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New evidence for 'shanty' origins?

28 Sep 11 - 05:34 AM (#3230435)
Subject: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Gibb Sahib

Forgive me if this has been discussed elsewhere, but the source is new to me.

While searching I came upon this literary reference to a "shanty song" which may provide evidence -- or at least fodder -- for discussion of the origin of the term "shanty" ("chantey", etc.) in connection with the North American lumbermen's shanties (huts).

The source is the following:

1842        O'Grady, Standish. _The Emigrant, A Poem, in Four Cantos._ Montreal: Standish O'Grady.

The author was an Irish immigrant to the Quebec area, born ca. 1789/90. The preface to his poetry is dated 1841.

Early in the work, one finds lines that show that the author was familiar with the fact that sailors used work-songs. He writes (pg13),

The day arrived, at length, with favouring gale,

Our main sails flutter, and our ships set sail;

Now cheerly sings, each bold intrepid tar,

Shanty-singing as we know it seems to have yet been very young at that time. O'Grady's use of the word "cheerly" might be a double reference to the chant "Cheerl'y Men," which is one of the early work songs we know to have existed prior to the great emergence of the large chanty repertoire we now know (probably after the mid 1830s).

In/around a section of miscellaneous poems comes the real piece of interest. By calling it a "shanty song," it is unclear what he meant. Was it a song pertaining to the so-called "shanty-boys," the lumberjacks? It seems to refer to lumbermen going to their work sites in Lower Canada. And yet the way they are going is by canoe. Phrases in the song use idioms from both typical rowing songs and sailors' songs. Does "shanty" refer to the maritime work-song, as we know it?

What does he mean by "shanting boys"? Is "shanting" what they are doing -- singing as they go (row)?

If "shanty" here is referring to a song, then this would be the earliest yet discovered use of the term.

If it merely refers to the lumberman's hut, then at least the very nautical tone of the some provides some fodder for the theory of connecting the work songs to lumbermen. It would also be a good early reference to non-Blacks performing rowing songs in America. It is, unfortunately, not a traditional song, so we don't get a traditional form. But this literary composition is suggestive of what may have been there.

Here is the composition.



We leave all is dear, at the falling year, 

'Fore the bleak snows come and the frosts appear, 

O'er the wide lakes we creep, 

Rocked by the billows sleep, 

And through the rough rapids wc boldly steer. 
    Then row, brothers row, 
    Let the rude winds blow, 

Shove the canoe like ranting boys, 
    With liquor and good cheer, 
    And none an heart to fear. 

Merry be the woodland shanting boys.

To dangers we go, where the snow storms blow, 

And the ice-bound rivers cease to flow,
Where the axe with the sound,
In the valleys resound, 

As we chaunt to the woodlands, row boys, row, 
    Then row brothers, row, &c. &c. &c.

When the danger's aft. on the merry raft, 

All safe to the distant port we go,
With brave Britons to cheer, 

As with light hearts we near, 

How joyful to join in the yeo-heare-ho. 
    Then row, brothers, row.

Now the winter's pass'd, and the snow storm's blast, 

And the summer smiles, and the rivers go, 

How happy to dwell, 
In each lone loved dell: 

Blow high, blow low, where our light hearts glow. 
    Then row, brothers, row, 
      Let the rude winds blow, 

Shore the canoe, like ranting boys, 
    With good liquour to cheer, 
    And none an heart to fear, 

Merry be the woodland shanting boys.

28 Sep 11 - 05:46 AM (#3230436)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: MartinRyan

Hi Gibb Sahib

Have you seen this reference to O'Grady's song and the link to Moore?


28 Sep 11 - 05:49 AM (#3230437)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: MGM·Lion

At end of penultimate stanza, is 'yeo-heare-ho' correct, or could it be a typo for 'heave-ho'? "Yo-ho" is a commonplace in many people's apprehension of shanties, due perhaps to Stevenson's Treasure Island with its "bottle of rum", & those Volga boatmen: though it doesn't actually appear, IIRC, in any shanty in Hugill or other such collections. "Heave-ho", or "Heave-away",&c, do, however, quite frequently.


28 Sep 11 - 06:20 AM (#3230447)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Gibb Sahib

Arrgh, I thought I proofread that part, but I still messed up. Yes, Michael, it's "heave" -- thanks. "Yo Heave Ho" does appear in sailor song (/chant) references, especially of the early times. (In fact, Hugill's collection *does* have a song titled "Yeo Heave Ho", though he probably nicked it from L.A. Smith's collection from way back in 1888.)

Thanks I guess this takes us into the "Canadian voyageurs" thing. IMO this O'Grady verse sounds closer to chanty stuff than the Canadian Boat Song. Perhaps someone can fill me in on the current state of the "voyaguers" idea.

