Quite recently, I came across a ballad called "Pretty Polly of Topsham" in Bulletin of the Folksong Society of the Northeast (2:16-17). I can't seem to find it in any other source, but am looking to find some more background information. According to Phillips Barry in the Bulletin, this song is referring to Topsham, Maine and the "Priest Ellis" is a Reverend Thomas Ellis who married a Mary Fulton of Topsham. What basis does this ballad have in fact? Perhaps, Mary was called Molly, which morphed into Polly for the purposes of this song?
The lyrics are as follows:
Come all you fair gallants, fair gallants attend,
A story, a story to you I will tell;
'Tis of a young sea captain, wherein he took delight,
And he courted a lady whose beauty was bright.
He had not courted her past twelve months, no more,
When his own business called him from the shore;
He went unto his Polly all for to take his leave,
Saying: "Polly, pretty Polly, I pray thee, don't grieve."
"For I'm going to cross the ocean,
Where the foaming billows roar, and the seas are in motion;
And if unto America I never do return,
Here I leave you, pretty Polly, in Topsham to mourn."
Past months two or three he had not been away,
When a young minister came there for to stay;
In viewing of her features, she looked so brisk and bold,
He made love unto her, as I have been told.
Saying, "Polly, pretty Polly, if you can fancy me,
I will make you as happy as happy can be;
But if to any other young man 'tis you are engaged,
I pray you prove true to the vows you have made."
"'Tis I am engaged, and the truth I will tell,
'Tis I am engaged, but I don't like so well;
He will be at home, and it is by-and-by,
And then you will see how quick him I'll deny."
This young man came home at last, as I have been told.
He brought home fine riches and fine stores of gold;
He brought home fine ribbons and fine silks so gay,
To adorn pretty Polly on her wedding day.
Saying, "Polly, pretty Polly, since I have been to sea,
Have you seen any other you love better than me?"
Then she turned herself around with a high and haughty air,
Saying, "Priest Ellis I love better, I suppose you don't care!"
Saying, "Polly, pretty Polly, since I must free my mind,
I think you are the falsest of all womankind;
Since I have been so constant, and you have proved untrue,
Farewell, pretty Polly, I bid you adieu."
"'Tis I will go a-rambling, go rambling for rest,
In hopes to relieve my poor tortured breast;
'Tis I will go a-rambling, like some dove around the shore,
And I never will go near my false Polly any more."
To me, it has the feel of a British broadside (vs. an American one) but I'm not sure which ballad served as its template, or if any did at all, so it would be interesting to hear if it rings any bells. The story is reminiscent of "Johnny Todd," but the phrasing is completely different, so I don't think there's more than an incidental connection there.