of fascination.
Dan Aloi, NY