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Lyr Req: Lakes of Ponchartrain (from Sam Henry)


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Barry Finn 18 Sep 98 - 11:13 PM
Joe Offer 18 Sep 98 - 11:48 PM
Martin Ryan 19 Sep 98 - 09:28 AM
Barry Finn 19 Sep 98 - 02:25 PM
Joe Offer 09 Aug 04 - 04:21 AM
PoppaGator 09 Aug 04 - 03:57 PM
michaelr 09 Aug 04 - 07:29 PM
Nerd 09 Aug 04 - 08:44 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 09 Aug 04 - 08:46 PM
Nerd 09 Aug 04 - 09:08 PM
radriano 10 Aug 04 - 11:20 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 10 Aug 04 - 12:49 PM
PoppaGator 10 Aug 04 - 03:26 PM
GUEST,weerover 11 Aug 04 - 01:01 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 11 Aug 04 - 10:23 PM
GUEST,weerover 12 Aug 04 - 12:58 AM
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Subject: Sam Henry's version of "The Lakes Of Ponchartrain"
From: Barry Finn
Date: 18 Sep 98 - 11:13 PM

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Subject: RE: Sam Henry's
From: Joe Offer
Date: 18 Sep 98 - 11:48 PM

The Lakes of Ponchartrain
[H619: 12 Oct 1935; Laws H9]

Source: Paddy M'Closkey (Carnamenagh, Corkey, County Antrim), learned from Frank M'Allister (Carnagall, Corkey) c. 1905, learned when a woodsman in America.

This is a very interesting song...Ponchartrain Lakes are five miles north of New Orleans in the state of Louisiana. These lakes are a constant menace to New Orleans, their waters having to be kept away by great earthen dykes. The land there is so waterlogged that no cellar can be built and all tombs are above-ground erections.
A Creole is a native of Louisiana of French extraction.
Barry, if you're really interested, Down Home Music (click here) keeps Sam Henry's Songs of the People in stock. It ain't cheap - $42.50, but they usually have a few copies on hand. I don't know how they get it, since the book is out of print.
-Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Sam Henry's
From: Martin Ryan
Date: 19 Sep 98 - 09:28 AM

Failing that - John Moulden of Ulstersongs (see links page) usually has copies.


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Subject: RE: Sam Henry's
From: Barry Finn
Date: 19 Sep 98 - 02:25 PM

Thank you both Martin & Joe. Barry

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Subject: ADD: Sam Henry's 'Lakes Of Ponchartrain'
From: Joe Offer
Date: 09 Aug 04 - 04:21 AM

I wonder why I didn't post this. It's different from all the other versions that have been posted.
-Joe Offer-

The Lakes of Ponchartrain

By swamps and alligators
I took my weary way,
Through railway lines and crossings
My weary steps did stray.

Until the dawn of evening,
Some higher grounds to gain,
Till I fell in love with a Creole girl
On the lakes of Ponchartrain.
'Good eve, good eve, fair lady,
My money does no good,
Were it not for alligators
I'd sleep all night in the wood.'

'You are welcome, welcome, stranger,
Our house is very plain,
But we never turned a stranger out
On the banks of Ponchartrain.'

She took me to her father's house
And treated me right well,
Her yellow hair and ringlets fair
Down o'er her shoulders fell.

I tried to paint her beauty,
But ah, I tried in vain,
So handsome was my Creole girl
On the banks of Ponchartrain.

I asked her if she'd marry me,
She said that ne'er could be,
For she had got a lover,
And he was far at sea.

She said she had a lover,
True to him would remain
Till he'd return to his Creole girl
On the lakes of Ponchartrain.

'Good-bye, good-bye, fair lady,
I may never see you more,
But I'll ne'er forget your kindness
In the cottage by the shore.'

And in each social gathering,
A flowing glass I'll drain,
And I'll drink a health to that Creole girl
On the lakes of Ponchartrain.

Source: Paddy M'Closkey (Carnamenagh, Corkey, Co. Antrim), learned from Frank M'Allister (Car nagall, Corkey) c. 1905, learned when a woodsman in America.

from Sam Henry's Songs of the People

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Subject: RE: Sam Henry's 'Lakes Of Ponchartrain'
From: PoppaGator
Date: 09 Aug 04 - 03:57 PM

Anyone who hasn't already done so should check out the other threads concerning this song (listed at the top of the page). There are numerous versions of the lyrics, the tune, as well as varying theories on the song's origins.

Each of these threads includes the quote included in Joe's second message, above, posted back in '98. Some of them also include refutations/clarifications of the quote's contents, posted by various contributors (including, once or twice, me). Here I go again; I'll try to be more complete this time around.

There is one Lake Pontchartrain (singular not plural) which forms the northern boundary of the present-day city of New Orleans. The city was founded on the banks of the Mississippi River and was originally quite a bit smaller (including only the present-day French Quarter), so it is true that the Lake was, for many years, miles north of the city limits.

