Article MT024

Across the Blue Mountains

An Appalachian and Adirondack field trip


At the end of October 1997, I found myself on a flight heading towards the United States of America.  I knew that between then and April 1998, I was to spend the best part of 5 months in the country.  The reason was work, not pleasure, but nevertheless, I felt that a wonderful opportunity was presenting itself to follow in the footsteps of Sharp, Karpeles and Yates and to meet some traditional singers.  I was quickly welcomed by splendid local singers in the Washington area, such as Lisa Null and Judy Cook, who showed great kindness and friendliness and helped me to get in touch with folklorists up and down the Eastern side of the country.  This led to more contacts for folksong collecting than I could get around in several years, let alone the weekends of less than 6 months!

But let me set the scene.  The Washington DC folk scene is very varied and one does not follow simply "folk music".  You have to be more precise and specify Bluegrass, Irish, Old Timey, ballads, shanties, blues, gospel, not to mention the various dancing styles (contra, English, Cajun), and the non-English speaking folklore (Russian, Polish, etc, etc).  I quickly fell in with the Anglofile folksong crowd and was really impressed with their knowledge of England's folk scene and repertoire.  When at singarounds I asked whether they knew songs such as the Copper family's Thousands or More, they all replied "Well, of course we do, it's a Copper song".  In fact, while I was in the States, the Copper Family gave a concert in Washington to a packed audience who, as well as singing along with all the Copper family songs, rose at the end of the evening to give them a standing ovation.  Bob Copper was visibly touched at the reception his family songs were receiving so many miles from his native Sussex.  Many of the songs sung in the area are from the British folk revival and so I was really made to feel welcome by the locals.  I also have to explain there that there is a lack of two things that are deemed essential to the English folk scene, namely melodeons and beer!  I won't comment about my respective withdrawal symptoms from either, but it was a new experience for me to go to folk concerts, singarounds and festivals that were essentially teetotal, and arguably none the worse for that.  However, the odd bottle of beer did sometimes make its appearance before me, as a concession to my nationality!

Thus I made contact with a series of folklorists within range of Washington, both north and south.  What I offered was to visit singers that they knew, make good quality recordings and deposit copies of any recordings in American archives, as well as providing a copy for the National Sound Archive in London.

My first excursion was in November 1997 when, armed with my DAT recorder, I set off for the town of Chilhowie in Virginia to meet Spencer Moore, aged 78.  Spenser MooreEventually I tracked down Mr Moore in his modest cabin just a few miles outside of the town and he immediately welcomed me in and proceeded to sing me some of the songs that his father had taught him.  When I asked whether he had met any English people before, he told me that he had met Shirley Collins in the late 50s, who had visited him in the company of Alan Lomax.  Spencer remembered Shirley with great affection - but then, who doesn't.  play Sound ClipOne of the most interesting of his songs is his father's version of The Wife of Usher's Well, which he calls Three Little Babes [sound clip].  He accompanies all his songs with his vigorous guitar picking in the local style.  It has been remarked by other collectors that the influence of the guitar on the local tradition has been to alter the modal character of the old tunes, and this is possibly the case with Spencer's songs.  Be that as it may, he is a very lively performer, singing with an energy and glee that belies his age.  Apart from Three Little Babes, Spencer also sang a number of old songs including The Devil and the Farmer's Wife, The Butcher Boy and Pretty Polly.  Some of his songs are clearly for dancing, such as Cumberland Gap and Jimmy Sutton, well-known play party songs in the area.  An added delight for the day I spent with Spencer was that a neighbour of his, a lady, dropped in and proceeded to do some 'flatfooting' as the local step-dancing is called, to his lively guitar picking.  I knew most of the dance tunes that he played, including Soldier's Joy, but a new one to me was one that he called Old Jericho.  Spencer's father had been a banjo player and Spencer's guitar style sounds very akin to banjo picking.

This was the only chance that I had to get into Virginia to record songs, but I made two forays into West Virginia with the assistance of Gerry Milnes of the Augusta Heritage Center at Elkins and Helena Triplett, a young lady from New Zealand, who now lives in Elkins and who has made a study of the local traditions.  Helena, as well as being married to the fine fiddle player Jimmy Triplett, is an excellent singer in her own right and her presence on my collecting trips there with her knowledge of the local repertoire was extremely helpful.

