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Cotton screwing songs

Gibb Sahib 31 May 18 - 04:59 AM
Jack Campin 31 May 18 - 05:18 AM
GUEST,Greg F. 31 May 18 - 01:25 PM
Steve Gardham 31 May 18 - 04:58 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 31 May 18 - 09:37 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 31 May 18 - 09:39 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 31 May 18 - 09:41 PM
Gibb Sahib 31 May 18 - 11:44 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 01 Jun 18 - 02:26 AM
leeneia 01 Jun 18 - 02:54 PM
Steve Gardham 01 Jun 18 - 03:14 PM
mg 01 Jun 18 - 04:12 PM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 01 Jun 18 - 04:38 PM
GUEST 01 Jun 18 - 06:09 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 02 Jun 18 - 04:33 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 02 Jun 18 - 04:42 PM
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Subject: Cotton screwing songs
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 31 May 18 - 04:59 AM

I'm working on cotton screwing songs. My contention is that cotton screwing songs formed an _appreciably distinct_ repertoire. Let me say here that I think the broad assertion that any song could be put to a task is nonsense and even the extent of overlap between items of chanty repertoire between different tasks is greatly exaggerated by commentators after a certain point. It IS true that songs were not all rigidly fixed to a particular task, but this does not mean that it was random. I assert that there is a rhyme and reason to what chanties fit what tasks, with the main determining factor being form, rhythm, and meter. In order to see that, one has to consider the songs' musical aspects (and know the work actions, too).

Believing this to be the case, part of what identifies cotton screwing songs, in my opinion, is based on the musical form. Another part is indeed the happenstance of what was current/popular. I think that if we cross reference that songs alleged to be associated with cotton screwing and compare their musical traits we can see patterns emerge... and with it, a body of "cotton screwing songs" (loosely) emerges.

Even if one takes issue with my stated opinions or method, I hope one can still agree it's worthwhile to put all this cotton stuff in one place to focus on it and see what we might see!

I'm going to start by offering some songs that were ascribed to the *shipboard* chanty repertoire (i.e. avoiding, at the moment those specifically ascribed to cotton screwing) which, in documented texts, make such notable (and consistent) reference to cotton screwing that one can conjecture they were shared with or derived from the cotton screwing environment.

//
"My Dollar and a Half a Day (Lowlands)"

A dollar a day is a Hoosier’s pay,
Lowlands, lowlands, a-way, my John,
Yes, a dollar a day is a Hoosier’s pay,
My dollar and a half a day.

O was you ever in Mobile Bay,
A screwing cotton by the day?
(Whall 1913)
//

I’m bound away, I heard him say,
My lowlands away, my John;
A dollar and a half is a oozer’s [hoosier’s] pay,
                A dollar and a half a day.
(Sharp 1914)
//

"Roll the Cotton Down"

Oh, away down South where I was born,
Oh, roll the cotton down,
Away down South where I was born,
Oh, roll the cotton down.

A dollar a day is the white man’s pay,
Oh, a dollar a day is the white man’s pay,

I thought I heard our old man say. [Repeat]

We’re homeward bound to Mobile Bay. [Repeat]
(Leighton Robinson, 1951)
//

O have you been in New Orleans!
Roll the cotton down!
O-O-O, rolling cotton day by day
O roll the cotton down!

It’s there I worked on the old levee,
A-screwing cotton by the day
(Carpenter 1938)
//

"Long Time Ago"

Way down South where I was born,
Way ay ay yah,
I’ve picked the cotton and hoed the corn,
Oh a long time ago.

In the good old State of Alabam’ ,
So I’ve packed my bag, and I’m going away,

When I was young and in my prime,
Oh, I served my time in the Black Ball Line.

I’m going away to Mobile Bay,
Where they screw, the cotton by the day.

Five dollars a day’s a white man’s pay,
And a dollar and a half is a black man’s pay.

When the ship is loaded, I’m going to sea,
For a sailor’s life is the life for me
(Richard Maitland, 1951)
//


"Santiana"

I wish I were in old Mobile Bay,
Hooray, Santa Ana.
A-screwing cotton this blessed day.
All along the plains of Mexico.

Though Santa Ana has gained the day
A dollar a day is a nigger’s pay.

But seven dollars is a white man’s pay
For screwing cotton ten hours a day.
(Buryeson 1909)
//

"Hilo My Ranzo Way"

I'm Ranzo Jim from the Southern cotton growing belt
                    To me way, hay, oh hi o!
De sun am so hot dat you'd think a man would melt
                    And sing, Hilo, my Ranzo way

We picked all de cotton an’ threw it in de basket,
An’ de boss said ‘twas g’wine far up de Naragasket.

So I came right along into old Mobile Bay,
Where de nigga’s all work in de cool ob de day.

A-screwin’ cotton in de big ship’s hol’,
“Dat’s all I’d have to do,” so I was tol’.

