The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #164243   Message #3928376
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
31-May-18 - 11:44 PM
Thread Name: Cotton screwing songs
Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
Why is it that when one posts a thread on Mudcat there is some assumption they need everything explained, that they'd like every random fun fact you can Google up, and you should go on tangents based on free-association with a word? It's frustrating as hell. It's not for nothing that I wrote a whole preamble; I didn't just slap on a title and say "Go for it!"

So again, here's what this is about: There was a work called cotton screwing. The work was performed along with singing songs. Those songs, so my starting assumption goes, constitute a repertoire that we can recognize as "appreciably distinct." How to distinguish the songs? I suggest, the purpose of this thread, to put all the associated songs in one place and see how they shape up. What forms are predominant, what prosody, what language, and (though it won't appear here) what tune-shapes?

Cotton screwing: The means of hand stowing cotton bales, for export, in ships' holds such that maximum quantity of product could fit. Done by means of four men operating a portable (200 pounds) jackscrew. The labor was performed in the cotton exporting ports of USA, as early as 1810s and becoming rapidly obsolete after the turn of the 20th century. Beginning on the southeastern coast, the cotton export eventually spread along the Gulf coast as far as Galveston (which was the leading city at the time of decline). (Sugar, in hogsheads, was also screwed in the Caribbean and—later—wool was screwed in Australia and South Africa.) At the beginning, all the cotton screwmen were black, with white men entering the profession coming to predominate by the mid 1840s; after the Civil War there was a back and forth between black and white labor unions on the waterfront. Before the Civil War, that is, as early as the 1830s, white laborers had come to learn the cotton screwing songs concurrently with adopting the profession, and there is a strong case to be made that these workers who had crossed the racial divide and adopted an African-American custom went on to champion it aboard ships in the form of sailors' chanty singing. I have a large accumulation of data on the topic and can try to provide answers to specific details. The aspect of this which is not addressed adequately in sources, however, is the musical. Hence.

Onward to more items!


A-hum-bl-ee! A-hum-bl-o!
   Ah-ha! And a-hum-bl-ey!
A-hum-bl-ee! A-hum-bl-o!
   Ah-ha! And a-hum-bl-ey!
(Carpenter 1931)

Before I work for a dollar a day,
   Down below, wey-hey, hey-hey,
Grease my screws and put ‘em away
   Down below, wey-hey, hey-hey.

Down below in the hole below
Screwing sugar all the day
(Heard by William H. Smith in the 1880s, in Fowke 1981)