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Black Jacks: History & Shanties

Azizi 19 Dec 06 - 11:28 PM
Azizi 19 Dec 06 - 11:33 PM
Azizi 20 Dec 06 - 12:03 AM
Azizi 20 Dec 06 - 12:17 AM
GUEST,mg 20 Dec 06 - 12:25 AM
Azizi 20 Dec 06 - 12:50 AM
Azizi 20 Dec 06 - 12:51 AM
Barry Finn 20 Dec 06 - 01:36 AM
Azizi 20 Dec 06 - 07:42 AM
Charley Noble 20 Dec 06 - 10:24 AM
GUEST,mg 20 Dec 06 - 01:43 PM
Azizi 20 Dec 06 - 05:50 PM
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GUEST,thurg 19 Jan 07 - 08:48 PM
Barry Finn 20 Jan 07 - 12:05 AM
Barry Finn 20 Jan 07 - 12:08 AM
GUEST,meself 20 Jan 07 - 12:20 AM
Barry Finn 20 Jan 07 - 12:29 AM
Barry Finn 20 Jan 07 - 01:25 AM
Azizi 20 Jan 07 - 01:31 AM
Barry Finn 20 Jan 07 - 01:37 AM
GUEST,thurg 20 Jan 07 - 01:45 AM
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Subject: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Azizi
Date: 19 Dec 06 - 11:28 PM

In the current Mudcat thread Advice Please? - use of offensive words in songs Howard Jones posted this comment on 19 Dec 06 - 08:41 AM:

"Hugill excuses keeping the word "nigger" on the grounds that it was universally used by both black and white sailors without derogatory overtones. In a multi-racial, multi-national industry it was a man's ability as a sailor and not his skin colour which mattered. Of course the black sailors probably weren't in a position to object."


I presume that Howard Jones was talking about life as a sailor during the 19th century and earlier. I wondered if his statement was true. Because I knew next to nothing about antebellum Black sailors, I decided to do some initial research online on this subject.

I'd like to share what I've found thus far.

Besides the existence and condition of Black sailors, I'm hoping that the information that I present in this thread will spark a discussion, and/or additional information sharing from other Mudcat members & guests on the historical subject of Black sailors and their connection with shanties.

I'm particulary interested in exploring what is known about Black contribution to shanties,and how Black people are presented in the lyrics of various shanties.

I hope that others will join me in a presentation and a discussion of this topic.

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Azizi
Date: 19 Dec 06 - 11:33 PM

I admit to knowing very little about shanties. And I think this music genre is much more widely known among White Americans and than Black Americans {and I wonder if this is also true about White British people and Black British people}.

Furthermore, I believe that if African Americans have even heard the term "shanties", we don't realize that at least some of these songs could be considered part of our roots music.

However, even if African Americans become familiar with shanties, if these songs contain the "N-word" ,then I believe that will be a definite turn off from the specific songs and the song genre for many of us. I also believe that the use of the N-word in rap music can't be used as an reasons to condone that word in contemporary performances of shanties since one reason why many African Americans dislike rap is because of the use of that term.

With that introductory comment, I'll start off with a link this website that provides this information about the origin of the word "shanty":

Sea Chanties

Shanties are work songs with oft-repeated refrains sung to a rhythm that would coordinate the job at hand, heaving, hauling, pushing or turning. They must not be confused with ballads - many of which were sung at sea or by sailors in harbour - nor even with other fo'c'sle songs; unless they were shipboard work songs, they are not sea shanties

To recap the theories on the origins of the word:
1. French "chantez" - either Norman French, Modern or 'Gumbo' dialect of New Orleans.

2. English "chant" or Old English "chaunt"

3. The drinking Shanties of the Gulf ports (Mobile in particular) where black and white would congregate. Note that this is slightly less tenuous than 6. below, as, despite the non "musical" origin of the word, many coloured sailors went to sea from this area during the C19th and made reputations as singers of work songs.

4. Much the same as 3. - in Australia a "shanty" is a public-house, especially an unlicensed one (1864) and to shanty is to carouse or get drunk. Again, during the C19th, many seagoing shanteymen came from Australia and few people are likely to deny that drinking and singing (and sailors!) often go together.

