The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #34323 Message #470503
Posted By: Barry Finn
25-May-01 - 04:03 PM
Thread Name: The origin of Sea Chanteys
Subject: RE: The origin of Sea Chanteys
The West Coast of Africa has been trading with Europeans since at least as 1455 when Portuguese mariner, Alvise daMosto noted down the size & capacity of their huge canoes & Fernandez reports in 1506 canoes that carried 120 men. In the late 17th century the Dutch factor William Bosman writing from Elmina Fortress on the Gold Coast notes how he'd watch 5 to 600 of these canoes set out fishing every morning & how dependent European traders were on Africans & their boats. So we do have it that Africans & Europeans were at least paddling in the canoe since very early on, maybe before the noted Venetian galleys of 1493 as reported by Felix Fabri. The Virginia Gazette in 1774 notes an impertinent runaway Negro woman who was fond of liquor & singing indecent sailor songs. In 1785 a New England merchant notes the cheerful & pleasant sounds of Negro labor while working the falls. The 1st impressment & imprisonment of American sailors was in 1807 2 of the 4 were sailors of color & of the eventual 5000 impressed prisoners in Dartmoor Prison 220 to 25% were Afro Americans & their musical bands were aalways in the forefront. The Black/Indian captain Paul Cuffe writes of the whaling brig, the Traveler with all it's black crew visiting Port-Au-Prince 8 yr after Haitian independence, I believe this to be the same Traveler mentioned in a song written by one of the all black crew members of the whaling schooner, the Industry, with whom they were rendezvousing with in 1822. Robert Hay (Landsman Hay) describes longshoremen using negro worksongs in 1809 & again aboard the Edward in 1811 of blacks working the capstan for loading cargo, giving the words to 2 of the songs. The Quid, in 1832 shows a black fiddler on top of a capstan singing. Olmstead describes in 1841 on a whaling voyage. of a black sea cook leading the rest in worksong.
The 1st third of the 19th century was increasingly good sailors, while the 2nd third saw their prospects receding & by the last 3rd they were becoming a relic. Even though blacks in general stayed at sea far longer than their white counteparts, becoming the Old Salts to the younger 1 or 2 passage making green hands, they were still to almost completely disaappear from the sea (except as cooks & stewards) by the time Captain Whall states no real shanties were made after 1875, leaving only their mark on the songs. Is it all that strange that the music of the Manhaden fisheries died when the black fishermen ceased to fish or the last of the slave labor songs end with the Georgia Sea Island Singers or the last of the shanties could be heard among the West Indian sailors or the prison worksongs died when the blacks stopped needing them & is it any wonder that onf all these trades examples can be found were some of the versions of the cross over into the different trades while in the the white culture group labor singing died out when? Barry