Our first port of call was to see Phyllis Marks, a delightful 70 year-old who lives at Glenville, Gilmore County.  Phillis MarksPhyllis has a large repertoire of old songs learnt from her parents and her late husband and she has already been recorded by Gerry Milnes.  Phyllis is blind and so singing is very much one of the joys of her life.  During the course of our visit, she sang us her versions of several of the big ballads, such as House Carpenter, Barbara Allen, Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor, Lord Lovell and The Two Sisters, in her gentle but expressive way.  play Sound ClipHaving recently carried out a project in Gloucestershire on Christmas carols, I was excited to discover that she has a very nice version of The Cherry Tree Carol [sound clip].

play Sound ClipAs well as the known traditional songs, Phyllis also sings or recites a number of comic items, including the song Mr Dangerback [sound clip], about a man who invented a machine to make "sausengers".  I had heard the word sausengers for sausages used in Gloucestershire, but was surprised to hear it turning up in the heart of West Virginia!  It was also good to hear that Phyllis' family is now carrying on the family tradition and learning her old songs.

One of Phyllis' near neighbours is 90-year old Rita Emerson (she pronounces her first name to sound like "writer").  Rita EmersonRita also has a large stock of old songs and a memory and energy that would put some younger performers to shame.  One of the first songs that she sang for us was Lord Lovell, learned from her English ancestors.  She also has a large number of "folk game" (play party) songs in her repertoire and points out that as children they were not allowed to dance, but were allowed to perform these games, most of which involved dancing! play Sound Clip One of the gems of her repertoire is her version of Bow Reynard [sound clip], derived from a British song, and of which several versions have been collected in America.

As an aside, I made a remarkable discovery while I was talking to Rita.  She showed me a book of some songs collected in West Virginia in the mid-1970s and I was amazed to find a version of Widecombe Fair, entitled Joe Maybe.  When recording an old singer in Hampshire in the early 1970s, he had sung me a very fragmentary version of the same song, but with Uncle Joe Maybe in the chorus replacing Uncle Tom Cobley!  I believe that the West Virginia version is the only one collected in America, so perhaps the singer had brought it from the Hampshire area.  Russell LehewIt's very satisfying to make connections like this.

Another West Virginia singer that I visited was Russell Lehew (pronounced lay-hew), a lively 84 year-old from Mannington, who was very happy to spend a morning talking about the old songs he knew and playing tunes on his harmonica.  play Sound ClipOne of the songs in his repertoire is his version of His Old Grey Beard a-Wagging, which he calls With his Overshoes on and his Leggins [sound clip].  He also has good versions of Dandoo, and The Little Mohee.  The latter is the American version of The Indian Lass, and most of the singers I met could sing it.  Russell and his family clearly enjoyed the visit and I am grateful to them for their jovial company and a happy morning.

As can be seen, most of my forays were to the Appalachian area, which still seems as full of traditional song as ever.  Although traditional singers in the narrow sense are fewer, nevertheless there is great interest in the ballads, the banjo and fiddle music and the dancing of the area, encouraged by such splendid institutions as the Ferrum College in Virginia and the Augusta Heritage Center in West Virginia.

Much is known in the British Isles about the folk music of the Appalachians.  Much less is known about the folklore of the northern states of America (Maine, Vermont, New England, New York) but they are as rich in folksongs as the famous Appalachians.  During my stay the most exciting collecting experiences for me during were my visits to the Adirondack mountain area of upstate New York, especially my meeting the admirable Cleveland family.  The doyen of the New York ballad singers was Sara Cleveland (1905-1992) of the Upper Hudson Valley area.  She was 'discovered' in the early 1960s when her son Jim happened to mention in a singing coffee bar in Saratoga Springs that his mother knew some songs and had written them down in notebooks.  These notebooks were examined by veteran folksong collectors Sandy and Caroline Paton who at first could not believe their eyes.  They found page after page of old ballads, including at least one - Queen Jane, a version of Child 52, The King's Dochter Lady Jean, a rare incest ballad - never before collected across the Atlantic.  Caroline and Sandy spent many hours in the company of Sara thereafter and recorded a large number of her songs.

Later the folklorist Kenneth Goldstein spent a month recording Sara's repertoire of over 200 songs and stories, and further work remains to be done on these recordings.  She was of Irish origin and this fact comes out in both her style and repertoire.  Later, She appeared regularly at folk venues in the area, delighting audiences with her songs and stories.  She was a natural performer, totally word perfect with her material and with an unhurried style which concentrated on the narrative.  Her songs and humour were often earthy and if she wanted to say a rude word, she said it!

