The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128220   Message #2892234
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
22-Apr-10 - 03:06 PM
Thread Name: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Here's my meagre attempt to sort out the chicken-or-egg of "Round the corn(er)," with the the evidence available to me *at present*.

I think it is unlikely that the two phrases (corn/corner) coincidentally developed independently. So, one comes from the other. Having assumed that...

If we were to have evidence of the phrase "round the corner Sally" being in use in other contexts (e.g. in England, outside of maritime context) --especially if *earlier* than any of these working contexts-- then that would strengthen the originality of "Round the Corner, Sally" (shipboard song).

As far as the working songs go in the emerging "timeline," the first instance of one or the other phrase is:

1832, Maryland -- Hungerford's documented corn-shucking song Round the CORN

Next, just a few years after, comes,

1834-1836, on the brig _Pilgrim_, "Round the CORNER, Sally"

Then in 1839, "Round the CORNER" turns up in Tahiti as a song learned from sailors. CORNER turns up again in the Society Islands in 1844.

It persisted as a corn-shucking song, as evidenced by mention in 1848, and inclusion of a unique (i.e. not derivative of earlier texts) version in Allen's SLAVE SONGS.

It seems certain that, unless "Round the Corner" had become a popular song --that is, one that was widely spread and known amongst "all" people --that it's flow was the result of movement of African-Americans. I say this because, for example, I have difficulty imagining that non-Black sailors would have brought the song to plantations.

There may well have been some intermediary context, like rowing or stevedoring, which link the plantations to the sea. But in any case, I have difficulty imagining that Blacks were not the agents for the transfer. (Someone please critique my logic.) So, one might propose that Blacks either brought it to the ships when they came as sailors, or, having served as sailors, brought it to the plantations. To me, the former sounds more likely, i.e. slave song > shipboard song.

However, in terms of language, it seems to me slightly more likely that CORNER > CORN once the corn-shucking context was introduced. On the other hand, what did "corner" mean at all to sailors if it was *not* "flash girls down the alley"? (I don't buy the "Cape Horn" idea, at least not for this time period.)

I have not really clarified anything, but I will try to state my "bottom line":

If the phrase, "Round the Corner Sallies" was well established in Anglo discourse early on, then I'd learn towards CORNER coming first. Otherwise, I lean towards the CORN song coming first. In the latter case, the language scenario would be the reverse of Van De Merwe's idea: confronted with "corn," which no longer made any sense when brought to a maritime context, sailors changed it to "corner."

All that being said...if the slave song did get adopted as a sailor song, that happened at quite an early date -- before the time of cultural exchange (e.g. the cotton-stowing) that gives us a burst of new shanty repertoire. From Hungerford's 1832 Maryland to Dana's mid 1830s Cape Horn trip, that is a big leap in few years. The exchange probably would have happened quite a bit earlier. Was this one of the really early exchanges --compare GROG TIME-- during a period when African-Americans were well represented as sailing ship crew? I am too uncomfortable, with the lack of evidence, to say more.