28 Feb

The Raftsman

I’ll tell you of a raftsman right from the pinery,
And how he loved a lady, she was of a high degree,
Her fortune was so great it scarcely could be told,
And still she loved the raftsman because he was so bold.

One day when they had been to church and were just returning home,
They met her old father and several armed men,
“Oh daughter, oh daughter, oh daughter I pray,
Is this your good behavior, or is’t your wedding day?”

“I fear,” cried the lady, “we both shall be slain,”
“Fear nothing at all,” said the raftsman again,
“Now, since you’ve been so foolish as to be a raftsman’s wife,
Down in this lonely valley I will quickly end your life.”

“Hold,” cried the raftsma, “I do not like such prattle,
Although I am the bridegroom, I’m all prepared for battle,”
He drew his sword and pistol and caused them for to roar,
The lady held the horses while the raftsman battled sore.

The first man came to him, he ran him through the main,
The next one stepped up to him, he served him the same,
“Let’s run,” cried the rest of them, “we all shall be slain,
To fight this gallant raftsman is altogether vain.”

“Stay,” cried the old man, “you make my blood run cold,
You shall have my daughter and five thousand pounds in gold,”
“Oh no,” cried the lady, “the fortune is too small,
Fight on, my bold raftsman, and you shall have it all.”

“Oh raftsman, oh raftsman, if you will spare my life,
You shall have my daughter for your beloved wife,”
He took them home unto his house, he made him his heir,
It wasn’t out of love but it was from dread and fear.

Come all you rich maidens with money in great store,
Never shun a raftsman, although he may be poor,
For they’re jolly good fellows—happy, fresh, and free,
And how gallantly they fight for their rights and liberty.


A few months ago I came across a remarkable series of blog posts by folklorist Stephen Winick about the ballad “Arthur McBride” – the one that was so beautifully rendered by Paul Brady on the iconic Andy Irvine and Paul Brady album in 1976 and at this videotaped 1977 performance. Writing on the American Folklife Center’s Folklife Today blog, Winick tells us that Brady learned the song while living in New England, from a collection compiled by Carrie Grover of Gorham, Maine. Grover (1879-1959) was a singer herself who got most of her repertoire (which appears in her collection A Heritage of Songs) from her parents while growing up in Nova Scotia and Maine. She was part of the north woods singing tradition and that makes Brady’s “Arthur McBride” a northwoods song! What’s more, if you open Grover’s book to the Arthur McBride page, the facing page is her father’s version of “The Jolly Soldier”—also arranged and performed by Paul Brady on the album with Andy Irvine!

Arthur McBride 001

“The Jolly Raftsman” and the first part of “Arthur McBride” as they appear in Carrie Grover’s book A Heritage of Songs.

When I discovered the Grover-Brady connection, my mind went to an interesting song text collected in Wisconsin and published in Wisconsin Lore by Robert E.Gard and L.G. Sorden. Gard and Sorden’s “The Raftsman” is basically a version of “Jolly Soldier” with Raftsman swapped in for Soldier. It seems a little out of place for someone going down the river with a raft of logs to be packing both a sword and pistol but the character of the recklessly romantic hero does fit with the way raftsmen often portrayed themselves in other songs. Above I have paired the Gard/Sorden text (with a few small changes) with the melody (more or less) as published by Grover. For my own sung version, I swapped out the sword and pistol for the raftman’s trusty pike and peavey.