The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128220   Message #2892851
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
23-Apr-10 - 01:08 PM
Thread Name: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
There is a work of fiction, THE ARK OF ELM ISLAND by Elijah Kellogg (1869), which nonetheless can give a sense of what work-singing was like prior to that time. And because the songs he cites can be traced to songs we know today, there is good reason to consider them to represent actual songs with which the author was familiar (save for, perhaps, incidental verse-section lyrics). According to the scholarship of Charlie Ipcar, Kellogg, born in Portland ME, went to sea roughly between 1828 and 1835. That he maintained a connection with the seafaring world is evidenced by him becoming pastor for the Mariner's Church in Boston from 1854-1866. He could have learned the chanties in his story at any time up to its publication date, one supposes.

With this disclaimer in place, I am warning that I will be treating the text as containing valid references to what went on in chantey-singing prior to 1869. Note, however, that the author still does not refer to the songs as "chanties."

We have already spoken of the natural disposition of the negro to sing when at work. Their songs have no merits of composition, being the merest trash. Neither does the negro think it necessary that they should rhyme, — they may or may not, — or that there should be the same number of feet. He will have the time correct, as he will leave out or prolong words at pleasure, with the most sovereign contempt, both of sense and tho king's English.

Continually amazed how these authors, in one breath, can trash the songs but also say they are wonderfully "plaintive," etc.

Songs of labor seem to meet a universal necessity, and supply a common want. They are in use to lighten labor, from the boatmen among the loch of Scotland to the seamen of the tropics, and ac. complish this by securing unity of action.

Suppose eight men undertook to hoist a weight which it required all their strength to raise. If each pulled separately, it would bo just the same as though only one man was pulling at the weight. No matter how many of them were pulling, it would never be raised; but the song unites all their efforts, and the more accurately they observe the time of the song, and connect their efforts with it, the lighter the labor, and the greater the economy of strength. The song also renders labor pleasurable, for there is a love of it in human nature, and, by furnishing regular periods for breathing, renders labor less fatiguing.
How much more tiresome it is to pull a boat with muffled oars, because you miss the click of the oar in the rowlocks! Who could thresh all day if the flails did not make a noise as they strike the grain? The cooper beats out a tune as he drives the hoop. What weariness comes over the soldier on a march when the music stops! and how instantly his muscles are braced when it strikes up!

A general statement on work-songs.

The songs of the negro seamen generally refer to their labor—hoisting or stowing molasses, or screwing cotton, which is severe labor, where unity of effort is of the first importance; and here the negro's accurate ear renders them most effective, and they will accomplish more, with less fatigue to themselves, than white men. No matter how many of them are on a rope, their pull tallies precisely with the time of the song, and they will put in the queerest quirks and quavers, but all in time. Perhaps there may be one negro in a million who has no idea of time. If such a one gets hold of the rope, and makes a false pull, it affects them as much as a false note would a well-drilled choir. They will instantly hustle him out, crying,—

" Get away, you waw, waw nigger! You dunno how to pull!"

The preceding underscores my argument that chanties of this period were a sort of new technology -- perhaps a newer method of working that was "imported" from the practices among African-Americans. Also mentioned are the "quirks and quavers" that Hugill would later ascribe to sailors' singing generally and Black singers especially. It continues...

These songs produce the most singular effect upon the negroes, insomuch that they seem hardly conscious of fatigue, even while exerting themselves to the utmost. Wages have been paid to a negro for merely singing when a large cargo of molasses was to be discharged in a hurry, the extra labor which he excited the rest to perform being considered as more than an equivalent for his wages, while it prevented a rival from obtaining his services.

Paid just for singing, indeed. An anecdote follows.

A singular illustration of this was given many years ago in Portland, Maine. Eight negroes were hoisting molasses, one very hot day, aboard the brig William. They were having a lively time. Old Craig, a distinguished singer, was opening his mouth like an old-fashioned fallback chaise. A negro, — an agent for the Colonization Society, — very black, dressed in white linen trousers and coat, Marseilles vest, ruffle-bosomed shirt, nice beaver on his head, with a bundle of papers in his hand, came down the wharf, and went into a merchant's counting-room to collect a subscription. As he came out, his ear caught the tune.

He instantly came on board the vessel and listened. He grew nervous, imitated the motions of those at the tackle, and, by and by, off went the linen coat, the hat and papers were laid aside, he rushed among the rest, and, clutching the rope, like a maniac, began to haul, and sing,—

"Eberybody he lub someting;
Hoojun, John a hoojun.
Song he set de heart a beating;
Hoojun, John a hoojun."

When reeking with perspiration, he stopped: the white pants, vest, and ruffled bosom were spoiled. As he went up the wharf, casting many a rueful glance at his dress, Old Craig, looking after him, exclaimed,—
" No use put fine clothes on de 'possum! What bred in de bone, dat come out in de meat."

