The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128220   Message #2875899
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
30-Mar-10 - 04:16 PM
Thread Name: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Time now, then, to add the hoosier / cotton-stower song references about the 1840s.

About the first, John Minear says this:

"There is a book by Charles Erskine entitled TWENTY YEARS BEFORE THE MAST - WITH
This book was not published until 1896, but it would seem to record
events that happened much earlier. Erskine is in New Orleans on board
the ship "Charles Carol". I think that this was sometime in September
of 1845 (scroll back up several pages until you come to Erskine's
departure from New York and there you will find a date - I realize
there is a discrepancy between the title and this date). He gives two
cotton-screwing songs: "Bonnie Laddie" and "Fire Maringo". The overlap
with Nordhoff [BELOW] is interesting."

It is perhaps the most personal account of cotton-screwing, and underscores the flow between occupations of sailor and stevedore. Erskine had arrive on a ship at New Orleans. Here is the passage, with song texts.

The day after our arrival the crew formed themselves into two gangs and obtained employment at screwing cotton by the day. We accepted the captain's offer to make the ship our home, and slept in the forecastle and ate our grub at the French market. As the lighter, freighted with cotton, came alongside the ship in which we were at work, we hoisted it on board and dumped it into the ship's hold, then stowed it in tiers so snugly it would have been impossible to have found space enough left over to hold a copy of The Boston Herald. With the aid of a set of jack-screws and a ditty, we would
stow away huge bales of cotton, singing all the while.
The song enlivened the gang and seemed to make
the work much easier. The foreman- often sang this
ditty, the rest of the gang joining in the chorus:

"Were you ever in Boston town,
Bonnie laddie, Highland laddie?
Yes, I've been in Boston town,
Where the ships sail up and down,
My bonnie Highland laddie, ho !

"Were you ever in Mobile Bay,
Bonnie laddie, Highland laddie?
Yes, I've been in Mobile Bay,
Screwing cotton by the day,
My bonnie Highland laddie, ho 1

"Were you ever in Miramichi,
Bonnie laddie, Highland laddie?
Yes, I've been in Miramichi,
Where you make fast to a tree,
My bonnie Highland laddie, ho !

"Were you ever in Quebec,
Bonnie laddie, Highland laddie?
Yes, I have been in Quebec,
Stowing timber on the deck,
My bonnie Highland laddie, ho!'

At another time we would sing:

"Lift him up and carry him along,
   Fire, maringo, fire away;
Put him down where he belongs,
   Fire, maringo, fire away;
Ease him down and let him lay,
   Fire, maringo, fire away;
Screw him, and there he'll stay,
   Fire, maringo, tire away;
Stow him in his hole below,
   Fire, maringo, tire away;
Say he must, and then he'll go,
   Fire, maringo, fire away.
In New Orleans they say,
Fire, maringo, fire away,
That General Jackson's gained the day,
   Fire, maringo, fire away! "

I found stowing cotton in a ship's hold to be the most exhausting labor I had ever performed. We wore nothing but trousers, with a bandana handkerchief tied over our heads. The hold was a damp, dark place. The thermometer stood at nearly one hundred, not a breath of air stirred, and our bodies were reeking with perspiration. This was more than my frail body could endure. When I was paid, Saturday evening, with eight silver Spanish dollars for my four days' labor, I came to the conclusion that they were the hardest eight dollars I had ever earned, and that there would be no more screwing cotton by the day for me.

The scene also drives home the fact of what must have been a sharing of songs/work between Black and White labourers. The 1820s cotton-screwing reference was to Blacks singing songs in Svannah. Gosse's 1838 reference in Alabama says that "the crew" stowed the cotton, which to me suggests that by then, non-Black labourers may have already begun the work, too. The song, "fire the ringo," however, sounds *to me* as something distinctly African-American. By early 1840s, via Low's account, we know that non-Black "hoosiers" had emerged. And by mid 1840s, via Erskine, this is confirmed. "Fire Maringo" seems to have remained a customary song of the trade, while now "Hieland Laddie" --very originally, Scots -- is added. An 1835 reference off the coast of Arabia had put Hieland Laddie as a capstan song. We may have evidence of the "shanty mart" (i.e. Hugill) exchange here, where a song such as "Hieland Laddie" was brought by European sailors to the cotton-stowing context before being further molded. Then again, it is possible that "Hieland Laddie" was taken from the cotton-stowers (having been borrowed much earlier from Euro sources) by that mid 1830s date -- if by then (re: Gosse) the multi-ethnic labour had already begun. (For now, I am thinking the latter scenario less likely).