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Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!

Charley Noble 08 May 02 - 04:39 PM
Bob Bolton 09 May 02 - 12:08 AM
Charley Noble 09 May 02 - 07:27 PM
Charley Noble 10 May 02 - 05:14 PM
Charley Noble 25 Mar 06 - 11:43 AM
Azizi 25 Mar 06 - 12:23 PM
Charley Noble 25 Mar 06 - 01:13 PM
Azizi 25 Mar 06 - 01:36 PM
Charley Noble 25 Mar 06 - 02:22 PM
Azizi 25 Mar 06 - 02:33 PM
Azizi 25 Mar 06 - 02:35 PM
Azizi 30 Sep 11 - 09:35 AM
Charley Noble 30 Sep 11 - 10:13 AM
Charley Noble 25 Feb 12 - 02:50 PM
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Subject: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Charley Noble
Date: 08 May 02 - 04:39 PM

Here's a new sea ballad in the 19th century parlor song tradition, inspired by the diary of a young woman who had romantic notions of going to sea, leaving behind her quiet river town in Maine. The diary was the basis for a recent book called A BRIDE'S PASSAGE by Catherine Petroski, a summer resident of Maine (copy and repaste into WORD/TIMES/12 TO GET THE CHORDS TO LINE UP):

(Words & music by Charlie Ipcar © 2002 (4/20/02) Inspired by A Bride's Passage by Catherine Petroski Tune: Adapted from Darling Nellie Gray Key: D (2/C))

Now, when I was a young girl,
I dreamed I'd sail the world,
Voyage, to lands be-yond the foam;
I'd leave this Kenne-bec pier
And my friends and fami-ly dear,
A noble bark would be my home sweet home.

I remember, oh so well,
How our bow cut through the swell,
As we left old Savannah far behind;
Yes, I stood there by your side,
So proud to be your bride,
That picture still lingers in my mind.

Now she was your first command,
Bark-rigged with sails so grand,
With a chance of wind she'd show what she could do;
Once she set so fierce a pace,
That the pride glowed in your face,
As you told me, "We sail chalk ginger blue!"

Sail on, my Jode, sail on,
Sail on, my love so true;
I miss you more than words can ev-er tell;
Now it's been many a-year,
Since I've seen your face so dear,
Sail on, sail on, chalk gin-ger blue.

If you've wondered 'bout the ways
I found to spend my days,
Sailing in my bark upon the sea;
There was needlework and chores,
I helped keep track of stores,
And at night we'd read each other poetry.

Then I learned to navigate;
I played nursemaid to the Mate,
Who almost died before reaching shore;
I'd walk the decks and watch the sails,
See porpoises and whales,
There was so little time left to be bored. (CHO)

To the south our course aligned,
With a load of Georgia pine,
Santiago, Cuba, was our goal;
The Windward Passage we did thread,
Soon we spied El Morro Head,
Slipped in the Bay and anchored off the mole.

That night in a foreign land,
I never saw anything so grand,
Tall mountains silhouetted by the moon;
We were so young and hale,
As we stood there by the rail,
We could not know our time would pass so soon. (CHO)

With rum and sugar in the hold,
We set our course so bold,
For the Atlantic in the winter sailors dread;
Though the billows loud did roar,
And our sails to shreds were tore,
After sixty days we sighted Beachy Head

As we cruised into the Downs,
We heard a welcome sound,
A sidewheel tug signaled with its horn;
They offered us a tow,
Up the Thames we'd go,
And at St. Katherine's Dock be dropped off in the morn. (CHO)

We soon settled in on shore,
Each day would bring a tour,
The Crystal Palace, then the Wax Museum;
We'd go on a shopping spree,
Spend a heap of our money,
Looking back it seems so like a dream.

We bade good-bye to London Town,
For Cardiff we were bound,
Loading for Savannah iron rail;
Sailing west was a wild delight,
And we soon made Tybee Light,
Only to be blown off by a gale. (CHO)

When we docked in Savannah at last,
My voyaging was past,
We returned to Richmond Town by the train;
There I gave birth to a baby girl;
She became my world,
And my Captain, sailed off to sea again.