5. Boat songs of the old French voyageurs of the New World, known as chansons (L.A. Smith, C.F. Smith)

6. The lumbermen's songs which often start with "Come all ye brave shanty-boys" a shantyman here being a lumberman or a backwoodsman. However, it must be noted here that the derivation is systematically given as from the French, via French-Canadian, "chantier" - a work site or workshop, and not from "chanter" - to sing. I therefore find the extension "worshop/lumberman" to "deep sea shipboard songs" quite tenuous.

7. West Indian Negroes used to move their shanties (huts built on stilts) by gangs pulling with a singing leader perched on the roof - he was the shanty man.

8. Finally, one that can be laid to rest: it does not come from the "chanter" of the bagpipes - fiddles, concertinas and accordions are bad enough to keep in shape at sea, a set of pipes is impossible - believe me, I've tried it!


That article includes this statement:
"There is no proof one way or the other whether French "to sing" or Negro huts were the origins of the word - probably never will be "proven".

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Azizi
Date: 20 Dec 06 - 12:03 AM

Here is the post that I just wrote on that "Advice-Offensive Words in Songs" thread in response to the comment that I quoted above:

Subject: RE: Advice Please? - use of offensive words in songs
From: Azizi - PM
Date: 19 Dec 06 - 11:55 PM

Howard Jones, I want to publicly thank you for prompting me to engage in research on the historical existence and condition of 19th century and earlier Black sailors.

If I understand a comment you made in your 19 Dec 06 - 08:41 AM post correctly, Hugill [and/or you] are saying that at least on board the ships there was an equalitarian approach to individuals without any regard to race.

Even from the initial reading that I have done online, while I would agree that a man's skills and not his skin color was considered most important during times of danger and during the course of other daily tasks, there can be no doubt that one of the dangers of being a mariner that Black sailors faced that White sailors didn't face was that of being captured, imprisoned and enslaved.

The fact that you [or Hugill?] added the comment "Of course the black sailors probably weren't in a position to object [to being called a N-----" implies to me that the conditions of Black sailors and White sailors were not equal."...


See for instance, this long excerpt from An Interview With
W. Jeffrey Bolster
"Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail," Harvard University Press, 1997

"Ten years in preparation, Prof. Jeffrey Bolster's detailed book on black mariners is already being recognized as a landmark publication. This interview was recorded at offices by J. Dennis Robinson, two months prior to the book's release... During the age of sail what was the role of black mariners. It's a role we've never even heard of before.

Bolster: There were many roles of black mariners in the age of sail. Early on in the slave trade in the 1600s, late 1500s, black men - Africans - were being used aboard ships often of their own volition, as translators or linguists aboard slave ships.. Some were also sailing as seamen, as mariners hired on for wages in west Africa. Black men were sailing as buccaneers. We know that many of the pirate crews in the late 17th century -- that would be the late 1600s and early 1700s -- were African Americans or African men. So there were several early streams that went into the river of black seafarers. Once these colonies -- that became the United States -- were well established in the new world, however, once commerce there was thriving, black men were put into service roles aboard ship. They were sailing primarily at first as cooks, cabin boys, stewards, drummers, fifers, that sort of role. It was around the era of the American Revolution, however, that increasingly more black men were involved in this commerce as able bodied seamen. so we have a transition there from slave to free and from less skilled to more skilled... So these people were predominantly free men in an era of slavery? What happens when a person who has some freedom arrives in a world full of slavery? How does he fit into this world?

Bolster: That question speaks to the raising of political consciousness, to the raising the political sensibilities among free men of color who worked aboard ships in a world that was still defined by slavery. We have numerous instances of free black men from the north or England sailing into a southern harbor or southern river and being captured, being kidnapped, being stolen back into slavery. This happened thousands and thousands of times. It's clearly documented.

