The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #32772   Message #3929540
Posted By: Dave Rado
06-Jun-18 - 07:01 PM
Thread Name: Origin: Sloop John B
Subject: RE: Origin: Sloop John B
Having read this thread with great interest, a few things puzzle me:

1) If as has been stated in several posts, the Sloop John B was a real boat and its crew were famous for getting merry when they landed ashore, then surely it should be possible to say roughly when the song originated (as opposed to when it was first published, which was in 1916). Does anyone have any idea when the actual boat would have been sailing? If "time and usage" had "given this song almost the dignity of a national anthem" by 1927, then one would have thought it must have written a lot more than 11 years earlier than that.

2) I understood that traditional Bahamian sloops looked pretty much like large rowing boats with a single sail in them, which could take a crew of 5 fishermen - so they contained no rooms or covered areas and certainly no galley. Given that, how could they have had a cook on board? Or is that poetic licence?

3) Why is the song called (in several versions) "The Wreck of the Sloop John B" when nothing in any of the lyrics I've seen refer to the boat being wrecked, they only refer to the behaviour of the crew?

4) In the Bahamian versions I've heard, and in most other pre-Beach Boys recordings, it says in the chorus: "I feel so break up" (rather than "broke up" or "broken up"). Is it part of Bahamian patois to use the present tense like that, when it's more usual elsewhere to use a past participle (broken up) or the past tense (broke up)?

5) Someone posted above that:
...About John B.: I've heard from one knowledgable source that the bad things that happen on that sloop are all the result of naming the boat "John B." In Afro-Carribean culture, nobody with a surname beginning with "B" (supposedly) will name a son "John," because the result ("John B." sounds too much like "jumby" -- a west african (Wolof/Bambera) term referring to this undead thing we've anglicized to "zombie" -- apparently it won't do to mention these creatures; "speak of the devil," and all that.

If Bahamians considered it to be such bad luck to name a boat John B, and if the John B was a real boat as has been claimed in several posts in this thread, then why would any Bahamians have named their boat John B in the first place?

6) A possible answer to questions 1) and 5) is contained in an article by Clarence H. Bethel , which states:
1647: An enterprising group seeking freedom of religion and self government obtained a charter from Charles I to establish a colony in the Bahamas. Known as "The Company of Eleutherian Adventurers" they were the first permanent European settlers in the Bahamas. They named the 100 mile long island they settled on Eleuthera, The adventurers crossed the Atlantic in a sailing skip called the "William" out of a British port. Some of the pilgrims were from Ireland, among them one, John Bethel, a Welshman, established himself at what is now Governor's Harbour. He captained a sailing vessel in early trading between the Islands of the West Indies and the American Colonies. His crew of Bahaman Negroes sang a folk ballad that was revised and recorded in the 1960's and '70s by several prominent artists, including Percy Faith, The Beach Boys and others. It became a hit record under such names as, "The Wreck of the Sloop John B." and "The John B's Sails".

Does anyone know whether this story has any credence? If so, it would appear that the ship was named after (and presumably by) its Welsh owner, which might explain how it could have been given a name that Afro-Bahamians considered to be unlucky; and it would also mean that both the boat and the song itself date all the way back to the 17th century. Does anyone know if this story has any truth to it?