28 Sep 11 - 08:25 AM (#3230500)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Charley Noble


"Shanting boys" is a new term to me, not having run across it in either Minstrelsy of Maine or Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman. Eckstorm and Smyth point out in their book that the capstan was used extensively by lumbermen to warp booms of logs across lakes and ponds and that work songs were often utilized, p. 234. Doerflinger includes no worksongs from the lumbermen or "shantyboys" in his book which seems odd to me, and no reference to capstan work on the lakes or rowing songs.

Charley Noble

28 Sep 11 - 09:50 AM (#3230552)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Lighter

Interesting find, Gibb, but, as you suggest, it's all very ambiguous.

A "shanty song," to an audience that had never heard of a "sea chantey," could only have meant a song somehow associated with a wooden shanty. In this case, a song sung by lumbermen on the way to their shanty.

On the other hand, it's hard to know what O'Grady expected his readers to understand by "shanting boys." There's no "shanting" in the OED. If he'd meant "shantying," surely he'd have included the "y"; what's more, in 1841, he'd have every reason to spell it with a "c," under the influence of French "chanter."

My guess is that O'Grady has coined a new "poetic" verb, to "shant," to correspond to the noun "shanty." It would thus mean "to stay in a shanty."

That interpretation has the virtue at least of coming from within the poem itself. That's simpler than assuming instead that it's a not-very-clear reference to a word that we don't know to have existed and that readers would certainly have been unfamiliar with.

I think too that if O'Grady had meant "shantying," he would have used that word, presumably in quotation marks and italics as an unfamiliar borrowing from the vernacular. That kind of borrowing, moreover, was frowned upon in the Romantic era as a unfortunate corruption of poetic language. It would be even more remarkable, then, if O'Grady had both used the word, unmarked, and placed it so prominently. Those objections would not apply to a new "poetic" term like "shant."

Any direct connection between "shanty songs" and "sea shanties" seems most implausible. We don't even know that lumbermen often called their songs "shanty songs" anyway. Until collectors told them that they had a special repertoire, the singers themselves probably just thought of the songs as "songs."

28 Sep 11 - 10:04 AM (#3230558)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Dead Horse

I would put forward the use of the word 'chaunt' in
"As we chaunt to the woodlands, row boys, row"
 and the use of the word 'shanty' in the same song would suggest that they have entirely different meanings to the writer. This would mean that shanty boys are men who live in shanty dwellings, and not related to sea songs.

28 Sep 11 - 10:07 AM (#3230561)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Lighter

Indeed. Had he meant "chaunting boys," he'd have said so.

28 Sep 11 - 10:44 AM (#3230579)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Charley Noble

It's probably not a good idea to suggest there is no connection between what the sailormen sang and what the lumbermen sang. At least in the woods of Maine there are clear records of lumbermen who went to sea and sailors who went lumbering.

With the exception of the capstan work required to warp the log booms across a lake, there was no need of work songs in the woods, only songs for recreation. There are some nice vintage photos of men working these capstans. With the advent of small steamboats, the capstan work was eliminated lake by lake by the end of the 19th century.

Charley Noble

28 Sep 11 - 12:02 PM (#3230607)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Lighter

Charley, I meant the designation only, not the practices.

Anyway, why would lumbermen call work songs "shanty songs," since they'd have to sing work songs outdoors? I'd think "shanty songs" (if the phrase was used at all) would refer to things that were like "forecastle songs."

28 Sep 11 - 12:21 PM (#3230614)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Charley Noble


Entirely agree with you. And the lumbermen commonly referred to themselves as "shantyboys," as lumberman residing in shanties not as singers.

Charley Noble

28 Sep 11 - 03:42 PM (#3230689)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,SteveG

28 Sep 11 - 03:46 PM (#3230693)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,SteveG

Sheesh! These laptops have minds of their own!

Sorry to put a damper on this but I see no evidence of any chantying in here. Even the reference to 'yeo, heave, hoing' looks like something straight out of Dibdin's book.

28 Sep 11 - 03:48 PM (#3230695)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,mg

Why would there be no need for work songs in the woods? Certainly you would want to keep time on some of those two-person saws, although maybe it just came to them naturally. An old nun in high school told us another use..French Canadians used to sing the beautiful hymn Hail Holy French keep track of each other. If they could not hear the singing of each other they were too far apart. mg

28 Sep 11 - 04:15 PM (#3230713)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Charley Noble

I'm also sure that the boatmen rowing the bateaux to deal with logjams would also sing rowing shanties from time to time. But the only traditional song that describes these bateaux is "Jump-Her Juberju" as collected by Frank Warner from John Galusha of Minerva, New York, and that's for entertainment.

