The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128220   Message #2890025
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
19-Apr-10 - 03:33 PM
Thread Name: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
As for minstrel songs -- those especially of the late 1830s thru 1850s -- influencing chanties, the fact is well known. But because this thread's subject is more about seeing the emergence of chanteying (i.e. maritime work-singing) as a whole, and not the individual trajectories of songs, I've not been inclined to note all the minstrel songs from those years (i.e. outside of maritime and working context).

Some deserve special note, however. We talked about STORMY appearing in WHITE'S NEW ILLUSTRATED MELODEON of 1848 -- a collection, which means the songs were popular on stage even a few years earlier, perhaps. One could make a good case that STORMY was borrowed into the minstrel repertoire from the cotton-stowing context.

So I want to mention two other songs that I think one could argue were also taken from work-songs.

The same collection has THE SAILOR FIREMAN. It had been documented before this date as a "stoker's chaunt" in 1839. And after this, it appears among steamboat hands in Olmsted's account. In other words, the song was linked to the steamboat fireman's profession. heres how it appears in the 1848 collection:


I'll fire dis trip, but I'll fire no more
    Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh, pay me my money , and I'll go on shore
    Fire down below.

Miss Fanny Bell, oh, fare you well
I'm gwine away, p'r'aps to [Hell]

A bully boat, and a bully crew
An' a bully ragin' captain, too

De possum jump, and de panther roar
I woke dis mornin' at half-past four

I crept out safely from my five
An took a dram at half-past five

Says I, "ole boat, let's have no tricks"
Her biler bust at half-past six

So now we trabbel under sail
'Kase Jonah's de man dat swallowed de whale

I'll fire dis trip but I'll fire no more
Pay me my money, an I'll go on shore

Hugill included this in his collection; he'd taken it from a Swedish chantey collection. The verses are so similar, that it seems to be this minstrel version misheard/folk-processed. Here's a rendition. Still, I believe this song's existence was not dependent on the popular stage.

The other song of note in White collection is the "other" "Fire Down Below" song. This is the whose framework may (my conjecture) go back to British Navy days, but which had become ubiquitous among African-American laborers.


Composed and sung by the Pet of Minstrels, Cool White, and received nightly with thunders of applause, at the Head Quarters of all Serenaders and Minstrels, the Melodeon, 53 Bowery, New-York.

I left de husking party late,
   I began to grow quite tire,
But 'fore I got to massa's gate,
I heard de cry ob fire
Chorui: Fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire,
      An I am bound to go,
    Yes, I am bound to go;
    Den tote dat bucket ob water, [boys?]
    Dar's fire down below

De fireman rushes to de spot,
What shriek is dat I hear!
De widow hab de child forgot,
Twill perish yet I fear.
Fire, fire, fire, fire, &c.

De fireman hears dat dreadful cry,
   I golly, dat's enough ;
De smoke an fire, he both defy,
His skin am thick an tough.
Fire, fire, fire, fire, &c.

Dat shout again, 'tis one ob joy,
De hero now appears,
De widow takes her darling boy,
She thanks him wid her tears.
          Fire, fire, fire, fire, &c.

It corresponds --I say-- to this strain of song, as in Hugill's Version "D'.