The lakeshore is currently well-defined by a seawall, and a huge area of lakefront real estate is former swampland and/or lakebottom that has been filled over the years. Before all that civil engineering, there was a more gradual swampy transition between lake and land, and the constantly-moving incursion of lakewater might well have been characterized as multiple "lakes" by some observers.

The term "Creole," from the Spanish "crillo," originally had a quite specific meaning -- a person of the first generation born in the new world of European parentage (i.e., one or both parents born in Spain, France, or -- less commonly -- another European nation). So technically, a "Creole" could be European on both the mother's and father's side, or half-American-Indian, or half-African. In practice, the term came to be applied most commonly to "colored" people of part-European, part-African ancestry.

Today, in and around the city of N.O., the word "Creole" usually refers to members of a light-skinned-black local aristocracy consisting of families who can trace their roots back many generations to Free People of Color who (more-or-less) thrived under French and Spanish rule before the Louisiana Purchase. While technically and legally "Negroes" under the old Jim Crow laws, and while culturally more black than white, most of these folks are much more European than African in terms of ancestry.

In the Louisiana countryside west of the city, the term "Creole" is applied to all French-speaking black folks, not necessarily light-skinned and without any aristocratic pretensions, mostly independent farmers -- the community that developed zydeco music.

In the mid-1830s, during the first mass emigration from Ireland to the US prompted by the first potato famine, New Orleans was by far the most popular US destination -- large numbers of jobs were available to dig the New Basin Canal from Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississipi River. These jobs were available to immigrants because the work was so dangerous that slave-owners would not risk their "property" to perform the necessary heavy labor. The work force was overwhelmingly Irish, and huge numbers died of tropical diseases, mostly yellow fever. In fact, statistically, an Irish worker had a better chance of surviving if he stayed home to suffer through the famine than if he went to New Orleans to work and die on the canal.

Family and friends who stayed home in Ireland were certainly aware of the many deaths in the swamp, and Irish immigrants never again came to New Orleans in significant numbers, turning instead to New York, Boston, and (via the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes) Chicago.

Even today, native New Orleanians with Irish surnames are many generations (170+ years) removed from their Irish roots and usually of mixed Irish/German/Italian/French ancestry. Anyone here who knows of relatives in Ireland, or who even knows what county or what town their ancestors came from, is someone who moved to New Orleans from the North or West (or whose parents made such a move).

There seems to be no sure evidence whether "Lakes" is an American or an Irish song. It is, of course, part of the contemporary repertoire for "traditional" Irish musicians, and the subject matter is just as obviously American. My theory -- what I'd **like** to believe ;^) --is that the song comes from one of those poor Irishmen who built the New Basin Canal, or from a family member back in Ireland reading his letters, perhaps creating the song to memorialize a brother or son or friend after he had succumbed to the yellow fever.

Some theorists place the song in the Civil War era, figuring that the reference(s) to "foreign money" concern Confederate vs Union coins and bills. This is quite plausible. There were Irish units on both sides of that conflict, including the "Fighting Tigers of Ireland," formed in New Orleans, that Jed Marum sings about. The (many) Irish in the city at the time were survivors of the canal project and their families, almost all of whom had arrived in the US about 10-12 years earlier.

Whether set in the 1830s, 40s, or even 50s, the swampy shores of the lake were virtually uninhabited (for that metter, uninhabitable). Finding that Creole gal at her mammy's lakeshore cabin was undoubtedly a fantasy, whether dreamed by a canal laborer or a soldier -- which fits with the geographical misunderstandings.

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Subject: RE: Sam Henry's 'Lakes Of Ponchartrain'
From: michaelr
Date: 09 Aug 04 - 07:29 PM

Finding that Creole gal at her mammy's lakeshore cabin was undoubtedly a fantasy -- especially one with yellow ringlets!

PoppaGator, thanks for the information on New Orleans. A fascinating town, and those Creole girls are the most beautiful I've seen anywhere.


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Subject: RE: Sam Henry's 'Lakes Of Ponchartrain'
From: Nerd
Date: 09 Aug 04 - 08:44 PM

Actually, historically the word "Creole" is hard to pin down. It also simply meant American-born French descendants who were white, especially around New Orleans. "Creole food" usually refers to food from this group, for example. So there is no real evidence in most versions of the song whether the girl is black or white, although in the above text her hair is yellow which (in those days) almost certainly meant white.

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Subject: RE: Sam Henry's 'Lakes Of Ponchartrain'
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Aug 04 - 08:46 PM

M'Closkey and Sam Henry may be responsible for the 'Lakes," plural. The Traditional Ballad Index goes with the correct singular, 'Lake,' but most people use the plural, perhaps because it 'sings better."

Pontchartrain itself is usually mis-spelled. The name comes from the old French Commune, where a royal chateau was built in the 17th c.