Charley Noble

28 Sep 11 - 04:16 PM (#3230714)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Lighter

> Why would there be no need for work songs in the woods?

I dunno. Where are they then? If loggers needed to keep within earshot of one another, they could have sung anything.

AFAIK, there's not even one sea-going work song clearly connected to a lumberjack's work song. And I've never read of British or American sailors using hymns as shanties.

28 Sep 11 - 05:34 PM (#3230753)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Gibb Sahib

Hey, not to worry about putting any damper -- I see quite the opposite, a healthy debate. And I am Skeptic #1. I think this example is interesting because *as a whole* it blends in many of the elements that have gone into discussion of origins of shantying and the word "shanty" at various times: lumberjack shack, rowing songs, "chaunt", weird manipulation of words/new coinage. If this has any value -- and I feel a little silly saying this, so I do it tongue-in-cheek -- then I think we have to look at it as a whole, rather than reducing each bit. If it has no value as a source, then I'll look at it as a chance to refine my ideas about where *I* think "shanty" came from.

As Charley points out, Doerflinger didn't discover any lumbering songs connected with chanties. And I don't think this poem points to anything like that. The proposed chantying in the poem would refer to *rowing*. It's just that they happen to be lumbermen rowing to camp. Thus comes the confusing as to whether "shanty" refers to their profession or to the song.

Steves analogy to Dibdin is a good one. But wouldn't Dibdin's references to "yo-heave-hoing" suggest that such a thing existed (as we know it did)? While the O'Grady poem is fanciful, I think it suggest that songs were sung while rowing. OK, big deal, we know there were songs for rowing. But we have also critiqued them a bit elsewhere. In our other chanty discussions, we didn't turn up so many songs for rowing by non-Blacks. And we have Dana's comment on Italians rowing as if it was foreign to Anglo culture. Minimally, this poem suggests (I think) that O'Grady had seen/heard men singing while rowing in that area -- unless he transposed the experience of hearing rowing songs elsewhere to this setting. He may have been inspired by Moore's "Canadian Boat Song", however, as I opined above, his phrases seem more characteristic of rowing songs as we know them.

There is this example from around the same time:

[1845 Unknown. "Sailor Music." American Journal of Music and Musical Visitor 4(7). (Feb. 25, 1845). Pg. 53.]

Then walk him up so lively,
Row, Billy, row,
Then walk him up so lively, hearties,
Row, Billy, row.

O'Grady's refrain, incidentally, scans well with the refrain of "Sacramento."

We have discussed how such rowing songs may well have been transfered over to sailing ship use.

Yes, there were some work chants/songs on sailing ships prior to this era, but I think a "new" style/repertoire of songs developed later, and that the inspiration/source of those songs was work songs from elsewhere. The cotton stowing songs and rowing songs, for example. The word for such worksongs, "chanty," may have preceded their development into deep-water songs -- Nordhoff's cotton screwers suggest an example of that.

What I am suggesting, as provocateur, is that "shanty" could be in use here (O'Grady) in reference to a work song -- a rowing song -- without any reference to deep-water songs...since the latter had not yet come into their own and, perhaps, were not yet called "chanty" by any/many.

To summarize what I am proposing (not necessarilly believing!):
"Shanty" here may refer to the type of song being sung -- well, the type being alluded to -- which was a rowing song. The song has nothing to do with lumberjacks per se. And because such rowing songs, I believe, fed into the stream of what would become deep-water songs of mid-century, this would be significant.


28 Sep 11 - 06:19 PM (#3230790)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Gibb Sahib

The "chaunt" contrast, pointed out by Dead Horse, is a very good argument that O'Grady's "shant" meant something different. However, not necessarily.

First, calling the rowing song a "chaunt" may be significant itself. True, "chaunt" might just mean "song," used to be poetic. But has anyone else gotten the feeling that writers of the time used "chaunt" when they wanted to suggest certain connotations not carried by generic "song"? "Chaunt" may have been closer to "chant" -- the connotations being monotonous or repetitious (not "tuneful") singing. Why are there many references to "the Negro's chaunt" if not to somehow particularize the style of what Blacks sang? I believe "chaunt" may be a way of referring to a work song.

Second, the contrast in spelling may be explained (not rationalized, I swear!) if one considers he was using "chaunt" as a proper, established word whereas "shanty/ing" was new/dialect. To presume he would spell both with "ch" is to presume the author makes an etymological link between them, which is not necessarily the case (though he may have realized that they "sound good" together, as part of the play of words).

This was an environment where much was knew, and the French was blending with English as a new language was developing. O'Grady had come from Ireland a few years earlier. His poem wants to capture the colour of local stuff.