Sad news came to our town,
That fever struck him down;
He was off in Trinidad, far from me;
Loading sugar in the hold,
And rum, so I've been told,
Another cargo bound for London quay. (CHO)

Now I'm old and gray;
I'll soon see my last day,
But before I go I've this to say to you;
Set your own course and sail away,
And you'll not regret the day,
The day that you sail chalk ginger blue. (CHO)


Newly married, Susan Lennan Hathorn and her husband Captain "Jode" Joseph S. Hathorn, Jr. embarked in 1855 on a year-long voyage taking them from the small shipping town of Richmond, Maine; to Cuba; to England; and then back across the Atlantic to Savannah, Georgia. Their adventure was carefully recorded in Susan's diary. After his wife gave birth to a baby girl in Richmond, Jode sailed off alone only to die of some tropical disease in Trinidad, Cuba, on May 8th, 1856; he was just 23 years old. Susan, eventually remarried, had 3 more children and died on December 2nd, 1906. Their family bark was the J.J. Hathorn, named after Jode's late uncle.

Comments welcomed!
Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 09 May 02 - 12:08 AM

G'day Charley,

It looks nice ... I don't suppose you have been able to work out any more about "sail chalk ginger blue" ... ?


Bob Bolton

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Charley Noble
Date: 09 May 02 - 07:27 PM

Bob - I'm now in e-mail contact with the author of A Bride's Passage, Catherine Petroski of Durham, North Carolina. She's delighted with the song and as perplexed as the rest of us with regard to the origin of the Capt. Jode's phrase "Chalk Ginger Blue." It's clear what he means, the ship tearing along at a great pace. My own theory is that Jode picked up the phrase while working at his father and uncle's shipyard in Richmond; the carpenters generally used blue chalk lines for outlining the ship's form on the floor of the mold loft. Ginger is a sharp spice; some would even say wicked sharp. Then again it might derive from horse racing slang. Anyone else run across this intriguing phrase?

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Charley Noble
Date: 10 May 02 - 05:14 PM

OK, I've done a google search on "Sail Chalk Ginger Blue" and now have a number of theories for where the phrase came from:
1. Capt. Jode picked up the phrase while working at his father and uncle's shipyard in Richmond; the carpenters generally used blue chalk lines for outlining the ship's form on the floor of the mold loft. Ginger is a sharp spice; some would even say wicked sharp.

2. Ginger is indigenous to the West Indies and was often exported in distinctive white and blue jars with a sailing ship image on them; the local folks may have originated the term from the jars and Jode picked it up from them while trading in the West Indies.

3. It may have been derived from some form of rhyming slang; ginger beer, blue, and chalk.

4. It may be associated with the Blue Chalk Restaurant chain which features ginger in some of its sea food dishes.

5. There's a New Zealand orchid which has been described as "blue ginger" and very pretty.

6. In Queensland, AU, there's blue ginger fruit according to the Australia Insect Farm.

7. There was a "Ginger" on Gilligan's Island and "chalk talk" is a nautical phrase describing plotting courses on a chart.

Who knows, one of these suggestions might even be correct. My current favorite is #2.

Cheerily, Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Charley Noble
Date: 25 Mar 06 - 11:43 AM

I finally got around to recording a MP3 of this ballad and this link should take you directly there: Charley Noble Website

The tune is after "Darling Nellie Grey."

However, in searching the forum to find this thread I believe I'm now able to unravel the mystery of where the captain's pet expression "sail chalk-ginger blue" came from. There are several threads, one titled "Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances" and the other "Walking On The Green Grass Thread." Apparently "Ginger Blue" is a reference to some Black people as in the old African American folk song: "Gooseberry Wine." Furthermore in some cakewalk dances, and probably earlier dances, the expression "Oh walk chalk, Ginger Blue!" comes up meaning to "walk as carefully as they would walk doing the chalk line dance." So it seems likely to me that the captain picked up this expreession at some minstrel show, which were quite common in the early 1850's even in Maine, and applied it to tearing along at a fast pace sailing.

