The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128220 Message #2888943
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
17-Apr-10 - 11:03 PM
Thread Name: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
PUTNAM'S MONTHLY for Jan. 1855 had an article entitled "Negro Minstrelsy - Ancient and Modern". It contains the following passage, which includes lyrics to two songs that relate to the maritime repertoire (in an imagined Georgia):
And now, faintly heard far over the water, I distinguish the soft thump of oars in the rowlock of an approaching boat. I listen with attentive ears—for I know by experience the gratification in store for me—and soon catch the distant tones of the human voice— now more faintly heard, and now entirely lost. A few minutes pass, and the breeze once more wafts to me the swelling notes of the chorus half buried in the measured cadeuce of the oars. The wind dies away, and my straining ears again hear nothing but the measured beat of the rowers, and the plashing of the restless sea. But now, anew, I hear the sound of those manly negro voices swelling up upon the evening gale. Nearer and nearer conies the boat, higher and higher rises the melody, till it overpowers and subdues the noise of the oars, which in their turn become subservient to the song, and mark its time with harmonious beating. And now the boat is so near, that every word and every tone comes to my ear, over the water, with perfect distinctness, and I recognize the grand old triumphal chorus of the stirring patriotic melody of " Gen'el Jackson":
"Gen'el Jackson, mighty man—
Whaw, my kingdom, fire away;
He fight on iea, and he fight on land,
Whaw, my kingdom, fire away.
Gen'el Jackson gain de day—
Whaw, my kingdom, fire away,
Be gain de day in Floraday,
Whaw, my kingdom, flre away.
Gen'el Jackson fine de trail,
Whaw, my kingdom, flre away,
He full um fote wid cotton bale,
Whaw, my kingdom, fire away."
But the boat touches the beach; the negroes with a wild cry quit their singing, tumble out into the shallow water, drag their dug-out up high and dry upon the sand, and I am left once more with the evening breeze and the quieter harmony of nature.
The song, a part of which I have just quoted, is fresh from the sable mint in which it was coined. Its originality and genuineness every one familiar with plantation life will at once perceive; while some Georgians may even be able to point to the very river on which the dusky troubadours still chant it. I am well aware that in depriving the words of their appropriate music, I rob it of much of its attractiveness, and still it is no bad sample of what may be called the Historic Plantation Ballad. The particular naval battle in which Old Hickory was engaged, I have not been able to discover; but the allusion to the bales of cotton in the third stanza may not be without its effect in settling one of the vexed questions relating to the defence of New Orleans; and it adds another to the many examples of the superiority of oral tradition over contemporaneous written history.
It is not alone, however, on the water that these quaint songs are produced. The annual corn-shucking season has its own peculiar class of songs, never heard but on that festival; their rhythmical structure or caesural pauses not being adapted to the measured cadence of the oars. Standing at a little distance from the corn heap, on some dark and quiet night, watching the sable forms of the gang, illuminated at intervals by the flashes of the lightwood knot, and listening to the wild high notes of their harvest songs, it is easy to imagine ourselves unseen spectators of some secret aboriginal rite or savage festival. Snatches of one or two songs which on such occasions I have heard, recur to me. Could I in the following specimen give you any idea of the wild grandeur and stirring music of the refrain, I should need no apology for presenting it to my readers.
"De ladies in de parlor.
Hey, come a rollln' down—
A drinking tea and coffee;
Good morning ladies all.
"De gemmen in de kitchen,
Hey come a rollln' down—
A drinking brandy toddy ;
Good morning, ladies all."
More clues to the origin of "Fire Maringo" -- The 2nd Seminole War in Florida (1835-1842), perhaps? -- and an example of its use for rowing (i.e. not just cotton-stowing). "Good morning, ladies all" may not be the same song as the chantey, though it does have a chantey form, and it is being used for "work."