Lighter wrote,
A "shanty song," to an audience that had never heard of a "sea chantey," could only have meant a song somehow associated with a wooden shanty. In this case, a song sung by lumbermen on the way to their shanty.

Had the audience heard of "shanty," the hut? At the time, perhaps no one had heard of a "sea chantey." But if "shanty" were the term for a rowing/work song, unfamiliar as it may have been, I think O'Grady could have used it.

O'Grady wasn't necessarily addressing a large, international audience, nor was he necessarily subject to a big publisher's "good sense" of what a broad audience would have been expected to understand. It may have been that O'Grady was playing with local terminology because it is what he wanted, what struck him, and he was able to do it his way because it was a minor publication. He was a farmer who had written poetry about stuff he'd experienced in a new land.

Bio notes about O'Grady, here:

The lack of quotation marks around "shanty" -- which would suggest it was an unfamiliar term for a boating song -- is compensated for by the *phrase* "shanty song" (where "song" brings the clarification).

To summarize the idea of this post:
O'Grady was in a linguistic environment where blending and switching back and forth between French and English was great. New terms were emerging, and I think he may have been using one of them, although the in-flux nature of it all makes it unclear.

My current opinion on the origins of the word "chanty" are that it is somehow *both* from French and English. That is, it came from a cultural setting in which English was used with knowledge of French sensibilities and French was used with English sensibilities -- what one might call a true "Creole" environment. The Francophile areas of New Orleans, Mobile, etc would be likely breeding grounds for that. Yet this O'Grady example forces me to consider that Quebec could be another area like that...and even if it's not what happened, it provokes me to think of the type of processes. Case in point would be: why "shanting" and not "shantying"? Even if, say, New Orleans is the source, we have that issue or grammatical forms possibly being confounded with misused/mispronounced foreign words (e.g. "chant" versus "chanty-man").


28 Sep 11 - 06:45 PM (#3230810)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,mg

Rowing songs by non-blacks? Certainly paddling songs by voyageurs..many were from Orkney Islands..Metis, Iroquois Indians, Sandwich Islanders. Don't know if Blacks were voageurs or not. mg

28 Sep 11 - 06:56 PM (#3230820)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Gibb Sahib

Because we don't have much other evidence of this sort, and because earlier uses of the term "shanty" for a work song have been so elusive....AND because the presence of lumberjacks makes it sensible to suspect he was referring to their hut.... I concede that this is a difficult case to argue, and may just have to be filed in the "Who Knows?" drawer.

My problem -- and why I thought this example was worth considering before filing it -- is that although I don't see cinching evidence that it refers to chanties, the other explanation (lumberjack hut) is *also* problematic.

Sure, it may be most plausible that "shanty", isolated, refers to the hut. But that use in context just doesn't make sense to me. Do we have any other evidence to suggest lumberjacks called their off-duty songs "shanty songs," i.e. that they named them after their dwellings? And even if they did, if those were more of the nature of "focsle songs", why call this one a "shanty song." It is clearly (to me) a rowing/work song.

The phrase "shanty song" (in various spellings) has been used by others to refer to chanties somewhat in the manner of "chai tea" and "ATM machine." Those references are much later, however.

My guess is that O'Grady has coined a new "poetic" verb, to "shant," to correspond to the noun "shanty." It would thus mean "to stay in a shanty."

That interpretation has the virtue at least of coming from within the poem itself.

I agree that O'Grady may have coined a new verb. My opinion differs, however, in that I think it is more plausible that the hypothetical "to shant" would mean "to chant/to chaunt/ to sing songs at work". I don't think "to stay in a shanty" comes from within the poem any more than does "to sing as one rows." It's just that the shanty-hut is familiar to us whereas as we don't know whether "shant" referred to a work song then. [ shant, "song" > shanting "singing"] seems morphologically more plausible than [shanty, "hut" > shanting (not shantying) "staying in a hut"].

I think too that if O'Grady had meant "shantying," he would have used that word,

Not if it didn't exist yet in that form. Remember the whole issue with how Nordhoff's "chant" became "chanty", or why the leady singer was called "chanty-man" rather than "chant-man." It seems like the morphology of this new concept was not fixed in a definite was a noun, verb, or adjective. It may be that "shanty" (in this Quebec experience) was the noun and "shant" was the verb. At least, I think that is just as plausible as O'Grady making the form "shanting" to mean "staying in a hut" rather than making that one be "shantying." The "y" is problematic in either case. It comes down to opinion as to whether O'Grady was coining (poetic license) or reflecting something that was non-standardised.