The stevedores' song can only be what Hugill called "Hooker John." It's my personal opinion --open to lots of debate-- that the "hooker" neé "hoojun" referred to a "hoosier," a stevedore or something of that sort.

The leader sings the principal part of the song (often composing it as he goes along), while the others sing the chorus.

When the winch was introduced to discharge vessels, these songs in the northern seaports ceased, the negroes disappeared, and Irishmen took their places, the negroes refusing to work with a winch, because that kind of labor did not admit of singing.

While this work of fiction is set in the late 18th century (!), the author seems to be referring to something that actually happened more recently. The beginning of the end of chanteying?

The clank of the pawls on the ship's windlass was now heard.
" Man the windlass!" was the order.
"Slip, slap!" cried Seth. This is a sailor phrase for heaving the windlass around at one motion instead of two, as is generally practised, and as was done on board the ship.
The ship possessed the advantage at the outset of being ahead of the Ark; but, as the crew of the latter weighed their anchor in half the time, the two vessels were now abreast.
" Massa Mate," said Flour, taking that officer aside, " if you want dese niggers to show you de time o' day, jes' praise 'em, and let 'em hab de music. Black man he lub song; song make him throw hisself, tear hisself all to pieces."
The English sailors now began to sing.
"Stop that!" said the captain. "None of that noise here."
" Now, boys," said the mate, patting Isaiah on the shoulder, " give us a shout that'll raise the dead."

Without the context, the above will make little sense, but I include it to show the notions being put for -- that being that the English sailors of whatever time period is being evoked (!) were alleged to frown upon chanteying, whereas the Americans, with their Black crew to assist, were allegedly more practical, and by accepting the practice of chanteying, they gain advantage.


" Wind blow from de mountain cool,
      O, stow me long.
Mudder send me to de school;
      Stow me long, stow me.
Den I stow myself away,
      O, stow me long.
Way, way to de Isle ob May;
      Stow me long, stow me.
Go ashore to see de town,
      O, stow me long.
Hear de music, walk aroun';
      Stow me long, stow me.
Dere I hear Miss Dinah sing,
         O, stow me long.
Washin' linen at de spring.
Double Chorus. —Ha-a, stow me long,
Stow me long, stow me.

Straight I lub Miss Dinah Gray,
      O, stow me long.
Dinah lub me, so she say;
      Stow me long, stow me.
Get her necklace, get her ring,
      O, stow me long.
Happy nigger, shout and sing;
    Stow me long, stow me.
Wind a blowin' fresh and free,
      O, stow me long.
Vessel ready for de sea;
      Stow me long, stow me.
See de tear in Dinah's eye,
         O, stow me long.
Berry sorry see her cry.
Double Chorus. — Ha-a, stow me long
      Stow me long, stow me.

Tink ob Dinah ebery day,
      O, stow me long.
Wishin' ob de time away;
      Stow me long, stow me.
Buy her gown, buy her fan,
      O, stow me long.
Dinah lub anudder man;
      Stow me long, stow me.
Wish I hadn't been a fool,
       O, stow me long.
Neber run away from school.
Double Chorus. — Ha-a, stow me long,
Stow me long, stow me."

At intervals they would unite in one universal shout on the double chorus. Then Isaiah, bringing the flat of his foot down to advertise them of what was coming, came out on the word " ha-a" with a guttural so purely African, that the negroes would jump from the deck.

STORMY, at the windlass. It's tempting to speculate whether "Stormy" was originally a mishearing of "stow me" (i.e. stowing cotton). However, the earlier texts we've seen are consistent with "stormy".

But it was most amusing to watch the effect of the song upon Flour, who was plucking some chickens at the galley for a stew. His body swayed back and forth, and he pulled out the feathers to the time of the tune, tearing the skin in all directions...
At length he could contain himself no longer, and, having put his chicken in the pot, rushed among his black friends, and gave vent to his emotions in song.


" De blue-bird robbed de cherry-bird's nest,
       Hilo, boys, a hilo.
He robbed her nest, and brake her rest,
       Hilo, boys, a hilo.
Cherry-bird chirp, and cherry-bird cry,
       Hilo, boys, a hilo.
Cherry-bird mourn, cherry-bird die,
       Hilo, boys, a hilo.
De black cat eat de blue-bird now,
       Hilo, boys, a hilo.
He catch him sittin' on de bough,
       Hilo, boys, a hilo.
He nip his head, he tear his breast,
       Hilo, boys, a hilo.
Pay him for de cherry-bird's nest,
      Hilo, boys, a hilo.
De gard'ner shoot de ole black cat,
       Hilo, boys, a hilo.
Den rJat make it tit for tat,
       Hilo, boys, a bilo.
De gard'ner pull him down de tree,
       Hilo, boys, a hilo.
Den dat square de yards, you see,
    Hilo, boys, a hilo."