So much for all the other explanations.

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Azizi
Date: 25 Mar 06 - 12:23 PM


I shared my interpretation of this verse of the song "Gooseberry Wine" as found in African American educator & collector Thomas W. Talley's book "Negro Folk Rhymes" {Kennikat Press, p. 41, originally published 1922,Macmillan Press}.

Oh walk chalk Ginger Blue!
Git over double trouble.
You needn' min' de wedder
So's de win' don't blow you

IMO, "Ginger Blue" is a referent for a particular type of Black skin coloring that is "ginger", meaning reddish tinged. I have seen other references to Ginger Blue elsewhere in my reading on African American history & culture.

"Walk a chalk line" comes from the dance later known as the "cakewalk" but here-in my opinion- means to walk through life with caution {given the dangerous, difficult circumstances one faces}.

See this information about "walking the chalk line":

"The Chalk Line Walk as it was originally known in 1850 in the Southern plantations and later became very popular from 1895-1905 as the Cakewalk with a resurgence around 1915. It originated in Florida by the African-American slaves who got the basic idea from the Seminole Indians (couples walking solemnly). Many of the special movements of the cake-walk, the bending back of the body, and the dropping of the hands at the wrists, amongst others, were a distinct feature in certain tribes of the African Kaffir dances. The African Ring Shout has a certain tie to this dance as well (see Ring Shout.)

These "Walkers" as they were called, would walk a straight line and balance buckets of water on their heads. Over time the dance evolved into a exaggerated parody of the white, upper class ballroom dancers who would imitate the mannerisms (namely the promenades and processionals) of the "Big House" (or masters house) that they observed the White's doing. These Slave's would have some fun with such a dignified walking, flirting, prancing, strutting, bowing low, waving canes, doffing hats, done in a high kicking grand promenade. The Master's and their guest found it amusing, while a few plantation owners frowned upon these shenanigans. For their 'Sunday' entertainment, the plantation owners started having contests to prove to the other who had the best slave walker.

---- The idea of the Cakewalk was that of a couple promenading in a dignified manner, high stepping and kicking, mimicking whitey's high society. Some of the better plantation owners would bake a cake on Sundays and invite the neighbors over and have a contest of the slaves, different prizes were given but originally it was a cake and whichever slave won, would get the cake... thus the term "That Takes The Cake!" (Plus others such as 'It's a Cakewalk' = very easy) and the name "Cakewalk" was now set. The dance grew in popularity even after the Civil War (1861-1865), but it would change.

-- The Breakdown and Chalk Line Walk would be mixed when the Minstrel Shows started using the Chalk Line Walk in their acts, a Minstrel parody, mixed, which later would be named the Cakewalk. The Minstrel shows of the time would paint their faces black and at the end of the show would do a "Grand Finale," which often times was the Cakewalk. The dance used little breaks in the prancing and strutting and only to allow the male to show off some dance moves and acrobatic like somersaults (Stearns: Jazz dance) while the woman would clap and admire his antics."



I'm not sure that I accept all of what this article states about the origin of this dance, but it is the best online source that I have found thus far.

There are other references in African American folk songs to "Walk Chalk" such as "Walk Chalk" and "Walk Chalk Chicken With Your Necktie On" .

I also found an example of the African American folk songs to "Walk Talk Chicken With Your Head Pecked" in Talley's "Negro Folk Rhymes" {p.4}

Azizi Powell

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Charley Noble
Date: 25 Mar 06 - 01:13 PM


Thanks so much for adding your notes directly to this thread.

Captain Hathorn may have added his own interpretation to the expression as heard at a minstrel show or in discussions of minstrel shows with friends. I've been thinking that the idea of dancing down a chalk line as if carefully balancing a pail of water on your head may also play a role. When a ship is really tearing along with a brisk wind, to achieve top speed everything has to be perfectly balanced: the setting of the sails, proximity to the wind, stowing of the cargo, all variables.