28 Sep 11 - 07:05 PM (#3230828)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Gibb Sahib

To clarify what I was referring to by "rowing songs by non-Blacks":

An investigation that I have been involved with into the songs that hypothetically preceded mid-19th century chanties (the chanties that are handed down to us today) reveals a strong correspondence in form and repertoire between those chanties and songs used for rowing by Blacks in America and the Caribbean. I haven't yet seen any direct correspondence between those other ethnic or linguistic communities' rowing songs, though I'd be happy to learn about them. I think Anglophone "White" rowing songs may have also contributed to chanties, but the evidence so far suggest that was relatively minor.

28 Sep 11 - 10:47 PM (#3230876)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,mg

I would think that the people who rowed, or paddled rather, for very long distances and were known for singing would be more French-linguified. mg

28 Sep 11 - 11:09 PM (#3230886)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: David Ingerson

I don't know if this is redundant but it certainly wasn't mentioned in this thread--and I have no idea if it is relevant. But it is at least interesting.

The Irish language phrase "sean tigh" (pronounced /shan tea/) means old house.



29 Sep 11 - 03:45 AM (#3230940)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,mg

What happened to what I just posted about Wisconsin voyagers.

Not going to make a clicky this time.

Oh maybe I just did.

Anyway, has MP3s of old voyager songs and also books etc.

29 Sep 11 - 07:24 AM (#3231007)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Charley Noble


"The Irish language phrase "sean tigh" (pronounced /shan tea/) means old house."

That's intriguing new info to me.

And of course the call for a worksong in French would be "Chantez!"

Charley Noble

29 Sep 11 - 09:50 AM (#3231074)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Lighter

Charley, no current authoritative dictionary accepts "sean tigh" as the origin of "shanty."

Back in 1968, A. J. Bliss of University College, Dublin, showed that the "derivation" is hard to believe, partly because "sean tigh" is completely ungrammatical and wouldn't sound much like "shanty" anyway.

Furthermore, the relevant Irish term, "sean-teach" means "old house," period. (It sounds roughly like "shankhikh.") As Bliss points out, a "shanty" in Canada didn't mean an "old house" originally, but a log cabin built specially for work crews. These were called "shanties" even while they were still going up. In contrast, the Canadian French "chantier," the accepted origin of the log "shanty," carries exactly the same technical meaning as the loggers' word.

Tipping the scales further in the direction of French is the fact that "shanty" was Canadian English decades before the major wave of immigration from Connaught in 1848. The French, of course, had been there for centuries.

The connection of slum-style "shanties" with the Irish comes even later.

29 Sep 11 - 10:06 AM (#3231082)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Lighter

I accidentally deleted the important point that, according to Bliss, Connaught is the only place where "sean-teach" is in use; elsewhere the spelling and pronunciation are different.

Most Irish immigrants before 1848 came from Ulster.

29 Sep 11 - 04:06 PM (#3231261)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Gibb Sahib


Thanks for the link. I need to become more familiar with French songs.

The most chanty-like one I hear is this:

En roulante ma boule

30 Sep 11 - 03:53 PM (#3231852)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: John Minear

Lighter, you said, "And I've never read of British or American sailors using hymns as shanties." I have wondered about this. Does this hold true for hymn tunes as well? I don't mean to take this thread off course, but I am curious.

This is another good chanty discussion. Thanks, Gibb, for launching it. I'm also glad to see some discussion of the French songs. I've wondered about the French connection from Canada, down the Mississippi, to New Orleans, and on over to the French Caribbean. If river songs became sea chanties, then surely the French in America were possibly involved with this. I would also be curious about the interaction of the French river culture with the Black slave culture in terms of shared work songs. Do we have any examples of Creole French worksongs either from the Gulf ports or from the Caribbean? Again, I don't mean to send this thread off on a tangent. Just raising some questions.

30 Sep 11 - 04:38 PM (#3231880)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Lighter

John, I've unaware of any shanty tune that is also a hymn tune.

The closest I can come is that the tune of "Goodbye, Fare Ye Well" is kind of like that of "I Dreamt that I Dwelt in Marble Halls," from M. W. Balfe's opera, "The Bohemian Girl" (1844).

The tune of Patrick S. Gilmore's "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again"(1863)(also called "Johnny Fill Up the Bowl") was also sometimes used as a shanty.

I suppose a hymn might have been used at the capstan in a special circumstance, but that would have been extraordinary.

30 Sep 11 - 04:46 PM (#3231885)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Charley Noble


By hymn tunes are you excluding gospel tunes? I'm thinking that the shanty "Roll the Old Chariot" is based on a gospel song of a similar name, "Roll the Golden Chariot," and tune. Doerflinger discusses that somewhere according to Hugill.

I'm sure there are more examples as well.

Charley Noble

30 Sep 11 - 05:02 PM (#3231890)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Lighter

"Roll the Old Chariot Along" may be the lone exception.