De work was so hard dat I near done broke my back;
So dis nigga’ wants a job befo’ he gets de sack.

So I’d like to sail on a little pleasure trip,
Where de work ain’t so hard, on a Yankee sailing ship.
(Harlow 1962 - from the singing of a stevedore in 1878)
//

"Clear the Track" / "Good Morning Ladies All"

Was you ever in Mobile Bay?
                A hay! a hue! Ain’t you most done?
A-screwing cotton by the day?
                A hay! a hue! Ain’t you most done?
Oh, yes, I’ve been in Mobile Bay
A-screwing cotton by the day;
So clear the track, let the bullgine run,
With a rig-a-jig-jig and a ha-ha-ha,
Good morning ladies all!
(Eckstorm and Smythe 1927)


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: Jack Campin
Date: 31 May 18 - 05:18 AM

I'd never heard of this, you mean they had gangs of men compacting the bales with big screw presses, using the same sort of movements as with a capstan?


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: GUEST,Greg F.
Date: 31 May 18 - 01:25 PM

Suggestion: "Google" "cotton press"- several have ben preserved in the southern U.S. both animal & human powered.


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 31 May 18 - 04:58 PM

Gibb
I was in York on Tuesday in a bookshop and they had a couple of shelves on maritime history. I was actually looking for info on local sailing vessels but one of them had some pre-chanty era chants from the Gulf area and West Indies c1810. Next time I go in I'll at least make a note of the book details. Most of the older books were £20-£30 and I just haven't got the shelf space any more. I have a room full of about 2,000 folksong anthologies and if I buy any more the house will collapse.


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 31 May 18 - 09:37 PM

Let's see, there's cotton screwing and then there's screwing cotton and then there's screwing the Cotton Screwmen.

One screw shy here: Norris Cuney - (Colored Screwmen's Benevolent Association – USA.)

Cotton screwing for baling:

“In 1808, the quantity of cotton brought to Bombay for re-exportation was 85,000 bales, of 735 pounds, the half of which is procured from the country on the Nerbudda and the rest from Cutch and Gujerat. The cotton screw is worked by a capstan, to each bar of which there are 30 men, amounting in the whole to about 240 to each screw. Hemp is packed in the same manner, but it requires to be carefully laid in the press, for the fibres are liable to be broken if they are bent.”

[Hamilton, W., A Geographical, Statistical, and Historical Description of Hindostan and the Adjacent Countries, Vol. II, (London: John Murray, 1820, p.156)]


“Not far from this spot (Bombay gun carriage manufactory) is the extensive cotton-screwing establishment of the Colabah Company. It occupies several large buildings, in some of which the cotton just landed from the pattamars, is deposited. The premises contain twenty-four screws on the ground-floor, each screw being worked with a capstan on the floor above it, by forty naked coolies, who run about shouting, and yelling, with excess of mirth.

The cotton is weighed in scales, 350 lbs. at a time. This is then drawn up to the second floor, and emptied into a broad square iron funnel the size of a bale, at the bottom of which is laid a piece of sacking. At a signal given, the capstan is worked, and the screw, acting with immense power, compresses the cotton into about half its original bulk. Ropes are slipped underneath it to bind it at each end, and it is turned out a compact square bale, which, being sewed and marked, is ready for shipment. Each screw turns out thirty-two bales a day; but, by paying the men extra wages, they can be increased to seventy. Steam, on account of the price of fuel being dearer than manual labour, would not answer so well. There is another cotton-screwing company, whose warehouses are situated in the fort, in Marine Lane, but they are not so extensive as those just described.”

[Bercastle, J., A Voyage to China, Vol. I, (London: William Schoberl, 1850, pp.165-66)]


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 31 May 18 - 09:39 PM

The baler that usually pops up web searching for “cotton screw” however is a very early period draw mill and usually not human powered.

One long bar is a “draw.”

An opposing pair of draws is a “sweep.” Mentioned in wind mills, naval science & rowing as well.

Use a horse, ox, donkey, camel, what have you and it's a “draft" mill.

Draft mill works can be seen on plantation sugar mills and are probably on the walls of some Pharoah's tomb.


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 31 May 18 - 09:41 PM

Screwing cotton during lading:

“A method of stowing cotton, at one time more generally in use than at present, is to screw the bales into the hold of a ship. The screwing is done in this way: The bales are stood on end close together in a semicircle, the concave side of which faces an inside wall of the hold. Pressure is then brought to bear upon the convex side of the semicircle until it is forced flat up against the wall. Then a second semicircle is formed of other bales placed close together and these in turn are brought up against the flat surface made by the preceding row of bales; then a third row is put into place, and so on until one layer of cotton is formed in the hold. The next layer may be composed of bales placed on their sides and not packed so tightly as the first one. A third layer is made of upright bales screwed into position in the manner described, and the operation is continued until the cargo is complete. By this means cotton is packed into a space much smaller than would be required for the same number of bales set closely, but without the use of such pressure. The screwing is done by means of power screws operated by hand. The men who do this work and also their overseers require special training. An inexperienced laborer would suffer greatly from exhaustion if he tried to stand with two or three experienced screwmen turning the levers of a cotton screw. This service is expensive and is resorted to only when it is especially desirable to economize cargo space, but it is still common enough to keep the screws from rusting at the Southern ports. At some ports, as Mobile, the practice is still general, but at Savannah as a rule the screws are called into use only when some odd corner of a cargo needs filling out.