Well, none of us is immortal, and Sara Cleveland passed on in 1992.  James and Colleen ClevelandMy connection with the Clevelands began when I had the privilege of meeting Sara's granddaughter Colleen Cleveland, who is in her 30s, as well as her 17-year-old nephew James Cleveland.  Colleen was kind enough to sing a number of her grandmother's songs, namely Queen Jane and Molly Bon (often collected as Molly Vaughan).  Colleen herself is an excellent singer who takes her performing and her role as tradition bearer seriously.  She grew up with Sara's songs and tales and knows much of her grandmother's repertoire.  She has also inherited her grandmother's sense of telling the story in her ballad singing and the gripping yet unhurried unfolding of the narrative - and her wicked sense of humour!  The Cleveland family live in the area of Brant Lake, north of Albany, and it was there that I met Colleen's father Jim.  Jim, in his 70s, was recovering from a spell in hospital and was not 100 percent fit, but he and his wife put me up for a weekend in their house in the middle of the beautiful Adirondack countryside.  The temperature was below freezing but the hardy Clevelands told me that it was really quite mild out.  Memories are made of meetings, and to record traditional songs when all around looks like a Christmas card scene, with mountains, lakes, forests and snow, was an experience that I will never forget.

Now while Sara was alive, Jim took a back seat as a singer, but he is clearly a skilful traditional performer.  Jim Clevelandplay Sound ClipHis renditions of The Handsome Cabin Boy [sound clip] and the murder ballad James MacDonald have an easy fluency and a feel for phrasing that many singers would do well to study.  Young James Cleveland and I spent some time with Jim going over the copious papers that Sara had left with the words of literally hundreds of songs.  As a result, we were able to recover the tunes for a number of Sara's old songs.

Among other songs that Colleen sang for me were the epic Andrew Bergin, The Cruel Mother, the family version of Scarborough Fair, entitled Every Rose Grows Merry in Time and an American mining disaster song The Irvingdale Mineplay Sound ClipAnother of her grandmother's songs was the lyrical Across the Blue Mountains [sound clip].  This latter song is fairly well known in America, but deserves to be better known in the British Isles.  Seventeen-year-old James contributed with confident renderings of Three Men Went a-Hunting and The Bonny Bon Boy (usually known as Lord Randal).

Colleen then went on to tell me some of her grandmother's stories, which are clearly of long pedigree.  I am not an expert in folktales, but two of them are 'Tim tales', obviously a parallel to the well-known 'Jack tales' of further south.  Colleen is as assured at telling a story as she is as a singer.  In the story Tim and the Giant, Colleen recounts that Tim and his mother went to visit a cousin in a neighbouring town.  When they arrived there, they found the townsfolk weeping and wailing.  They were told that the reason was that a Giant had taken away the daughter of the richest man of the town.  The man had offered a large reward for her return and several young men of the town had tried their luck, but not returned from the giant's abode.  Tim hatched a plan and asked for a pedlar's pack and some odds and ends to sell.  Thus supplied, he set off for the giant's castle.  Colleen continues the story:

He got up there and he knocked on the door and who answers but the giant's wife and Tim says "Well, ma'am, you know, I'm a travelling salesman and in return for a night's lodging and a place to stay and a meal, I'll trade you some of these goods that I have in my pack, or whatever strikes your fancy.  The wife thought "That's not bad" and took him in and fed him a small meal and very loudly said "You can sleep upstairs at the head of the stairs, right in this little room, right here at the head of the stairs", and she puts Tim in the room for the night.  Well, Tim was not a very trusting soul and he unpacked his backpack and he fluffed up the covers and the pillows on the bed and made it look like a body in the bed and then he crawled underneath the bed with the quilt for the night.  It was a good thing he did because in the middle of the night, in comes the giant with a big club and he starts beating on the bed, up and down the bed, all where Tim's body would have been, especially where Tim's head would have been on the pillow.  He beat up and down the bed for quite some time and then he chuckled to himself and put the club up over his shoulder and went back out.  Tim lay under the bed, thinking, "Well, he's very nice, very nice guy" and Tim figured he was probably safe and he went back to sleep.