As far as I can discover, the original is a Methodist hymn dating from no later than 1880. It was often sung by the Salvation Army.

30 Sep 11 - 09:18 PM (#3231992)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Gibb Sahib

Here's a 19th century reference to lumbermen's songs as "shanty song" -- but not a work song of course. The purpose for my posting is just to show an instance of the lumbermen's ballads referred to by that phrase, "shanty song."

1893. Hill, Arthur. "Life in a Logging Camp." Scribner's 8(6) (June 1893).

Referring to a logging camp in Michigan.

When evening comes, ranged along these seats, and lounging, if over-weary, in the bunks, the crew becomes, in fact, a social club. Then jokes and sometimes gibes go round, and tales, often curiously like those of Canterbury. Cards are sometimes played, though in most camps prohibited. And if there is a fiddler in the camp there is sure to be a jig-dancer, and there is the boisterous "Stag Quadrille" and the spirited "French Four."

But surer than all these is a song— the shanty song—whether comic, heroic, or sentimental—to win the crew's attention and applause. As with all uncultivated men, they exhibit in taste and feeling natural and wholesome tendencies. Like boys, they are not schooled to restraint of feelings nor jaded with sensational fads. It is from the gallery always that virtue triumphant is heartily cheered, be it ever so awkward, and from box and parquette that vice, if artistic and "natural," gets kid-glove applause. And so with these shanty songs, the rules of music and of metre are as nothing to the sentiment they carry, and the voice of the singer to please must come not from an educated thorax, but from the heart. Honest love, and words which tell of toil and trials and adventure, make the chief burden of their verses. Here is a characteristic song,

The one that loved the farmer's son, these words I heard her say,
The reason why I love him is at home with me he'll stay;
He'll stay at home all winter, to the woods he will not go,
And when the springtime comes again, his lands he'll plow and sow.... [etc.]

01 Oct 11 - 02:19 AM (#3232069)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: mg

What did the vikings sing? mg

06 Jun 18 - 04:40 AM (#3929394)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch

Following up on this:

Subject: RE: Is 'shanty' derived from 'chanson'
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 04 Jun 18 - 07:22 PM
The French Colonial shanty is short for “camboose shanty,” (or similar,) which is a corruption of caboose chantier. Shanty takes its pronunciation (soft "ch", mostly silent “r”) from the latter and definition (cabin) from the former.

Chantier was a generic for construction site with lumber and shipyards being tops. The nautical caboose was a kind of deckhouse. A shanty on a flatbed railcar (shanty car) was an old school caboose. The Colonial usage has morphed from kitchen/galley, mess hall, cantine, commissary, bunkhouse, cabin &c over the decades. In Creole it's a cabana.

The French root is cabane: f. A cote, or cottage; also, a shed, or cabine, made of boughs.

06 Jun 18 - 04:52 AM (#3929395)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch

Camboose camps were a thing too.

Couple of points on the above, the kitchen/cook stove was invented right in the middle of all this so the camboose may be a cabin or a stove, depends. It gets confusing. One hears Descartes did some of his best work in the oven?!

And the most common root given is Dutch (kitchen) not French (cabin) but it's closer to Basque in Creole. Me keyboard won't do Basque tho, still working it.

06 Jun 18 - 05:02 AM (#3929399)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch

Thing is, if the camboose can come ashore and get mounted on a flatcar, then it's not too far a stretch for the seagoing cook shack to have been called a shanty. The cook would then become a shantyman, singer or not:

“The enjoyments of the voyage – these I will describe, as they show something of a whaler's life – in no slight degree depend on the crews having some one skilled in the violin to stir the dance on calm evenings. Generally the accomplishment is considered necessary in the “doctor” (i.e., cook) of the ship; and if the cook is black, the chances are that a fiddle is stowed in his sea chest. We had a beau ideal “doctor” and fiddler, and his enlivening medicine went far to banish scurvy from the ship. The second importance is the “minstrel boy.” He must have considerable range of expression, that he may sing of love, war, and the storm; to soothe us with the sentimental and cheer us with the comic. He must sing with Castillego:

“How could we love, if woman were not:
Love, the brightest part of our lot;
Love the only chance of living;
Love, the only gift worth giving.”

Or, with Dibdin:

“Yet, come but Love on board,
Our hearts with pleasure stored,
No storms can overwhelm;
Still blows in vain,
The hurricane
While Love is at the helm.”

Touching on the known constancy of Jack, and the temptations of this wicked world:

“Some faces are like charcoal, and others like chalk-
All are ready one's heart to o'erhaul;
'Don't go for love me.' ' Good girl,' said I, 'walk;
For I've sworn to be constant to Poll.'”