We have instances in which one of the most famous black men of his generation, Captain Paul Couffe, a free black man from Massachusetts, who was a ship builder and a ship owner, who sailed primarily with crews composed of African American and Indian men. (He) found his crew detained. Traveled overland to speak personally with the president of the United States demanding that he have a clearance for his ship. We have many other instances in which after 1822 southern states following the lead of South Carolina, began to jail black men simply by being free and arriving in a southern state where slavery still existed. Free men were taken off their ships and put in jail until their ships sailed. My calculations show that there were over 10,000 free black northern men who spent time in southern prisons simply for arriving as free sailors on ships and being detained in New Orleans or Charleston or Savannah or elsewhere.

So the implications of seafaring for free men was that it heightened their political consciousness, frequently made them quite afraid. It also led to a certain bravado. I found instances of men who individually had been jailed seven or eight times in southern ports. In other words, they kept returning they kept working aboard ship knowing full well that upon arrival in Charleston or Louisiana they would be put into jail and they were, seven, eight, nine times. I found ships articles being signed "Liverpool, England" where the black men consented ahead of time knowing that they were going to New Orleans that of course they would be put into jail. So there was a certain degree of bravado, of standing up to "The Man" that comes through in those records. Clearly however, these were northern men, English men who became the eyes and ears of their communities by sailing into the heartland of slavery, spending time in jail, rubbing elbows with slaves in those jails and then sailing back out again in many instances to disseminate what they had learned."

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Azizi
Date: 20 Dec 06 - 12:17 AM

Here's several comments found on about this subject:

"Roots of Shanty Songs
Army and Navy Chronicle 1835-1844 The American magazine of Nov. 9, 1837 (p. 293) reprints, from the _Londonderry Journal_, "further particulars" of "The Voyage of H.M.S. Terror, Commanded by Captain Beck." The _Gazette_ identifies the Captain as "Beck," but George "Back" is correct. According to the article, _Terror_ had been trapped in in Arctic ice for more than a year, from June 1836 to July 1837. Having finally cut the ship loose, "the men were incessantly at the pumps, night and day, one-half sleeping while the rest were pumping, six feet of water being in the hold." See Captain George Back's voyage in the 'H.M.S. Terror' in the Arctic regions during 1836-37. Capain Back's second Expidition.

The article goes on to remark "the exhilerating [sic] and enlivening effect produced among the brave but exhausted crew, by the singing of a series of songs, while at work, composed by one of the sailors, who had been a long time at the West Indies, in the merchant trade, where he picked up the tunes from the black fellows. Although it is contrary to man-of-war discipline to allow noise at work, yet, in this case, it is agreed on all hands that he was of the greatest service; any thing being excusable which could encourage men situated as they were."

The _Terror_ finally reached Lough Swilly, anchoring at "Knockalto fort." An Internet site dates the beaching (rather than anchoring) of the vessel at Lough Swilly to Sept. 3. When the vessel came to anchor, the sailors at work were "busy, chorusing the sailor's song of 'Sally round the corner.' " This was presumably a version of the shanty still familiar as "Round the Corner, Sally."

This may be the earliest known account to connect shantying with the West Indies, as well as the earliest to emphasize the _ad lib_ nature of the lyrics--not surprising since there seems to have been just one man in the crew of nearly sixty who knew some shanties.
Victorian painting of the "Perilous position of H.M.S. 'Terror', Captain Back, in the Arctic Regions in the summer of 1837" :
The painting is by William Smyth, First Lieutenant of the vessel during the ordeal, and while it demonstrates what the age expected of "eyewitness art" in general, it clearly makes its point that the officers and men of _Terror_ experienced a true "frozen hell" in Hudson's Bay.

Also Discovered by Doerflinger in a book called _The Quid_ (London, 1832). Doerflinger reprints the relevant passage on p. 94 of "Shantymen and Shantyboys." One of the two minuscule shanty extracts he found is as follows:

Oh! if I had her,
Eh then if I had her,
Oh! I would love her
Black although she be!
This is unquestionably the same as a half stanza in a bawdy song, "O Gin I Had Her," from Burns's _Merry Muses_ a generation or so earlier :
O gin I had her
Yea, gin I had her,
O gin I had her,
Black altho' she be.