The next morning, he got up and he rearranged the bedcovers and repacked his backpack with all his trade goods.  The only other thing he did was he took a little leather sack from out of the backpack and put it around his neck and tucked it down into his shirt, down in between there and went down for breakfast.  The giant was highly surprised to see young Tim come the stairs for breakfast that morning and he thought, "Well, this little guy's tougher than I thought".  The giant happened to be eating breakfast and he said "Well, Tim, how'd you sleep last night?"  Tim said "Well, you know, I slept pretty good but you must have mice in the bedroom because in the middle of the night something ran over my head, back and forth and back and forth and kept hitting me in the head with its tail.  You really should do something about that."  The giant really thought Tim must be a tough little guy then, and the giant said "Well, you know, Tim, would you like some breakfast this morning?"  Tim said "Oh yes, I'm really hungry.  I have a hearty appetite after last night."  The giant yells out to the kitchen and says "Wife, bring in young Tim a small bowl of porridge", which is what the giant was eating.  Tim says, "No, no, I'm really hungry.  I want a big bowl, like yours."  The giant says "Well no, you can't eat that much.  You're just a little guy.  You can't eat that."  Tim says "Oh, yes, I can.  I'll show you."  The giant yells out to the wife "Bring me in a very large bowl of porridge for young Tim".

Tim sits down with the bowl of porridge and starts to eat.  Well, every time the giant's not looking, he takes a big spoonful of porridge and he drops it into that sack that he'd already stuffed down into his shirt.  Well, in a little while, the porridge was gone and the giant was very surprised that Tim could do that.  But Tim sat there for a minute.  He says, "You know", he says, "I think I ate too much.  I don't feel so good at all now."  And he reaches behind his back and he pulls out a big knife and he sticks it into that sack full of porridge and cuts it wide open and the porridge falls out all over the floor.  The giant says "You know, I can do that too" and he reaches behind his back and pulls out his own knife and sticks it in his own gullet and rips it wide open.  And that was the end of the giant.

So Tim found the rich man's daughter and took her back to her father.  He got his bag of gold and went back to where his mother and his cousin were living and do you know, as far as I know they're still living happily in Ireland.

At present, Colleen is working on a CD, with her father, nephew and brother, of family songs which it is hoped will be available one day in the UK so that she can share her rare inheritance with a wider audience.

When I am noting songs, I endeavour to make good quality clear recordings and avoid extraneous noise.  You would think that recording in a house miles from anywhere in the beautiful Adirondack mountains would be simple, but I soon realised that at the Cleveland household I would have to run the gauntlet of singing birds in cages and a vigorous central heating system which had a habit of kicking in with a loud click and a healthy rumble, usually in verse 13 of a 14-verse ballad.  Despite the temperature, I suggested that I record Colleen in the quiet of the front porch.  The distant birdsong added a charm to the recordings, but even there I had to contend with the roar of a none-too-distant chainsaw!  After all, it is forest country!

Another remarkable folk performer that I met in New York State is Dick Richards, aged 76, from Saratoga Springs.  Undeterred by the loss of his left hand as a teenager, he proceeded to learn a method of playing both guitar and fiddle and has been an active semi-professional musician and singer for the last 60 years.  play Sound ClipOne of his songs is an excellent version of The Devil and the Farmer's Wife [sound clip].  In a short session, he sang me several good songs, including the ubiquitous Butcher Boy and The Jam on Jerry's Rock.

In fact, all the performers I met in America were remarkable in one way or another, Catherine LaBiernone less so than Catherine LaBier, aged 65, also from upstate New York State.  Catherine has a stock of traditional stories inherited from her grandfather and great-grandfather.  On the invitation of folklorists George and Vaughn Ward, Catherine drove 75 miles to meet me and let me record her stories.  Some of the tales are obviously local, such as how bears came to the Adirondack mountains or how the Beluga whale became white.  Others are of French or French Canadian origin, and she has several stories of the Loup-Garou, the strange creature that can change from an animal to a beautiful woman and lure unsuspecting suitors to their death.  One tale, which she calls The Singing Bones, tells of a boy and a girl who were sent by their mother to collect wood for the oven.  The girl collected wood, but the boy spent all the time playing with a bird that insisted on flying around him.  When they returned home, the mother was angry with the boy, and while he was raiding the biscuit barrel she chopped off his head, and then proceeded to cook him.  Catherine continues the story:

It was almost dinner time and Papa was coming home and he could smell something good cooking.  And when he got into the house he says, "Woman," he says, "where did you get the meat?  I could find nothing out in the woods today."  And, well, she says "A neighbour came in and gave us some meat."  And he says "Well it smells good", he says, "and I'm starved.  Feed me."  And he called the little girl but she got under the table and little tears were coming down her eyes, and he says, "Get up here and eat with us."  And she says, "No, I just want the bones", she says. "And I'll gather them in my little handkerchief".  Well, they started to eat and he was giving her the bones under the table when along came this bird.  And the little bird was singing, "My mother cooked me, my father did eat me, and my sister will gather my tiny little bones in her handkerchief."   Well, Mama was very upset about this so she kicked the little girl and she says, "Get out there and chase that bird away!"  So the little girl did.  She got up and she took the broom and she chased the little bird into the woods.

Well, a short time later she came out of the woods and walked into the house and she had on a brand new dress with a beautiful ribbon sash and a big bow to match in her hair and new shoes on her feet.  Mama said, "Where did you get those new things from?"   She says, "The little bird gave them to me."   She says, "Hmph! Likely story!"   But the little girl got back under the table and spread out her handkerchief and started to gather once again Papa's bones.  Well, a short time later that little bird came back and singing the same little song, "My mother will cook me, my father will eat me, and my sister will gather my tiny little bones in her handkerchief."   Well. Mama was really upset and she said to Papa, "Take that broom and go on and get rid of that bird once and for all!"

So he went outside and he's chasing the bird into the woods and a short time later he came out and he had a brand new suit, new boots, even a gold bob on his waistcoat and a new chapeau.  And Mama said, "Where did you get those new things from?"  And he says, "That bird gave 'em to me."  She said, "Likely story!"   So they finished up dinner and they were enjoying it and the little girl was still under the table gathering those tiny little bones when that bird came back and Mama says. "I will take care of that bird this time".  So she picked out the broom and the little bird had perched on the porch roof and she went out and she started to hit that little bird and the sky really darkened and the thunder roared.  And a streak of lightning came down and struck Mama into a pile of dust.  And the wind gusted up and blew open the door and blew all the dust into the house.  And that my friends is why we have dust in our house.

There is a clear difference in the songs sung in the Appalachians and the Adirondacks.  The style and repertoire of the northern states are much more akin to that of the British Isles.  It would not take too much to imagine the songs in the mouths of Irish or West Country singers.  The songs of the Appalachians seem to have moved farther from their British roots and show distinctive modal features.  In both areas, there is a lack of some of the songs that you expect to find in the British Isles, such as drinking songs and songs of farming life.  Nor is there the rich stock of Christmas carols that you find in the British Isles.  On the other hand, the big ballads are very much alive, and there is a large repertoire of local murder ballads, as well as many other narrative songs.

I found that meeting traditional singers in the States was a very happy and rewarding experience.  On a personal basis, I have many new friends, with whom I will keep in touch, and I feel that I now have a deeper understanding of the feelings of traditional singers and what motivates them to keeps these old songs alive.  Perhaps also my interest in their songs has shown that there are still those around who value them.

Gwilym Davies


I recorded a total of 140 songs, tunes and stories from 8 different performers in the Appalachian and Adirondack mountain regions.  In the course of time, copies of these recordings will be deposited at the National Sound Archive, part of the British Library in London.

I also have a talk prepared on the subject.  If you would like me to give the talk, please contact me.

Gwilym Davies - tel: 01242-235662, e-mail: gwilym@cmarge.demon.co.uk


The Songs:

Complete words of the songs for which there is a sound clip:

I have included Child numbers where applicable, and also Roud numbers, as detailed in the Steve Roud database of traditional songs.

Three Little Babes (Child 79, Roud 196) recorded 29 November 1997 from Spencer Moore (78) of Chilhowie, Virginia

There was a bride, a most beautiful bride
Three little babes had she
She sent them away to a northern college
To learn their grammaree.

They hadn't been away but a little while
'Bout three months and a day
'Til death spread wide all over the land
And took her babes away.

Oh, Saviour dear, cried the beautiful bride
Who used to wear a crown
Send to me my three little babes
Tonight or in the morning soon.

But it being close to Christmas time
And the nights being long and cold
Down come running those three little babes
Into their mother's home.

