10 May

By Trait I’m a Raftsman (Jack Haggerty)

By trait I’m a raftman, where the white waters roll,
My name is engraved on each rock and sand stone,
From Greenvill to Grandvill I am very well known,
My name is Jack Hagidy the pride of the town.

My troubles I will tell you without any delay,
Of a dear little damsel my heart stole away,
She was the black’s Smith only daughter by the flat River side,
And I always intended for to make her my bride.

I dressed her in jewels embroiderys and lace,
And the costliest velvet her eyes could embrace,
I took her to dances to parties and Balls,
And Sundays boat riding where the white waters roll.

I worked on the River till I made quite a stake,
I was sturdy and steadfast neither gambled nor drank,
I gave her my wages the same to keep safe,
I begrudged that girl nothing that I had on this earth.

One day in Plat River a letter I received,
Saying defy all good promises, my self I realise,
She was married to another not long delay,
And the next time I saw her she would ne’er be a maid.

Her mother Jane Tucker I lay all the blame,
She has caused her to leave me and blackened my name,
She has cast off the rigens that God soon would tie,
And have left me a rambler untill the day that I die.

Not it is here in Plat River for me there’s no rest,
I will sholder my Pevie and I will go West,
I will go to mont Sagin [?] toward the red setting sun,
Leave behind me Plat River and the false hearted one.

Now come all ye bold Raftmen with hearts brave and true,
Don’t depend on a women for your left if you do,
And when that you see one with chestnut brown curls,
Just think of Jack Hagidy and the Plat River girl.

Over the last 17 years I have performed Minnesota-sourced folksongs in over a hundred venues spread over 32 counties in Minnesota, primarily with Randy Gosa as The Lost Forty. I love bringing these songs back to the communities they came from and, occasionally, an audience member will share a story of music in their own family with me after the show.

In 2022, Eleanor Hall of Clearbrook, Minnesota found me after a performance in Shevlin to tell me about a handwritten songbook kept by her mother Alma Pitsenburg Doten. Alma was born in 1904 in Moose Creek Township, 12 miles west of where I grew up on Grant Lake west of Bemidji! This April, I was able to meet up with Eleanor and make scans of her mother’s fascinating book. There are over one hundred songs written in pencil in an old ledger book kept with love and reverence all these years.

Alma Pitsenburg Doten. Photo courtesy Eleanor Hall.

I was delighted to find a few lumberjack ballads in Alma’s book. “Jack Haggerty” was the first song in Franz Rickaby’s 1926 book Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy. Rickaby wrote that the song “is native to the Flat River in southern Michigan” and that it “was a great shanty favorite and is still widely met with in the Lake states.” Rickaby printed four versions of the song including two collected from Bemidji-based singers. Alma called the song “By Trait I’m a Raftman.”

First page of “By Trait I’m a Raftman as it appears in the Alma Pitsenburg Doten book.

Above, I have transcribed Alma Pitsenburg Doten’s text complete with some irregular spellings found in her songbook. I matched it with a rather unique (and nice!) variant of the song’s melody recorded by Helen Hartness Flanders from the singing of Jack McNally at Stacyville, Maine in 1942. The McNally recording is available online via archive.org.

20 Jun

Moorlough Mary

When first I saw my dear Moorlough Mary,
 ’Twas in a valley in sweet Strabane,
Her smiling countenance was so enticing,
All other females she would tramp on,
Her smiling glances bruised my senses,
No rest will I find neither night nor day,
In my silent slumber, I’ll wake in wonder,
Crying “Moorlough Mary, won’t you come away?”

Was I a man of good education,
Or Erin’s Isle all at my command,
I’d lay my head on your seething bosom,
In bands of wedlock, you’d join my hand,
I’d entertain you both morning and evening,
In robes I’d dress both neat and gay,
With kisses sweet, love, I would embrace you,
Kind Moorlough Mary, won’t you come away?

I’ll away, I’ll away to some lonely valley,
Where recreation is in full bloom,
Where the rivers mourning and salmon sporting,
Each sound and echo brings something new,
Where the thrush and blackbird is joined in chorus,
The notes melodious on each stream bound,
I would sit and sing ’til my heart’s contented,
Dear Moorlough Mary, if you was with me now.

I’ll press my cheese while my mules* are teased,
I’ll milk my ewes by the eve of day,
I’ll sit and sleep ‘til my heart’s contented,
Crying “Moorlough Mary, won’t you come away?”

*most Irish versions refer to the teasing of “wools” here

This month we have a north woods version of the well-loved Irish song “Moorlough Mary” that some may know from the singing of Paddy Tunney, Cathal McConnell, Kevin Mitchell or other singers from the north of Ireland.  A version from Co. Tyrone appears in Sam Henry’s Songs of the People with the note that it was composed by Tyrone man James Devine around 1876. If Devine wrote it, it must have gained popularity quickly as it appears in the Bodleian Library’s broadside archive on a London-printed song sheet from before 1885.

New England song collector Helen Hartness Flanders collected two versions in northeastern Maine. Both field recordings are available online via the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection on archive.org. The above melody is my transcription of what Charles Finnemore of Bridgewater, ME sang for Flanders in 1941.  Finnemore’s text was only a fragment so I transcribed the text based on Flanders’ 1942 recording of Jack McNally or Staceyville, ME. Both singers have wonderful traditional styles. McNally’s singing is more full-throated and intense where Finnemore is light and lilty. They are both great examples of Irish style singing transplanted to the North American woods.