- The Scots song has nothing to do with the sea, and Burns may have written most of it. ~Jonathan Lighter

Roger Abrahams gives a number of late eighteenth and very early nineteenth century references to shanty-like work songs (mostly stevedore songs) in the Caribbean in _Deep the Water, Shallow the Shoal_. What's especially interesting is the direct attribution to African song forms, which clearly supports Doerflinger and Hugill's contention that shantying on Anglo-American vessels was a derivative tradition.

Note that H.M.S. Terror was one of the two vessels lost in the Franklin expedition, about 10 years after this event. Nice to know that she has other attachments to the history of traditional song. ~ Jamie Moreira"

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 20 Dec 06 - 12:25 AM

Interesting and sensitive topic. I think in general the N word has been deleted but certainly was there. There are numerous references to "yellow gals". There was a thread a few years ago about a particular shuffle that was used when loading sugar..I think..some great sugar shanties...The contributions of the African Americans, Jamaicans etc. I think are pretty well known and least in general...certainly there is a lot more to know. mg

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Azizi
Date: 20 Dec 06 - 12:50 AM

It occurs to me that I actually had heard some shanties before reading about them on Mudcat, though I wasn't familiar with the term "shanty".

For instance, somewhere or a number of somewheres, I heard the song "Blow The Man Down."

And I associate the song "Haul Away Joe" with the television series Roots

I remember the scene with Kunta Kinte and other Black people were on the slave ship and the White sailors were singing:

"King Loueyi was the king of France before the rev-o-lu-tion.
And then he got his head chopped off it spoiled his cons-ti-tu-tion

way haul away, we'll haul away Joe.
way haul away, we'll haul away Joe."


Bob Marley sang that Black people should "Know your roots and culture". Maybe "Haul Away Joe" and some other shanties are just as much a part of my roots and culture [or more] than they are part of European cultures and White American roots & cultures.

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Azizi
Date: 20 Dec 06 - 12:51 AM

Thanks, mg.

I appreciate your comments.

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Barry Finn
Date: 20 Dec 06 - 01:36 AM

Beware, long post.

"I never seen since I was born
A big buck nigger with his sea boots on
Johnny come down to Hilo
Poor old man"

Nigger has been used in the same way onboard as Dago, Swede, Johnny Crapo, Yank, etc. My take on this is that it was more a discription than a racist slur. I've never found it to be proceeded or followed by a derogatory remark as would be found when refering to say a "dirty" tailor who were despised by sailors.
I do sing the above "Johnny Come Down To Hilo" with the line changed to "big buck sailor". there's no need to keep the 'N' word there anymore except for historical content. Actually a big buck could be taken as masculine complament.

Following are some privious posts that may be of some interest to you Azizi, as I believe that the sailors of color gave far more to the singing of shanties than most give them credit for & you'll find that my reflections are borne out when the maritime industries saw the decline of it's sailors of color it also saw as a direct result the decline of shanties even though the advancement of steam was another direct cause.

Subject: RE: The origin of Sea Chanteys
From: Barry Finn - PM
Date: 25 May 01 - 04:03 PM

The West Coast of Africa has been trading with Europeans since at least as early 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 500 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 always 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 to sailors of color, 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 that 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 of 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?

Subject: RE: Shanties, migration, and work songs; north USA
From: Barry Finn - PM
Date: 20 Jan 02 - 01:52 PM