One of the chief causes for the decline in this method of stowing cotton is the increase in the size of freight vessels. A large ship will call for a load of cotton, take 20,000 or more bales, which are stowed closely, but without the use of screws, and the vessel puts to sea again in a short time. A smaller ship may spend a week or so having 15,000 bales screwed into its hold, in order to gain the extra freight paid on the additional bales which this method of packing makes possible to cany.

Another advantage of screwing cotton bales into position is a reduction in the danger from fire that might be caused by the iron ties around the bales chafing against steel or iron parts of the hold. This advantage may be offset in some degree by the possible injury to the hull of the vessel due to the outward pressure of the closely packed bales. Another disadvantage in screwing cotton is the difficulty of unloading. Sometimes the spars to which the unloading tackle is attached are broken before a bale can be pulled from one of the closely packed layers, and sometimes it is necessary to tear one bale to pieces before others in a layer can be moved.

[Andrews, F, Ocean Freight Rates, USDA Bulletin 67, (Washington: GPO, 1907, pp.39-40)]

And it's like a lint blizzard down there the whole time.


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 31 May 18 - 11:44 PM

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!

Sugar-screwing:

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)
//


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 01 Jun 18 - 02:26 AM

Gibb: "Even if one takes issue with my stated opinions or method, I hope one can still agree it's worthwhile to put all this cotton stuff in one place to focus on it and see what we might see!"

Jack: "I'd never heard of this, you mean they had gangs of men compacting the bales with big screw presses, using the same sort of movements as with a capstan?"

Greg: "Suggestion: "Google" "cotton press"- several have ben preserved in the southern U.S. both animal & human powered."

Me: "...there's cotton screwing and then there's screwing cotton and then there's screwing the Cotton Screwmen."

Gibb: "Why is it that when one posts a thread on Mudcat there is some assumption they need everything explained...."

Speaking strickly for myself, I'll go with: Not an assumption.


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: leeneia
Date: 01 Jun 18 - 02:54 PM

You have my sympathy, Gibb Sahib. The number of people on the Mudcat who have any interest in actually playing an instrument or singing a song is getting smaller all the time.


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 01 Jun 18 - 03:14 PM

Please, never decry someone trying to impart related information. It doesn't take up a lot of room and there are many interested people following these fascinating threads who don't even contribute. I have to say I found Phil's info interesting and informative, and relevant to the general background. I fully understand the purpose of the thread and applaud it.


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: mg
Date: 01 Jun 18 - 04:12 PM

I think some people might not want to sing or play but are very interested in the history, folklore, cultural implications etc.


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 01 Jun 18 - 04:38 PM

This book by Nordhoff- The merchant vessel : a sailor boy's voyages around the world (1894) - devotes a chapter to cotton screwing and gives words to 4 songs used (p34 onwards).

Lyrics are given to verions of Stormy, Dollar, Fire Maringo and Highland Laddie.

Mick


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Jun 18 - 06:09 PM

RE: SCREWING :

And then there's screw this shit, don't know why I bothered.

You have my sympathy, Gibb Sahib. The number of people on the Mudcat who have any interest in actually playing an instrument or singing a song is getting smaller all the time.

Thank you, princess, for showing us unworthy mortals the way.


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 02 Jun 18 - 04:33 PM

fyi: Juneteenth is right around the corner. Back where I come from it's when one celebrates Cuney et al. For someone my age that's like before AOL even.

Nothing wrong with singing and playing for enjoyment. It's the unsourced, hard science performance claims that get one in trouble with the laws of Man and Nature (Coasts Guard, inertia, gravity &c.)

Unless I'm wrong about Gibb's working criteria, it's a straight word search. Searching for "capstan" wouldn't yield a list of capstan shanties would it? The cotton screwers themselves being MIA is also a problem imo.

I think a thread title along the lines of "songs that mention..." would be more intellectually honest at this stage. Maybe something develops, maybe not. Say as you do, do as you say and all that.


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Subject: RE: Cotton screwing songs
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 02 Jun 18 - 04:42 PM

If here isn't the best place for this mayhaps a Mudelf can help out. It's cotton compressing (steam baling) but the labour all comes from the same community & culture:

"You press more, you press fifty bales more an hour when you calling the press... " [Clifford Blake, Sr.]

Calling the Cotton Press

(Scroll down for audio.)


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