He will shock our native modesty by singing of the sights prepared in the ballet:

“And she hopped, and she sprawled, and she spun round so queer-
“twas, you see, rather oddish for me;
And so I sung out, 'Pray be decent, my dear;
Consider I'm just come from the sea.'”

He sings the joys of virtuous love thus:

        “No gallant captain of the British fleet,
        But envies William's lips those kisses sweet.”

And of the sterner duties of our hardy profession:

        “Cease, rude Boreas, blustering railer!
         List ye landsmen unto me,
        Listen to a brother-sailor
         Sing the dangers of the sea.”

If need be, he must, handspike in hand, mount the windlass and, in deepest bass, lead the chorus,

        “With a stamp and a go,
        And 'Yo, heave oh!'”

In brief, the “minstrel boy” must have a fitting song for all moods and every occasion. He is an attraction in the carouse on shore, and in the night-watch in calm and storm. Such a treasure we had in our mulatto boat-steerer, Harry Hinton. Brave and faithful, he never shrunk from a duty below or aloft, or a danger in boat or port. He stuck to the Chelsea through good and evil, and was one of the six who remained to drop anchor from our old ship in New London harbor.”

[Davis, William M., Nimrod of the Sea or, The American Whaleman, (New York: Harper & Bros., 1874, pp.29-31)]

[Nantucket Historical Association summary note: Account of voyage; original is Log 354. Used in preparation of William M. Davis "Nimrod of the Sea or The American Whaleman" (Harper 1874)]

Fiction? Non-fiction? "Based on a true story?"

06 Jun 18 - 12:22 PM (#3929472)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: meself

In relation to O'Grady's 'Shanty Song', I don't think anyone has pointed out - perhaps because there was no need - that, in modern usage at least, a canoe is paddled rather than rowed - which raises the question of whether the poet was using 'canoe' to mean 'rowboat' or 'row' to mean 'paddle'.

13 Jun 18 - 07:18 AM (#3930642)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch

“The heavily crowned roof of the stern cabin appears on both Bermuda and Chesapeake Bay vessels built in the period 1740 to 1780, as do the cupid-bow-shaped scuppers shown on Badger*. The deck cookhouse or “camboose” appears on American-built vessels employed in the West Indies trade, but not on European-built vessels of that century. Vessels built in the southern colonies in North America, and at Bermuda, as well as in the West Indies, of course, often had their galley hearth on deck, with or without a house."

*130-ton brig. Most likely Chesapeake-built privateer Defence taken as a prize in the West Indies. The deckhouse is labeled “camboose” and the stove “hearth” in the Admiralty drawings.

[Chapelle, H.I., The Search for Speed Under Sail 1700-1855, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1966, pp.93-95)]

13 Jun 18 - 07:22 AM (#3930645)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch

Hard to avoid “rowing” when you have to double check every “galley” in the index:

“Rowing vessels still played an important part in colonial times, and nearly all small sailing men-of-war were fitted to row. Oar ports located between the gun ports, or on lower decks if practical, permitted the large crews to move the vessel in a calm by means of long sweeps or oars, each worked by a number of men. Some vessels were particularly designed to be rowed efficiently, such as some of the sailing “galleys” of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries; these ships were usually sharp and light, though otherwise like the regular sailing man-of-war. The true galley type, in which the sails were either dispensed with entirely, or made a mere auxiliary to the oar, had gradually been confined to gunboats and to vessels intended to operate in certain geographical areas exclusively – the Mediterranean, for example. Oars were employed in vessels up to 40 guns in many navies as late as 1820, and in all small men-of-war brigs, schooners, and cutters until the end of the sailing ship period."

[Chapelle, H.I., The History of the American Sailing Navy, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1949, p.15)]

“By the Act of May 4, 1798, the Navy Department was authorized to purchase or build up to ten small vessels of the galley type, to be manned by what might be termed naval militia….

One of the designs used to build the galleys has survived, and Figure 21 probably shows the first one built at Pittsburgh….

24 of 20 length
4 – 18        “
2 – 16        “
Tholes, iron with rope grommet.”

[ibid, pp.151-152]

13 Jun 18 - 07:05 PM (#3930749)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Ian

What is the 'NEW' evidence for shanty origins of shanty. Shanties have been used long before the 1800's. See The Tempest act one, by Will Shakespear which could be the earliest written English reference.
Perhaps an earlier reference in 1066 of sailors leaving Normandy using songs to work the ships.
Haul, haulage is the term to move loads. On land cotton pickers, stevadores, loggers. At sea on rivers or lakes. One thing they have in common is that they mainly travelled to the New world or Australia by ship for about 3 months or more. Hearing the same songs over that period then others when you land in dockland. Then you have the sailors who leave the harsh conditions of sea life to go ashore for a possible easier life.
I noted an earlier comment that Irish word for hut sounds like shanty just as in Breton (also a celtic language) chanter is a building site, or construction site. You must also keep in mind that French was not the first language of all the French. Each region had its own dialect in full use in the 1800's. I know several Bretons in their 70s and older where as children, breton was their mother tongue.
It is with good cause that many Irish gaelic words made it into American English as up until 1750 the majority of slaves in America came from Ireland. Even these would have been exposed to sailors worksongs.

