The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128220   Message #2870502
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
23-Mar-10 - 11:08 PM
Thread Name: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Continuing with 1820s, here are examples already dredged up by folks on the SF-Sydney thread, which I'd like to file here. We begin with another Afro-Caribbean rowing song.

WEST INDIA SKETCH BOOK, vol 1, by Trelawney Wentworth (Published 1834 or earlier?). It appears to refer to events possibly of 1822 or earlier. They are headed for the island of Saint Thomas.

For some distance they had pulled at an easy rate and in silence, as if made unconscious of the work they were engaged in, by the absorbing interest of the passing scenes, but at length they were roused to activity by the word of preparation for a song having been passed among them, and the negro pulling the oar nearest to us, began a singular prelude which sounded between a grunt and a groan, like a paviour's accompaniment to his labour, or the exordium of a quaker, when " the spirit" begins to move. He became more energetic with each succeeding stroke of the oar, which produced a corresponding ardour, and greater precision in pulling among the other rowers, and when this was effected, another negro, whose countenance bore
the stamp of much covert humour and sagacity, and who appeared to be a sort of improvisatore among them, commenced a lively strain which accorded exactly in time with the motion of pulling, each line of the song accompanying the impetus given to the boat, and the whole crew joining in chorus in the intervals between every stroke of the oars. The subject matter of the song was as discursive and lengthy as Chevy Chase; and it showed an aptitude at invention on the part of the leader, as well as a tolerable acquaintance with the weak side of human nature, on the score of flattery: a small portion of it will suffice.

Hurra, my jolly boys
CH: Fine time o' day
We pull for San Thamas boys
CH: Fine time o' day
Nancy Gibbs and Betsy Braid
CH: Fine time o' day
Massa come fra London town
CH: Fine time o' day ETC
Massa is a hansome man,
             Fine time o' day.
Massa is a dandy-man,
             Fine time o' day.
Him hab de dollar, plenty too,
             Fine time o' day.
Massa lub a pretty girl,
             Fine time o' day.
Him lub 'em much, him lub 'em true,
             Fine time o' day.
Him hunt 'em round de guaba bush,
             Fine time o' day.
Him catch 'em in de cane piece,
             Fine time o' day.

It includes musical notation. Incidentally, Roger Abrahams reprinted the score in his whalers' shanties book, and Finn & Haddie used that, I presume, to work up this interpretation:


Back in the United States, this 1820s rowing reference is courtesy of Lighter on 22 March, 2010. [copy/pasted]

From James Hall, "Letters from the West: Letter III," The Port Folio, XII (Sept., 1821), p. 446. Judge Hall made a trip down the Ohio from Pittsburgh to Shawneetown, Ill. This comes from a letter about Parkersburg, Virginia:

"To the admirers of the simplicity of Wordsworth, to those who prefer the naked effusions of the heart, to the meretricious ornaments of fancy, I present the following beautiful specimen verbatim, as it flowed from the lips of an Ohio boatman:

"It's oh! as I was a wal-king out,
One morning in July,
I met a maid, who ax'd my trade,—
Says I, 'I'll tell you presently,'
'Miss, I'll tell you presently!'"

Obviously the first stanza of a predecessor of the capstan shanty "New York Girls/ Can't You Dance the Polka?"

When Hall revised his article for book publication in 1828, he added a second stanza:

And it's oh! she was so neat a maid,
That her stockings and her shoes,
She toted in her lilly [sic] white hands
For to keep them from the dews, &c., &c.

So it isn't quite "New York Girls." And that unfortunately is that.

Except that Hall also quotes "the words which the rowers are even now sounding in my ears as they tug at the oar,

Some rows up, but we row down,
All the way to Shawnee town
Pull away - pull away!"

I believe Hall makes the earliest reference to the "Shawneetown" rowing song. Its form and the "pull away" chorus brings it very close to the apparently soon-to-evolve halliard shanties.