She fixed them a table in the backside room
Spread over with bread and wine
Come and eat and drink, my three little babes
Come and eat and drink of mine.

We can't eat your bread, sweet mother dear
Neither can we drink your wine
For yonder stands my sweet Saviour
From this we must resign.

She fixed them a bed in the backside room
Spread over with a nice clean sheet
On top of that was a golden spread
She fixed them a place to sleep.

Take it off, take it off, sweet mother dear
Take it off, then again said he
How can we stay in this wide wicked world
When there's a better place for me.

Note: This song has died out in oral tradition in the British Isles where it was called The Wife of Usher's Well, but it is still found regularly in the USA, especially in the Appalachian area.


The Cherry Tree Carol (Child 54, Roud 453) recorded 7 March 1998 from Phyllis Marks (70) of Glenville, West Virginia

When Joseph was a young man, a young man was he
He courted Virgin Mary, in the land of Galilee.

When Joseph and Mary were walking one day
They came to an orchard where cherries to behold.

Then Mary said to Joseph, so meek and so mild
Come gather me some cherries, for I am with child.

Then Joseph flew in anger, in anger flew he
Let the father of that baby gather cherries for thee.

Then the cherry tree bowed down, bowed low upon the ground
And Mary gathered cherries while Joseph stood around.

Note: Various American versions of this carol are to be found.  It appears to have dropped out of oral tradition in the British Isles, where most versions came from England.


Mr Dangerback recorded 7 March 1998 from Phyllis Marks

There was a great old sager (?) man, his name was Dangerback
He was very fond of sauerkraut and sausengers and speck
He built a great big butcher's shop, the largest ever seen
And thought him up a patent to make sausengers by steam.

Chorus:

And now old Mr Dangerback, in that you are so mean
You are sorry you invented such a wonderful machine
Pussycats and long-tailed rats will nevermore be seen
He'll grind them up in sausengers on Dangerback's machine.

There was a little boy came to buy a piece of meat
Old Dangerback invited him to come and take a seat
While he was sitting there, he whistle up a tune
The sausengers began to dance and hop about the room.

Something got the matter, the machine it would not work
Old Dangerback crawled in to find it out, you know
His wife she took the knife, then went walking in her sleep
And gave the crank one awful yank, and Dangerback was meat.

Spoken - "Do you suppose it might be a lot of women would like to have one of them machines when their husbands gets aggravating?"

Note: I know of no other version of this song.


Bow Reynard (Roud 796) recorded 21 March 1998 from Rita Emerson (90) of Glenville, West Virginia

First I saw was a farmer, ploughing up his ground,
Said he saw Bow Reynard, running around and around

Chorus:

Come a hoop, hoop, hoop and a hilo, all through the merry train
Come a ram tam tam with a hippy tippy tam,
And away with the rally, with the bow wow wow,
Come a hoodle, doodle doodle with the bugle horn
Through the woods he ran, brave boys,
Through the woods he ran.

Next I saw was a maiden, combing out her locks
Said she saw Bow Reynard among the geese and flocks

Next I saw was a blind man, blind as he could be
Said he saw Bow Reynard run up a hollow tree.

Note: This is possibly the only example of an English hunting song that has taken root in the USA, except for a rare version of Dido, Bendigo.


Overshoes and Leggins (Roud 362) recorded 22 March 1998 from Russell Lehew (84) of Mannington, West Virginia

My mother she told me to open the door
I won't have him
I opened the door and he fell on the floor
With his overshoes on and his leggins

My mother she told me to get him a stool
I got him a stool and he sat there like a fool

My mother she told me to get him some soup
I got him some soup and he almost puked

My mother she told me to put him to bed
I put him to bed and he laid there like he's dead

My mother she told me to saddle his horse
I saddled his horse, so I throwed him across

My mother she told me to bid him farewell
I bid him farewell and I wish him all well.

Note: this song is still well-known in oral tradition, in various forms, on both sides of the Atlantic.


The Handsome Cabin Boy (Roud 239) recorded 14 February 1998 from Jim Cleveland (74), Brant Lake, New York

'Tis of a handsome female, as you will understand
Whose mind was bent on rambling unto some foreign land
She dressed herself in sailor's clothes, so that she might appear
And hired on with our captain to serve on board a year.