13 Jun 18 - 07:30 PM (#3930751)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: RTim

Where is a "Shanty" in The Tempest Act 1 ???
I have just read it and see none......

Need an actual quote not just a claim!!!

Tim Radford

13 Jun 18 - 11:31 PM (#3930768)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch

Forgot the constant reminder:


Naval architecture/science: The U.S. Navy galleys rowed little different from their Phoenician forebears. The Iliad, Odyssey, & Aeneid are Martial's sailors. Old Testament “trampling out the vintage…” ditto.

Etymology: The ancient Greek word for 'shanty-song' was “celeusma” and the modern word is “celeusma.” The English word shanty/chantey/chanty picks up c.1800.

It's vernacular not the application. Salve Regina, arguably the greatest nautical work song in the history of Western culture, is not a shanty, it's a celeusma.

That's folk for ya!

18 Jun 18 - 06:34 AM (#3931613)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch

Basque–Icelandic creole was the lingua franca of the whalers that (re)settled Terra Nova after the Norse who were known to take an Irish thrall on a scenic cruise now and again their own selves.

It's all Greek to me.

19 Jul 22 - 06:18 AM (#4147797)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch

Lyr Req: V'la l' Bon Vent (Ian & Sylvia, in French

19 Jul 22 - 05:15 PM (#4147870)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: Steve Gardham

>>>>The English word shanty/chantey/chanty picks up c.1800.<<<<<

I'd love to see some evidence for this, Phil. I'd have said much later.

By English do you mean English language (and probably from the French)?

19 Jul 22 - 06:29 PM (#4147876)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch

Steve: I haven't turned up anything new in English, as yet, if that's what you're thinking.

"Circa," ie: The entire 19th century would amount to less than 5% of the proceleusmatic document record of +2.400yrs. And by the 21st century you get: Lyr Add: Howe! Hissa! (Shanty) for the 15th century. Like finding 600 year old jazz or disco. Needs better glossary all round methinks.

French is certainly the closest I've found so far but, there are old words more specific to the maritime than the generic chanson of the wiki, Mudcat &c.

18 Apr 24 - 02:59 AM (#4201176)
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch

““And ever and anon they sung,
        Yo, heave ho!
And loud and long the echo rung,
        Yo, heave ho!”

Have you, my friend, ever been on one of our Canadian steamers, on the St. Lawrence or Ottawa, and met with a raft, or perhaps a dozen of them, on their passage down to Montreal or Quebec? And if And if you have, you have seen the Voyageurs at work at their big paddles, like a family of Hercules'; and perhaps you have heard them singing some of their beautifully simple melodies, while they kept time to the dipping of their oars. You may have seen them on their great rafts of lumber, with arms bare to the shoulder, and their long black hair waving in the wind, while they step backwards and forwards as the long stroke of their oars necessitates; you may have seen them straining every muscle as they pass you in such graceful attitudes, their rich swelling voices keeping time to the simple

        “En roulant ma boule roulant,”
        “Trois Canards s'en vont baignant,”
        “Si mon mone voulait danser
        En beau cheval lui donnerar?”

all of which are great favorites of the Voyageurs. But rafts in a current and steamers in a hurry wait for no man; and soon the fine fellows. on their lumber home float out of sight–their song dying away in the distance till it sounds like faint echoes on the hills. You have witnessed this picturesque scene, and have thought it very fine and romantic; and you think 'twould need not only the pen of the writer, but the painter's brush, and the art of the musician to express even half of its beauty. Well, so it would. You never heard songs more melodious than the songs these untutored voyageurs sing: neither Mozart nor Handel could compose songs so peculiarly adapted to their particular application. The simple fascination and chanson à voyageur of the steersman, if the raft is not over large, and anon the bursting melodious chorus of the entire crew is beautiful. The greatest charm of the voyageurs is their singing. Nothing will arouse them from a lethargy like a song; nothing will keep them in a better humour. They will row from morning to night, singing together some favorite airs, and not appear wearied. That charming melody of

        “Row, brothers, row! the stream runs fast,
        The rapids are near and the daylight's past,”

was heard by Moore when passing a raft of voyageurs who were singing it and I have heard something very like it sung by these men.”
[Beers, The Voyageurs of Canada, The British American Magazine, Vol.1, 1863]