A long reply (sorry) that might cover some of the post. England outlawed slavery before they did here in the US. Up till the Civil War in some major Northern ports the census of sailors boarding houses reported as much as (Providence, Rhode Island in perticular) 30% or more of the cities sailors were of color. From the pre Revolution to the Civil War days the eastern seaboard's inshore trades were pretty much manned by Afro Crib/American sailors. The water offered the only trades where there was freedom of movement for freemen as well as slaves & a chance for equality & wage. Many of their communities survived & subsisted upon mostly the earnings of it's waterman. The offshore trades were manned more by black deep water sailors than history would have one to believe. The network for these sailors/watermen was the North Alantic rim and many found England as well as Haiti to be far more excepting of them & so made some of these places their homes, slaves more than freeman. All this died for the sailors of color by the time the Civil War came about & so along with their trade went their international source of information (word & news of love ones as well as news about other places the grass may be a bit greener), the freedom & equality that a sailor was allowed, chances of good wages, the education & storytelling begot from their world wide of sailoring. The only area where they stayed at sea longer was as stewards & cooks (to which many belonged to the Steward & Cooks Marine Society's, also for sailors but not officers) & onshore for awhile as stevedores. Their sea culture also died with their trade as well as their influence on the art of the sailoring. Towards the end of these days they were the old salts, white sailors found better paying & less dangerous work & the average age of the white sailor (around these times) grew younger & younger & they endoured less & less voyages, their knowledge of seamanship became less & less till the old men of color were left to teach the young whipersnapper white greenhands the little of the trade that their short time allowed. One of the few areas were they left their mark was their music & their influence on the sea music as a whole. These times I believed caused more & more blacks to find lands that offered better homes.
See 'Black Jacks' by Jeffery Bolster, these autobiographies of Fredick Douglass & his many other writtings, the "Life of Olaudah Equiano", "The Negro in the Navy & Merchant Service, 1798-1860 by Harold Langley, of the Nantucket American-Afro/Indian sea Captain "Narrrative of the Life & Adventures of Paul Cuffe, a Pequot Indian", "the Big Sea by Langston Hughes. Also the log of the Schooner Industry - Nantucket Maritime Museum & "Absalom F Boston" by Cary & Cary, Remarks of the Schooner Industry & the Brig Traveler from the Report of the Commissioner of Fish & Fisheries.
What was the guestion again?
Best in my opinion for music is anything recorded by & from the Georgia Sea Island Singers, any thing recorded & collected by Roger Abrahams (also see his Book "Deep the Water Shallow the Shore, on Rounder "Deep River of Song-Bahamas 1935" from Lomax's collection, CD on Global Village "Virginia Traditions- Viginia Work Songs", on Rounder "Peter Was a Fisherman" field recordings from Trinidad 1939, some of the later cd's from Mystic Seaport's Forebitter & cd by the Johnson Girls "the Johnson Girls.
Sorry for the long winded post.
Good luck, Barry

Subject: RE: African Runaway Slave Ballads
From: Barry Finn - PM
Date: 06 Aug 03 - 03:22 PM

Hi Charley

Alabama John Cherokee (Hugill places this to be from the days of slavery) is probably not far off from the story/song. For sailors of color the late 1700's into the earlier half of the 1800's was a far better & easier time for the Black & Indian seafarer. As the Civil was approched & after when Jim Crow went to sea their numbers went down while their treatment got worse.

Many slaves in New England lived with the Mashpee Indians of Cape Cod & other places like Chappequiddick, Gay Head & Christentown, Martha's Vinyard & end up intermarrying. Captain Paul Cuff of Nantucket, a wealthy merchant & shipowner was of African & Indian backround. His son commandered the Rising Star & skippered an all black crew. Paul's 2 son-in-laws & nephews were also sea captains. Captain Absolom S Boston, Skipper of the whaler Industry 1822, (also crewed by all blacks) was the son of Captain Prince Boston (of African decent) also came from a prominent Nantucket maritime family, he married a women of of Indian/African decent, Paul Cuff's granddaughter. Crispus Attucks (see Boston Massacre) of African/Natick Indian decent, sailed as harpooner aboard a whaler. The well known (in his time) Captain Samson Occan was also of African/Indian decent. Captain Moses Vose, of African decent) married a Mustee indian women, their children 'followed the sea'. The Indian sailor had it a bit better than the Black, if they carried Indian id's, they did not fall under the same laws as slaves or freemen though without proof of being an Indian or of Indian decent they could land in the same hell as the slave. Although the canoe is thought of as having Native American origins it's origins are in Africa.

I guess I thread creeped this one.