Now the captain's wife she being on board, she seem-ed in great joy
To think her husband had engaged such a handsome cabin boy
Then once in a while she'd slip in a kiss and she would have loved to toy
But the captain found out the secret of the handsome cabin boy

His cheeks were red and rosy, and his hair all in a curl
The sailors often did remark, "He looks just like a girl."
But of eating the captain's biscuits, her colour it did destroy
And the waist did swell on pretty Nell, the handsome cabin boy.

'Twas on the Bay of Biscay our gallant ship did plough
When the sailors they were wakened by a furious scurrying row
They tumbled from their hammocks for their sleep it did destroy
And they swore about the groaning of the handsome cabin boy.

"Oh doctor, dear doctor," the cabin boy did cry,
"My time has come, I am undone, and I must surely die"
The doctor came out smiling, and laughed at all the fun
For to think a sailor lad should have a daughter or a son.

When the sailors they all heard the joke, they all did stand and stare.
"The child belongs to none of us", they solemnly did swear.
The captain's wife, she said to him, "My dear, I wish you joy,
For 'tis either you or I've betrayed the handsome cabin boy."

Then each man poured his tot of rum, and drunk success to trade
And to that jolly sailor lad who's either man or maid
Here's hoping the wars don't rise again our sailors to destroy
And here's hoping we'll have a jolly lot more like the handsome cabin boy.

Note: This song is well-known in oral tradition in the British Isles, but very rarely noted in the USA.


Across the Blue Mountains (Roud 3132) recorded 14 February 1998 from Colleen Cleveland (37), Brant Lake, New York.

One morning, one morning, one morning in May
I overheard a merry man to a young girl did say
"Go dress you up, pretty Katie, and come away with me,
Across the blue mountains to the Allegheny."

I'll buy you a horse, love and a saddle to ride
I'll buy myself another and ride by your side
We'll stop at every tavern, we'll drink when we're dry
Across the blue mountains goes my Katie and I.

But up stepped her mother and angry was she then,
Oh, daughter, dear daughter, he is a married man,
Besides, there are young men plenty, far handsomer than he
Let him take his own wife to the Allegheny.

But mother, dear mother, he is the man of my own heart,
And wouldn't it be a dreadful thing for my love and I to part,
I would envy any woman who ever I did see,
Who crossed the blue mountains to the Allegheny.

Note: This song was first noted by collectors in Arkansas in 1959.  It has since become popular in folk-singing circles in the USA and the Cleveland family may well have learnt the song through this route.  The second verse links the song clearly to the British High Germany.  The Allegheny mountains are part of the Appalachian chain.


The Devil and the Farmer's Wife (Child 278, Roud 160), recorded 18 January 1998 from Dick Richards (76), of Lake Lucerne, New York

A farmer was ploughing beneath the sun,
Singing Miranda, Miraye-ay,
A farmer was ploughing beneath the sun
When up from the earth the Devil come
With his right leg, left leg, upper leg, under leg
Singing Miranda Miraye-ay

It is my son that you have come, etc
Oh no, said the Devil, 'tis not your son
'Tis your wife, that son of a gun, etc

Oh take her, oh take her with all of my heart, etc
I pray every day that you never do part, etc

And so he slung her right over his back, etc
Down the hill he went wickety-wack, etc

Oh when she got there, she did very well, etc
She said some day, I'll be queen of hell, etc

One little devil peeped over the spire, etc
She threw ten others right into the fire, etc

Another little devil peeped over the wall, etc
Saying, take her back, daddy, she'll kill us all, etc

The farmer was peeping through the crack, etc
He saw the old Devil come lugging her back, etc

So now she'll do whatever she will, etc
If the Devil won't have her, now who in hell will, etc

Note: widely known throughout the English-speaking world.  Mr Reynold's version is the only one I have come across with this distinctive chorus.


Discography & Bibliography:


I would like to express special thanks to the following people who assisted my efforts:

George & Vaughn Ward, New York State; Sandy & Caroline Paton, Connecticut; Judy & Dennis Cook, Washington; Lisa Null, Washington; Susan Hills, Virginia; Helena Triplett, Elkins, West Virginia; Gerry Milnes, Augusta Heritage Center, Elkins, West Virginia; Roddy Moore, Ferrum College, Virginia.

And, particularly, all the performers who kindly let me record their songs, tunes and stories.

Gwilym Davies

Article MT024

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