I think this expression is now aqppropriately nailed and will pass the information on to Catherine Petroski who based a book on Susan Hathorn's diary, which was the basis for my song. Catherine has been wondering about this odd expression for years.

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Azizi
Date: 25 Mar 06 - 01:36 PM

Charley, it occurs to me that a better definition would be "to walk {travel]confidently but with caution in dangerous circumstances".

It seems to me that without the addition of the element of confidence and the image of proudly but cautiously walking through life, an important element of the chalk walk reference is missing.

My regards to you and Catherine Petroski.

"Keep on keepin on"!


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Charley Noble
Date: 25 Mar 06 - 02:22 PM


There is an element of danger implicit in "cracking on" as the old sailors used to call it, and they would go on to say "what she won't carry, let 'er drag!" which meant if they lost a top mast in the process, who cared. Of course, that would be extremely foolish thing to do for if something broke off and was in fact dragging, the ship would likely end up completely out of control and wrecked. But it was a great thing to say!

I'm not sure "caution" is a necessary part of the definition, although a good captain would tend to be cautious even if he wanted to appear "daring" to impress his new bride.

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Azizi
Date: 25 Mar 06 - 02:33 PM

"Cautious" may not be the right word. What I meant to convey is when you live in dangerous times {as we still do} you have be on heightened alert for whatever may come your way. Another way of putting this is being in a mental state of "expectant readiness".

I believe that is probably true for ship captains. My theory is that ring {circle} games where you never knew who would be called upon to enter the ring and "show your motion" helped African American children {and others} to develop & reinforce this mental condition of "expectant readiness". This is a coping strategy that still is needed in todays' world but sad to say, few children beyond pre-school ages play ring games and play party games anymore.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Azizi
Date: 25 Mar 06 - 02:35 PM

I should have said "and my theory is..." since I jumped from ship captains to circle games...

Now you see why I like those BS threads about thread drift so much.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Azizi
Date: 30 Sep 11 - 09:35 AM

More than five years have passed since I first posted to this thread. And I feel the need to clarify & expand upon my statements about the meaning of the chorus "Walk Chalk Ginger Blue" as found in the song "Gooseberry Wine" as found in Thomas Talley's 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes.

I'm willing to concede that my interpretation of the lyrics "walk chalk get over double trouble" and the name "Ginger Blue" are heavily (perhaps too heavily) influenced by my 20th and early 21st century afrocentric perceptions.

I'm aware now (when I wasn't when I wrote those posts in 2006) that "Ginger Blue" was the name given to a pre-minstrel/minstrel character "created" by Thomas Dartmouth Rice in the mid 1800s. See partial lyrics and information about that song below.

However, I still stand by my opinion that "Ginger Blue" is a descriptive name for a Black man with a reddish complexion. I also still believe that the walk chalk etc chorus in "Gooseberry Wine" could mean and I think did mean that life is difficult so be careful how you walk through it (to use contemporary African American phrasing).

HOWEVER, this is not what Rice's song "Ginger Blue" or the character "Ginger Blue" was about (though I believe that Rice probably lifted the Ginger Blue name from a descriptor name that probably was used by Black folks and/or Black folks then).

From my online reading, I believe that the pre-minstrel/minstrel character "Ginger Blue" was a self-assured lover man character, not quite like Zip Coon because he (Ginger Blue) came from the plantation, while Zip Coon was an urban dandy. But Zip Coon was self-assured, meaning he thought well of himself, as did Ginger Blue. It was that self-assuredness of both of those White created characters which caused them to be considered ridiculous by White folks. Perhaps the other stock minstrel character "Mr Tambo"* was also self-assured, at least when it came to his musical skill, but (to use another contemporary African American phrase), I'm not sure that Mr Tambo "bragged on himself" like Zip Coon and Ginger Blue did. And I don't think that Jim Crow- the other major White created minstrel character-was at all self-assured.

