20 Nov

Morzie Ellsworth

My name is Morzie Ellsworth the truth I’ll tell to you,
I’m in the prime of manhood and my age is twenty-two,
On the fourteenth of October last, I boarded on a train,
And bound for Pennsylvania, I left the state of Maine.

I landed safe in Williamsport, a lumberman’s rendezvous,
And there I hired with Jacob Brown as one of the winter’s crew,
We agreed upon the wages, as you shall plainly see,
And the time of term it was six months to serve him faithfully.

He gave to me a sheathing belt, likewise a bowie knife,
A battle axe and carbine gun for to defend my life,
But woe be on the morning when I did undertake,
A voyage to the forest for gold and riches sake.

There’s the tomtit and the moose-bird and the roving caribou,
The lucifee and partridge that through the forests flew,
And the wild ferocious rabbit from the colder regions came,
And several other animals too numerous to name.

And when the snow began to melt the foreman he did say,
“Lay down your saws and axes boys, and haste to break away,
For the broken ice is floating now in business we will thrive,
And you able-bodied shanty-boys are needed on the drive.”

It would melt your heart with pity, it would make your blood run cold,
To see the work that Nature did in all her rudest mould,
And to see those overhanging rocks along the ice-bound shore,
Where rippling waters fierce do rage and cataracts do roar.

So to conclude and finish, I have one thing more to say,
When I am dead and in my grave, a-mould’ring in the clay,
No artificial German text you can for me sustain,
Just simply say, “Here’s a roving wreck that came from Bangor, Maine.”

Ninety-five years ago, in the summer of 1923, Franz Rickaby collected a version of the above song in Bayport, Minnesota (south of Stillwater) from former lumberjack Hank Underwood who called it “The Maine-ite in Pennsylvania.” Underwood’s four verse version (verses 2, 4, 6 and 7 above) likely descended from the New Brunswick song “Morris Ellsworth” which satirizes a greenhorn logger from Prince Edward Island who comes to the Miramichi woods to log. The St. Croix Valley where Underwood was born, had a high concentration of immigrant loggers from the Miramichi region – including Underwood’s parents. 

Jokes and stories making fun of inexperienced men in the logging camp – especially their fear of animals – were common in the woods. According to folklorist Edward Ives, PEI men were looked down upon in Miramichi. Interestingly, Rickaby reported that “State of Maine” men were often foremen or bosses in Minnesota. Underwood likely learned his version while logging in Pennsylvania where, perhaps, Maine-ites had a different reputation. For a biography of Hank Underwood see the liner notes to my CD Minnesota Lumberjack Songs which also includes an arrangement of this song.

For the version above, I use a melody very close to Underwood’s melody and extend his text with extra verses added in from one of the Miramichi versions and one verse pulled from “Jim Porter’s Shanty Song” also collected by Rickaby.

11 May

The Boy of Love

The boy in love without no fear like me some time ago
Like a hero bold through frost and cold to see my love I’d go
But the moon shone bright to give me light along my dreary way,
Until I arrived at my true love’s gate where all my fancy lay.

When I arrive at my true love’s gate, my step being soft and low,
She will arise and let me in, so softly I will go,
Saying, “Will you come to my father’s house?” “No dear, but come to your own,
Come with me, love, to the Parson’s and there we’ll be made one.”

“Oh no, oh no kind sir,” said she, “for prudence would not agree,”
“Well, then, sit down along by my side, for I must talk with thee,
For seven long years I have courted you against your parents’ will,
I was always resolved you would be my bride, but now, pretty girl, farewell.

“My ship lies in the harbor all ready to set sail,
And if the wind is from the East we’ll have a favoring gale,
And when I reach Columbia’s shore it is often I will say,
May the Lord above protect my love where all my fancy lay.

We return again this month to another fine Irish song from the repertoire of Minnesota singer Michael C. Dean. Irish song scholar John Moulden has traced this song, well known today in Ireland as “When a Man’s in Love He Feels No Cold,” back to its original composer: County Antrim schoolmaster Hugh McWilliams. McWilliams included “A Man in Love” in his book Poems and Songs on Various Subjects which was published in 1831 in Antrim.
The song entered folk tradition where, over the next hundred years, it gained some words, lost others and was set to several different melodies. Dean’s “Minnesota version” provides evidence of the furthest distance the song traveled from its source.