Creole is one of those terms that can get you in trouble (or used to, people are less touchy now). A lady in New Orleans, an old friend from college days who says that she is Creole 'in the proper sense'; traces back to the French and Spanish entrepreneurs of about 1800. This claim is somewhat tainted, because to this must be added an Irish immigrant of Civil War time. She would get highly incensed at the idea of 'blacks' being included in the term.

Thread 1866 perhaps is the best thread for the newcomer to discussion of this song: Lakes of Ponchartrain

Incidentally, Fort Pontchartrain was ancestral to Detroit.

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Subject: RE: Sam Henry's 'Lakes Of Ponchartrain'
From: Nerd
Date: 09 Aug 04 - 09:08 PM

Yes, Q. Folks in New Orleans are usually puzzled by the plural. I've usually sung "by the banks of the Ponchartrain" myself. Also, you're exactly right about Creole: many whites who use the term think it is improperly, and only recently, applied to blacks. But outside New Orleans, in Southwest LA, it has referred to black folks for a long time, so there are regional as well as temporal aspects to whom the word would properly refer to.

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Subject: RE: Sam Henry's 'Lakes Of Ponchartrain'
From: radriano
Date: 10 Aug 04 - 11:20 AM

Hi Barry,

One of the editors of the Sam Henry book is a SF Bay Area local, which is probably why Down Home Music has copies of the book. There might be some extra copies floating around out here. I'll see what I can find out for you, unless all you wanted was the version of "Lakes of Ponchatrain" that is in the book.


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Subject: RE: Sam Henry's 'Lakes Of Ponchartrain'
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Aug 04 - 12:49 PM

Joe posted the version in the Sam Henry book, above (M'Closkey).
The book is seldom listed since it is now out of print. The price Joe listed ('Down Home Music') is cheap; book dealers ask $75 or more.

    Be sure to see this thread (click) before you sepnd $75 for the Sam Henry book. Lani Herrmann or John Moulden may still be able to get you a copy for a more reasonable price.
    -Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Sam Henry's 'Lakes Of Ponchartrain'
From: PoppaGator
Date: 10 Aug 04 - 03:26 PM

I am not taking the time to look up a footnote or any such proof, but I have read (in more than one source) that the lake was named after a French nobleman (le Duc de Pontchartrain or some such), who was a patron of the colony but who never crossed the Atlantic.

There was speculation in one of the other threads that the lake's name was a composite of "Pont" ("bridge") and "Chartrain" (another French name). That may indeed be the derivation of the Duke's name, but the colonists named the lake after someone named Pontchartrain.

Detroit, far to the north, was another French settlement, so it is possible that the same person was the namesake of the fort up there. I believe that there is a present-day Hotel Pontchartrain in Detroit.

"Creole" has had various meanings over the years, some of them mutually exclusive. The original meaning was to describe persons of the first generation born in the Western Hemisphere of European colonists. There may have been controversy from the very beginning over whether one or both parents had to be Europen/Caucasian for the term "Creole" to be properly applied.

At this late date, it seems silly to declare that one or the other of the many meanings is "wrong." Most of the meanings have some connotation of urbanity or sophistication: as applied to cuisine, for example, Creole cooking is refined, Parisian -- stuff that would be served in white-tablecloth restaurants -- as opposed to Cajun cooking, which is rural and home-style. New Orleans Creole society, both white and black, was/is aristocratic or at least pretentious.

The one exception is one of the most common contemporary uses, where the term "Creole" is applied to the French-speaking black country folk of southwest Louisiana.

The Creole girl in the song may be a blonde in this version, but in most of the others, she is described as "dark" and her hair color is not mentioned. So, once again, a "Creole" person might well be either white or "colored" (i.e., mixed Caucasian/African -- mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, etc.)

Incidentally, the old French colonial tradition of the Quadroon and Octoroon Balls reveals a great deal about white and non-white Creole society. This would be a pretty long discussion that I'm not about to start here and now, but if someone just asks... (Or, just Google "Quadroon Ball" yourself.)

The plural "Lakes" appears in other versions of the lyrics, not just Sam Henry's. Many singers substitute "Banks" (much more often than trying the singular "Lake").

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Sam Henry's 'Lakes Of Ponchartrain'
From: GUEST,weerover
Date: 11 Aug 04 - 01:01 AM


The Sam Henry book is certainly currently available from John Moulden's Ulstersongs. I received a copy just this week.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Sam Henry's 'Lakes Of Ponchartrain'
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 11 Aug 04 - 10:23 PM

John Moulden, is asking 35 pounds plus 12 pounds postage for shipment to Canada-USA. This is about $60 US plus $21 US postage (figuring one pound = $1.80).
In other words, Joe, $75 asked by American dealers is not out of line. Abebooks and Alibris have none on offer at this time. The Univ. Georgia printing was very small.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Sam Henry's 'Lakes Of Ponchartrain'
From: GUEST,weerover
Date: 12 Aug 04 - 12:58 AM

John Moulden's service is excellent (I have never met the guy and have no financial or other interest in his company)


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