Subject: RE: Locating Afr-Am chantey singers
From: GUEST,Barry Finn - PM
Date: 11 Nov 00 - 12:39 AM

The Northern Neck Shanty Singers are another group of manhaden fishermen that still sing, I don't if they've been recorded though.
The West Indies & the neighboring Island groups that once fished the whale & grouper now fish under power. The day of the work song passed awhile ago, in the prisons & in in the manhaden fisheries they disappeared in the 60's, in the 40's you could still hear some of them on the Georgia Sea Islands. The hayday of the shanty fell somewhere between the 1860's to the 1880's after the Afro American sailor started to fade from the sea & most agree that few real shanties were invented after the the mid 1870's & some say the in the early 60's. Afro American sea songs have been been heard along the Eastern seaboard since the revololution. The Virginia Gazette in 1774 notes a runaway Negro woman as fond of liquor & singing indecent sailor's songs. In 1785 a New England merchant wrote about "the cheerful & pleasant sounds of Negro labor songs while working the tackle & fall". From the 1st impressment & imprisonment of American sailors by the British in 1807, of which of the 4, 2 were men of color, Britain's Dartmoor Prison saw 5000 sailors, 20% were Afro Americans. From the boom of the cotton trade in the 1790's & the opening of the China Trade in 44 & along with the gold rush in 49 Doerflinger points to these as causes for the need for more men & new designs that that gave up cargo space for speed, this was the hayday for Afro American sailors. Black/Indian captain Paul Cuffe writes of the whaling brig, Traveler, with it's all Black crew visiting Port-Au-Prince 8 yrs. after Haitian independence, this, I believe to be the same Traveler, with it's again all Black crew, that during a whaling trip in 1822 according to song met up with (according to the fisheries report) the all Black crew of the of the whaling schooner Industry. The early part of the 1800's was increasingly good for sailors of color, free or not, by the mid 1800's their prospects were receading & by the last 3rd of the 1800's they were becoming relics. Because of the dim prospects of finding meaningful work they stayed at sea far longer than their white counterparts, they became the Old Salts to the 1 or 2 passage making green horns only to disappear from the sea except as stewards & cooks leaving only their stamp on their songs & even that faded. The East Coast that was once monopolized by the Black pilots, steveadores, fisherman & in shore sailors along with the off shore Black sailor that sometimes numbered as high as 25% all were driven back on shore by the 1860's when Jim Crow went to sea. I believe that the Afro American sailor had far more influence on shantydom that ever given credit for, when he disappeared so didn't the songs. Blow the Man Down, popular in the 1840's, Hugill believes to have come from the black song Knock A Man Down which is a very close version, Kick Him Along was collected in the Islands in the 1930's. Pre 1840's heard Round the Corner Sally & Sally Brown whose very close cousin Finney Brown appeared in the BWI in the 1960's along with the West Indian versions of Shenandoah, Solid Fas & Cold & Squally Weather. Doerflinger's version of Blood Red Roses called Come Down You Bunch of Roses, Come Down rings of a version collected in the Bahamas (along with Sloop John B) in the 1930's Come Down You Bunch of Roses. Shallow Brown's found as Shallow Ground, versions of Bowline, Good Bye Fare Thee Well & Long Time Ago along with dozens of others were still to be found in the 60's when they were all but a memory elsewhere.

Aside from Jeffery Bolster's "Black Jacks" there's also the McKissack's "Black Hands, White Sails" (not nearly as good as Bolster), Roger Abrahams's "Deep The Water, Shallow The Shore" & Lydia Parrish's "Slave Songs of The Georgia Sea Islands". For other reading see "The Making Of A Sailor" by Harlow, "On Board The Rocket by Adams, "The Cruise Of The Cachalot" by Bullen & "Landsman Hay" by Hay. All give examples of shanties too as well as life onboard.


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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Azizi
Date: 20 Dec 06 - 07:42 AM

Barry Finn,

Thank you so much for those posts! They're fascinating reading!!!

I'll post links to those threads noted in your re-post when I return home from work unless it is done before then.

Best wishes,


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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Charley Noble
Date: 20 Dec 06 - 10:24 AM


This is a meaty topic to re-explore but I'm buried until after the holidays.

I'm glad that Barry responded with so much information and I hope to be able to respond in kind.

Ethnic and racist "slurs" were undoubtably prevalent aboard 19th century tall-ships, among the crews and between them and the officers as documented by a number of journals. I doubt if the prevelance of such terms changed much through the 19th century, although maybe a few more were added. What the terms actually meant when used in conversation is another question with a variety of answers depending of who was addressing who, and the social situation. We should really recruit a socio-linguist to clarify how to discuss this. And were things different aboard ships of different nations?