Since Dean left us only his text, I based the above melody on the melodies used for two other transatlantic versions collected in Marystown, Newfoundland by Maud Karpeles in 1930 and printed in Folk Songs from Newfoundland.

03 Aug

The Lament of the Irish Emigrant

I am sitting on the stile, Mary, where we sat side by side,
On a bright May morning long ago, when first you were my bride;
The corn was springing fresh and green and the lark sang loud on high,
And the red was on your cheeks, Mary, and the love light in your eye.

The place is little changed, Mary, the day is bright as then,
The Lark’s loud song is in my ear and the corn is green again,
But I miss the love glance of your eye, your breath warm on my cheek,
And I still keep listening for the words you never more will speak.

It’s but a step down yonder lane, and the little church stands near,
The church where we were wed, Mary, I see the spire from here;
But the church yard lies between, love, and my feet might break your rest,
For I’ve laid you, darling, down to sleep with your baby on your breast.

I am very lonely now, Mary, for the poor makes no new friends,
But, oh, we love them better far, the few our Father sends;
But you were all I had, Mary, my blessing and my pride,
There is little left to care for now since my poor Mary died.

I am bidding you a long farewell, my Mary, kind and true,
But I’ll not forget you, darling, in the land I am going to;
They say there’s bread and work for all and the sun shines ever there,
But I’ll not forget old Ireland, were it twenty times as fair.

And oft times in those grand old woods I’ll sit and close my eyes,
And my thoughts will travel back again to the grave where Mary lies;
And I’ll think I see the little stile where we sat side by side,
And the springing corn and bright May morn when first you were my bride.

_______________________

This heart-wrenching ballad of Irish immigration comes from Minnesotan Michael Dean’s Flying Cloud songster and I have married Dean’s text with the melody sung by John W. Green of Beaver Island, Michigan. You can hear Green’s version online via the Library of Congress. The recording, made in 1938 by Alan Lomax, captures Green’s wonderful ability to vary melody and ornamentation as he sings each verse… a characteristic that is hard to capture in a transcription. I tried to “loosen up” the melody a bit in singing the song myself.

A stile is a structure that allows people, but not animals, to pass over a wall or fence, often via steps or a ladder structure. A common feature in 19th century Irish farm country, one can imagine this as an attractive perch for courting.

The last verse of this song text (which appears in some, but not all, British broadside versions as well) is intriguing in that it describes the emigrant’s destination as among the “grand old woods.” This seems to hint at the immigration pattern I so frequently discuss in this column–Irishmen coming to the north woods of North America and, often, working in the woods as lumbermen. Both singers I sourced this song from were born to Irish immigrant fathers who pursued this type of work and settled in small lumber-based communities in the Great Lakes region.

The original text of this ballad was written by Lady Helena Selina Blackwood Dufferin  (nee Sheridan) who was born in Ireland in 1807 and died in England in 1867. It was printed as a broadside frequently on both sides of the Atlantic throughout the mid-late 1800s. It appears in Halliday Sparling’s 1887 book Irish Minstrelsy: A Selection of Irish Songs and Ballads. Though a member of English high society her whole life, Sparling writes that Lady Dufferin’s poems “were the genuine outcome of a deep and understanding love of the people.” This poem was clearly inspired by the Great Famine. Halliday prints two verses not sung by Dean:

Yours was the good, brave heart, Mary, that still kept hopin’ on,
When the trust in God had left my soul, and my arm’s young strength was gone;
There was comfort ever on your lip, and the kind look on your brow—
I bless you, Mary, for that same, though you cannot hear me now.

I thank you for the patient smile when your heart was fit to break,
When the hunger pain was gnawin’ there, and you hid it for my sake;
I bless you for the pleasant word, when your heart was sad and sore—
O! I’m thankful you are gone, Mary, where grief can’t reach you more!