From my 20th/21st century afrocentric perspective, I think that it's both interesting & suspect that the self-assured Black male character Ginger Blue isn't recognized and studied as a minstrel character as Jim Crow and Zip Coon have been. I don't mean to imply that White folks in the 19th century didn't think that Ginger Blue was a character who was ridiculous and laughable in his fake diction and in his mannerisms. Rather, to reiterate, I think that the fact that he was so self-assured was what White folks might have considered ridiculous. After all, why would a Black man feel that he was "all that"? (to use a now retired 20th century African American slang). But that doesn't mean that Black folks then or even now saw/see him as ridiculous. His self-assurance could have made (could make) him admirable to Black folks-which doesn't mean that I think that fake dialectic, n-word song should be sung nowadays. I don't think that at all.

*Btw I think that "Mr Tambo" character is like or patterned after Whistling Rufus-see that Mudcat thread on that song/character which seems to have been based on a real person.


Here's a quote from a Google Book that includes a version of the Walk Chalk Ginger Blue song:   
Behind the burnt cork mask: early blackface minstrelsy and Antebellum American popular culture
William John Mahar University of Illinois Press, 1999

One representative example of preminstrelsy is Thomas Dartmouth Rice's "Ginger Blue" which is seldom addressed in any discussion of minstrelsy but which showed up regularly on playbills from 1844-1851. The "Ginger Blue" character first appeared in Rice's Ethiopian opera "Bone Squash Diavolo", and returned in a number of vehicles through the early 1850s. The song may have changed when it entered the minstrel show genre and may have been shortened somewhat, since it then became part of a variety show rather than an extended solo act. How the performance worked is uncertain, but the following example demonstrates the combination of sung and spoken sections characteristics of the "Ginger Blue" act, as well as a mixture of eye dialect and Black English elements typical of the early minstrel shows.

"Ginger Blue"(Ethiopian Serenaders's Version): Song, Narrative, and Chorus

Verse 1
My name is ginger blue and wat I tell yous mity true
I come from the Tennessee mountains
My paragraf is short and my words they are as true
As the waters that flow from the fountains.
The first thing that I sed, when I could raise this n****r head,
To the darkies all on the plantation,
(Chorus/ Refrain) Was walk chalk ginger blue get over double trouble
Old Virginia neber tire.

additional verses and spoken words found in


Another version of Walk Chalk, Ginger Blue can be found online by googling the key phrase walk chalk giner blue -Newman Ivey White's American Negro Folk Songs (1928).

In that version, Ginger Blue (who is also referred to as "Ginger") goes to a dance, challenges Clum Grum, another Black man for Pete Williams' daughter Rosana, and wins because he has a better figure.(I think the meaning given to that phrase in this song is that Ginger Blue looks better than the other man-or at least that's what he believed.)

One final point, the "Walk Chalk Ginger Blue" chorus in the song "Gooseberry Wine" demonstrates that every verse of every song in Thomas Talley's 1922 Negro Folk Rhymes book wasn't composed by Black folks. Talley never said that all of those songs were of "Negro" origin. He collected songs from African Americans who sung them and danced to them.

African Americans who were the sources of Talley's collection may have borrowed some of the songs from White folks, and may changed the words to some of the songs and also may have changed the meaning to some of the songs that didn't originate with them.

Azizi Powell

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Charley Noble
Date: 30 Sep 11 - 10:13 AM


Thanks so much for your additional research and insight.

There is so much rich history embedded in Capt. Hathorn's favorite expression for describing how well his ship could sail to his young bride.

It is sad that their story ended so tragically. He died of fever in a faraway Cuban harbor. Their only child died in its first year in Richmond, Maine. She eventually re-married and raised a family but always kept a sea chest full of memories of that voyage.

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Sail on, Chalk Ginger Blue!
From: Charley Noble
Date: 25 Feb 12 - 02:50 PM

Here's a link to a photo album I've put together of images illustrating this ballad: Click here for PIXS!

Here's another link for a MP3 sample of how this song is sung: click here for MP3 sample!

Charley Noble

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