What the terms meant as used in shanties or forebitters is another question.

And then there is the question of how nautical poets such as Kipling, Masefield, and Cicely Fox Smith used the terms. Were they simply trying to reflect common useage among the sailors, or were they "slaves" to their own prejudices.

Here's a C. Fox Smith poem that seems appropriate to this topic, along with my notes:


"It takes all sorts to make a world, an' the same to make a crew;
It takes the good an' middlin' an' the rotten bad uns too;
The same's there are on land," says Bill, "you meet 'em all at sea . . .
The freaks an' fads an' crooks an' cads an' ornery folks like me."

"It takes a man for every job — the skippers an' the mates,
The chap as gives the orders an' the chap as chips the plates —
It takes the brass-bound 'prentices (an' ruddy plagues they be)
An' chaps as shirk an' chaps as work — just ornery chaps like me."

"It takes the stiffs an' deadbeats an' decent shellbacks too,
The chaps as always pull their weight an' them as never do,
The sort the Lord as made 'em knows what bloomin' use they be,
An' crazy folks, an' musical blokes . . . an' ornery chaps like me."

"It takes a deal o' fancy breeds — the Dagoes an' the Dutch,
The Lascars an' calashees an' the seedyboys an' such;
It takes the greasers an' the Chinks, the Jap an' Portugee,
The blacks an' yellers an' 'arf-bred fellers . . . an' ornery folks like me."

"It takes all sorts to make a world an' the same to make a crew,
It takes more kinds o' people than there's creeters in the Zoo;
You meet 'em all ashore," says Bill, "an' you find 'em all at sea . . .
But do me proud if most of the crowd ain't ornery chaps like me!"


From ROVINGS: Sea Songs & Ballads, edited by Cicely Fox Smith, published by Elkin Mathews, London, UK, © 1921, pp. 51-52.

Here we have a vivid picture of how an old sailor might have described you and your messmates aboard one of those tall sailing ships at the close of the 19th century. The crew of a ship was not exactly a "melting pot" but if you learned your work and "pulled your weight with a will" you earned the respect of the old shellbacks regardless of where you came from. Of course, if you were the son of a prominent shipping family, you got a head start but you still needed to demonstrate capability to earn respect and promotion.

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 20 Dec 06 - 01:43 PM

Here are a couple of references to women of color..

That brown gal of mine on the Georgia line and we'll roll the woodpile down.

Oh me yellow girls do not let me go. Do not let me go me girls do not let me go.....

I think there are lots more. mg

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Azizi
Date: 20 Dec 06 - 05:50 PM

Charley Noble, thanks for your comments also, and I look forward for more after the holidays!


Here's the links to Barry's re-posts given in his 20 Dec 06 - 01:36 AM post on this thread:

The origin of Sea Chanteys


Shanties, migration, and work songs; north USA


Locating Afr-Am chantey singers
[The super-search didn't result in any thread, even with different spellings of chantey and the African American spelled out???]


However, here is thread.cfm?threadid=57764 Sea Chanteys (shanteys) part two

And more hyperlinked shantey threads are listed under the title of these threads.

So that means I [and other folks interested in this topic] have got a lot of Mudcat reading to do.

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
Date: 19 Jan 07 - 07:00 PM

I live in Dover, Delaware and would love to invite this group of wonderful men to my church. Do you have a way of getting in touch wiht them. Our Church is located in Hartly, Delaware and we are housed in a one-room school house (something that I am sure that they can appreciate!) My email address is

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: GUEST,thurg
Date: 19 Jan 07 - 08:48 PM

Great thread, Azizi; I missed it the first time 'round.

There is a short story by the Nova Scotian writer Thomas Raddall - be damned if I can remember the title; I believe I read it in Reader's Digest, many years back - set I suppose in the early part of the twentieth century, concerning a song contest between a white and black singer, taking place in a Nova Scotian sea-port, before an enthralled audience of salts and landlubbers. As I recall, the contestants seem to sing ballads, as opposed to chanteys; the black singer eventually proves to know more ballads than his rival, and so wins the contest.

