01 Aug

The Bigler’s Crew (Laws D8)

The interactive map above includes all the landmarks mentioned in the folksong “The Bigler’s Crew” as collected from Minnesota singer Michael Cassius Dean (1858-1931) and sung, transcribed and discussed by me below.  Click on a marked location in the map to see its name and the line in the song that references it—or play the video below and follow along!  The map gives a great depiction of the ship’s course as it made its way from Milwaukee to Buffalo with a load of logs (the Bigler was what was known as a “timber drogher”).

The Bigler's Crew

Come all my boys and listen, a song I’ll sing to you,
It’s all about the Bigler and of her jolly crew;
In Milwaukee last October I chanced to get a sight
In the schooner called the Bigler belonging to Detroit.

                Watch her, catch her, jump up on her juber ju,
Give her the sheet and let her slide, the boys will push her through.
You ought to see us howling, the winds were blowing free,
On our passage down to Buffalo from Milwaukee,

It was on a Sunday morning about the hour of ten,
The Robert Emmet towed us out into Lake Michigan;
We set sail where she left us in the middle of the fleet,
And the wind being from the southard, oh, we had to give her sheet. Cho

Then the wind chopped ’round to the sou souwest and blew both fresh and strong,
But softly through Lake Michigan the Bigler she rolled on,
And far beyond her foaming bow the dashing waves did fling,
With every stitch of canvas set, her course was wing and wing. Cho

But the wind it came ahead before we reached the Manitous,
Three dollars and a half a day just suited the Bigler’s crew;
From there unto the Beavers we steered her full and by,
And we kept her to the wind, my boys, as close as she could lie. Cho

Through Skillagelee and Wabble Shanks the entrance to the Straits,
We might have passed the big fleet there if they’d hove to and wait,
But we drove them on before us the nicest ever you saw,
Out into Lake Huron from the Straits of Mackinaw. Cho

We made Presque Isle Light and then we boomed away,
The wind it being fair, for the Isle of Thunder Bay,
But when the wind it shifted, we hauled her on her starboard tack,
With a good lookout ahead for the Light of the Point AuBarques. Cho

We made the Light and kept in sight of Michigan North Shore,
A-booming for the river as we’d oft times done before,
When right abreast Port Huron Light our small anchor we let go,
And the Sweepstakes came alongside and took the Bigler in tow. Cho

The Sweepstakes took eight in tow and all of us fore and aft,
She towed us down to Lake St. Clare and stuck us on the flats,
She parted the Hunter’s tow line in trying to give relief,
And stem and stern went the Bigler into the boat called Maple Leaf. Cho

The Sweepstakes then she towed us outside the River Light,
Lake Erie for to roam and the blustering winds to fight;
The wind being from the southard we paddled our own canoe,
With her nose pointed for the Dummy, she’s hell bent for Buffalo. Cho

We made the OH and passed long Point, the wind was blowing free,
We howled along the Canada shore, Port Colborne on our lea;
What is it that looms up ahead, so well known as we draw near,
For like a blazing star shone the light on Buffalo Pier. Cho

And now we are safely landed in Buffalo Creek at last,
And under Riggs’ elevator the Bigler she’s made fast,
And in some Lager beer saloon we’ll let the bottle pass,
For we are jolly shipmates and we’ll drink a social glass. Cho

The Bigler’s Crew was one of (at least) 33 songs Robert W. Gordon recorded from Michael Dean’s singing. It was once one of the most widely known Great Lakes songs. The Bigler was a type of ship called a “timber drogher” that was quite slow and sported some rather useless sails (hence the reliance on tug boats). The song pokes fun at the ship while naming many on the landmarks one would pass between Milwaukee and Buffalo, NY. I transcribed Gordon’s recording of Dean and took the text from Dean’s songster The Flying Cloud.

Some of the landmarks required some research to decipher.  Dean’s mention of “the OH” had me stumped until I found another version of the song collected by Joanna Colcord from singer (and amateur song collector) Joseph McGinnis. McGinnis’ version used the spelling “the Eau” which led me to an 1896 article in this magazine (found on Google Books) that used the nickname “The Eau” for Rondeau Harbour, Ontario.

There is more background on this song on the Traditional Ballad Index site here: http://www.fresnostate.edu/folklore/ballads/LD08.html

22 Jan

Young Sally Munroe (Laws K11)

Young Sally Monroe


Come, all you lads and lassies, I pray you will attend,
And listen to these few lines that I have lately penned,
And I’ll tell you of the hardships that I did undergo,
’Twas all for a lassie called Sally Munroe.

My name it is Jim Dixon, I’m a blacksmith by trade,
And ’twas in the town of Erie where I was born and raised;
From that town to Belfast to work I did go,
A distance in the country from Sally Munroe.

But I promised that fair lady a letter I would send,
And I gave it to a comrade I took to be my friend,
But instead of being a friend of mine, he proved to be my foe,
For he never gave that letter to young Sally Munroe.

But he told her old mother for to beware of me,
That I had a wife in a strange country;
Then says her old mother, “If what you say be so,
He never shall enjoy my young Sally Munroe.”

It was two years and better and never did I hear
A word from the lassie that I once loved so dear,
Till one bright summer morning down by a shady row,
It was there I by chance did meet young Sally Munroe.

I says, “My bonnie lassie, if you’ll gang along wi’ me,
In spite of our auld parents it’s married we will be.”
She says, “I have no objections along with you to go,
For I know you will prove loyal to your Sally Munroe.”
It was in a coach from Norwich to Belfast we did go,
And there I was married to young Sally Munroe;

There was a ship at Williams’ Point all ready to set sail,
With five hundred passengers, their passage all were paid,
I paid down our passage for Quebec also,
And there I did embark with Sally Munroe.

We sailed down the river with a sweet and pleasant gale,
And left our old parents behind to weep and wail,
While many were the salt tears that down their cheeks did flow,
Oh, I was quite happy with young Sally Munroe.

About four in the morning came on a dreadful blow,
Our ship she struck a rock and to the bottom she did go,
With five hundred passengers that were all down below,
And among that great number I lost Sally Munroe.

It was from her old parents that I stole her away,
And that will shock my conscience for many a long day;
It was not for to injure her that ever I did so,
And I’ll mourn all my days for young Sally Munroe.

This month’s song is another for which I transcribed the melody from a 1924 wax cylinder recording of Minnesota singer Mike Dean. The text is, again, from Dean’s 1922 songster The Flying Cloud. The song is a rather rare one dating back to the 1830s when it was printed as a broadside (cheap song lyric sheets sold on the street by singers) in northern England and Scotland.* It was likely inspired by an actual event: the 1830 shipwreck of the ship “Newry” which sailed from Newry town with 400 Irish emigrants aboard bound for Quebec but wrecked off Bardsey Island near the Welsh coast where 100 perished. In some of those early broadside versions, Jim Dixon is born in Ayr, Scotland, goes to Belfast to work where he meets Sally and then sails from Newry but shipwrecks en route to Quebec.

The song crossed over to North America where it was collected mainly in Newfoundland and the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Place names vary between most versions. Dean’s version is special because it is the only one collected from a Great Lakes region singer. Also, the abundant place names in Dean’s might indicate it came from southeastern Ontario. Fort Erie, Belfast, Norwich and Williams’ Point are all places in that part of Canada.

This was an exciting one to hear on the recently rediscovered cylinder recordings! Dean has a very striking melody for the song which is different than any other I have found.

*For a detailed discussion of early printings of Sally Munro see Roly Brown’s article on Sally Munro

More detailed information on this song from the Traditional Ballad Index