Thomas Raddall was quite an authority on Nova Scotian history and culture, but he was also a "creative" writer, so whether he based this story on some actual or likely event or made the whole thing up, I have no idea.

A propos West Indian chanteys - there were chanteys sung in Nova Scotia that were learned directly from West Indians in the Caribbean. One was on a CD of field recordings put out by - the Harbour Folk Society? the Helen Creighton Society? (where's George Seto - help me out here!) about two years ago. (I'll see if I can find a link ...).

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Barry Finn
Date: 20 Jan 07 - 12:05 AM

Hi Thrug
Is this what you were thinking of?

Thomas Raddall Selected Correspondence


Guest in Dover, what group of wonderful men? Anyone know of wonderful men here? (Just teasing ya).

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Barry Finn
Date: 20 Jan 07 - 12:08 AM

Gezze, 10 years here & I just made my 1st correct & without all the http: to boot. I'm gonna have nice dreams tonite.


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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: GUEST,meself
Date: 20 Jan 07 - 12:20 AM

Wow! What a find! 'Blind MacNair' is undoubtedly the story I had in mind. I was a little skeptical about the 'song-contest' business, but Raddall suggests in the letter that such events took place at least occasionally. I wonder if there are any other mentions of song-contests out there?

Thanks, Barry!

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Barry Finn
Date: 20 Jan 07 - 12:29 AM

Ya! First I'd ever heard of one too.


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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Barry Finn
Date: 20 Jan 07 - 01:25 AM

Hi mg

Just an aside to your posting of "Do not let me go me girls do not let me go" also know as "Doodle Let Me Go". I always think of the West Indian term for an attractive girl/woman, "dou dou"

As in the songs; "St. Peter Down in Courland Bay" & "Roller Bowler"

"Darling dou, dou, I'm taking you with me
St. Peter, St. Peter down in Courland Bay"
(see: 'Deep the Water Shallow the Shore' Roger Abrahams)


"As I roved out one morning
Away you roller bowler
As I roved out one morning
I met a dou, dou fair"

I don't see it being a far stretch to see a version of your song as maybe once being "Dou, dou Let Me Go", though I've never found anything or reference that actually has it like that. Just some thoughts on it though.


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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Azizi
Date: 20 Jan 07 - 01:31 AM

Good catch, Barry!

{re dou dou}

And for obvious reasons, that's definitely one Caribbean vernacular term that you won't find African Americans or [other Americans, for that matter] picking up and using.

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: Barry Finn
Date: 20 Jan 07 - 01:37 AM

Hi again Azizi
If you're not familar with the sea ballad The Black Cook , it's here in the data base, take a look , I think you'll find it very interesting. You were asking about how some "Black Jacks" were refered to or how they were referenced in song. Also see or search "Schooner Industry" in the forum.


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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: GUEST,thurg
Date: 20 Jan 07 - 01:45 AM

There's a "yella gals" song I used to sing that probably had "dou dou" or some variation thereof in the recording I learned it from; I couldn't figure out what the word was, and satisfied myself with "Tula", which I imagined as a woman's name - but I knew it wasn't quite right. It's the chantey that goes:

Once I was with Madam Colchis,
Up in Callao;
Hurrah, me yella gals,
[Tula] [Dou dou?] let me go.

[Tula] [Dou dou?] let me go, me boys,
[Tula] [Dou dou?] let me go,
Hurrah, me yella gals,
[Tula] [Dou dou?] let me go.

Et cetera.

I don't know anything about the recording - it was on a tape someone handed me; sounded like a copy of a copy, and there was no identification on it. My impression is that the musicians were New Englanders.

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Subject: RE: Black Jacks: History & Shanties
From: GUEST,Rev
Date: 20 Jan 07 - 02:49 AM

One must also rmember that sailors in the 19th century were not isolated from the popular music of the day, and what was more popular than blackface minstrelsy? Sailors, particularly whalers, incorporated a large number of minstrel songs into their shipboard repertoire, and performed amateur minstrel shows both at sea and ashore. I would venture to say that much of the slang, and most of the racial epithets found in sailors' songs were carried over, at least in part, from the conventions of minstrelsy.

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