Sailor Boy (I), The [Laws K12]

DESCRIPTION: A girl asks her father to build her a boat so that she may search for her lover. She describes the boy to a passing captain, who tells her he is drowned. She gives directions for her burial, then dies of grief or dashes her boat against the rocks
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: before 1839 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 11(2298))
KEYWORDS: ship death lover drowning loneliness separation sailor
FOUND IN: Britain(England(Lond,South,West),Scotland(Aber)) US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,Ro,SE,So) Ireland Canada(Mar,Newf,Queb)
REFERENCES (62 citations):
Laws K12, "The Sailor Boy I"
Belden-BalladsSongsCollectedByMissourFolkloreSociety, pp. 186-191, "The Sailor Boy" (6 texts, 1 tune)
Randolph 68, "The Sailor's Sweetheart" (3 text plus 2 fragments, 4 tunes)
Randolph/Cohen-OzarkFolksongs-Abridged, pp. 68-70, "The Sailor's Sweetheart" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 68C)
Scarborough-ASongCatcherInSouthernMountains, pp. 318-320, "Oh, Captain, Captain, Tell Me True" (1 text; tune on pp. 441-442)
Brewster-BalladsAndSongsOfIndiana 54, "Sweet William (The Sailor Boy)" (1 text)
Eddy-BalladsAndSongsFromOhio 33, "Sweet William" (6 texts, 3 tunes)
Gardner/Chickering-BalladsAndSongsOfSouthernMichigan 25, "The Sailor Boy" (1 short text; the first 6 lines are "The Sailor Boy"; the last twelve are perhaps "The Butcher Boy")
Rickaby-BalladsAndSongsOfTheShantyBoy 18, "The Pinery Boy" (1 text, 1 tune; also a fragment in the notes)
Rickaby/Dykstra/Leary-PineryBoys-SongsSongcatchingInLumberjackEra 18, "The Pinery Boy" (1 text, 1 tune; also a fragment in the notes)
Peters-FolkSongsOutOfWisconsin, p. 94, "The Pinery Boy" (1 text)
Musick-JAF-TheOldAlbumOf-William-A-Larkin 30, "The Sailor Boy" (1 text)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 736-737, "The Sailor Boy" (1 text)
Leach-FolkBalladsSongsOfLowerLabradorCoast 9, "The Sailor Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Karpeles-FolkSongsFromNewfoundland 43, "Sweet William" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton-SongsAndBalladsFromNovaScotia 27, "Broken Ring Song fragment" (1 single-stanza fragment, 1 tune); 44, "My Sailor Lad, "Sailor Bold" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Warner-TraditionalAmericanFolkSongsFromAnneAndFrankWarnerColl 53, "I'll Sit Down and Write a Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 106, "Sweet William" (12 texts, 12 tunes)
Sharp-OneHundredEnglishFolksongs 72, "Sweet William" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp/Karpeles-EightyEnglishFolkSongs 35, "Sweet William" (1 text, 1 tune -- a composite version)
Karpeles-TheCrystalSpring 36, "Sweet William" (1 text, 1 tune)
Reeves-TheEverlastingCircle 127, "Sweet William" (2 texts)
VaughanWilliams/Lloyd-PenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs, p. 94, "A Sailor's Life" (1 text, 1 tune)
Palmer-FolkSongsCollectedBy-Ralph-VaughanWilliams, #91, "The Sailor Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Broadwood/Maitland-EnglishCountySongs, pp. 74-75, "Sweet William" (1 text, 1 tune)
Roud/Bishop-NewPenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs #43, "Early, Early All in the Spring" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cox-FolkSongsSouth 110, "Sweet William (The Sailor Boy)" (3 texts plus mention of 6 more)
Bush-FSofCentralWestVirginiaVol2, pp. 86-87, "A Sailor's Life" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gainer-FolkSongsFromTheWestVirginiaHills, pp. 135-136, "O Father, Build Me a Boat" (1 text, 1 tune)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 104, "The Sailor Boy" (5 texts, mostly short, plus excerpts from 4 more and mention of 2 more and 1 very short fragment; several texts, notably "C," are mixed with "The Butcher Boy"; "E" is a mix with something unidentifiable as only part of the song is printed; "H" is apparently a mix of floating material, only partly printed; "J" is mostly from some unidentified ballad; "L" appears to mix this with "The Apprentice Boy" [Laws M12])
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore4 104, "The Sailor Boy" (5 excerpts, 5 tunes)
Browne-AlabamaFolkLyric 39, "The Sailor Boy" (2 short texts, 2 tune)
Moore/Moore-BalladsAndFolkSongsOfTheSouthwest 76, "My True Sailor Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Owens-TexasFolkSongs-1ed, pp. 134-135, "The Sailor Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Owens-TexasFolkSongs-2ed, p. 88, "The Sailor Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Henry-SongsSungInTheSouthernAppalachians, pp. 177-178, "The Soldier Boy" (1 text)
Burton/Manning-EastTennesseeStateCollectionVol2, pp. 61-62, "Soldier Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hubbard-BalladsAndSongsFromUtah, #41, "The Sailor's Trade is a Weary Life" (1 text, 1 tune)
Carey-MarylandFolkLegendsAndFolkSongs, p. 99, "Sweet Willie" (1 text)
Scott-TheBalladOfAmerica, pp. 39-40, "Sweet William" (1 text, 1 tune, a composite version)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 55, "The Pinery Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Huntington-SongsTheWhalemenSang, pp. 272-273, "A Sailor's Trade Is a Roving Life" (1 text, with the manuscript damaged by water)
Huntington-TheGam-MoreSongsWhalemenSang, p. 172, "Oh Captain, Captain Tell Me True (The Sailor Boy)" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
Lane/Gosbee-SongsOfShipsAndSailors, p. 205, "The Sailor Boy" (1 text, 1 tune, composite)
Morton-FolksongsSungInUlster 7, "My Boy Willie" (1 text, 1 tune)
OLochlainn-IrishStreetBallads 56, "My Boy Willie" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hammond-SongsOfBelfast, p. 34, "My Fine Sailor Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
OCroinin/Cronin-TheSongsOfElizabethCronin 75, "It Was Early, Early In the Month of Spring" (1 text)
Greig-FolkSongInBuchan-FolkSongOfTheNorthEast #64, p. 1, "The Sailor's Life"; #148, p. 2, "The Sailing Trade" (1 text plus 1 fragment)
Greig/Duncan6 1245, "The Sailing Trade" (11 texts, 8 tunes)
MacColl/Seeger-TravellersSongsFromEnglandAndScotland 25, "Sweet William" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
OShaughnessy-YellowbellyBalladsPart1 13, "Early Early in the Spring" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ashton-RealSailorSongs, #63 insert, "The Sailor Boy" (1 text)
Palmer-OxfordBookOfSeaSongs 71, "A Sailor's Life" (1 text, 1 tune)
Stone-SeaSongsAndBallads LXXXVI, pp. 174-176, "The Sailor Boy" (1 text)
Heart-Songs, p. 67, "A Song of the Sea" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NewAmericanSongster, pp. 97-98, "Sweet Soldier Boy" (1 text)
NorthCarolinaFolkloreJournal, W Amos Abrams, "Della Adams Bostic: Sweet Singer of Old Songs," Vol. XXI, No. 3 (Sep 1973), pp. 140-141, "Sweet Willie" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Robert E. Gard and L. G. Sorden, _Wisconsin Lore: Antics and Anecdotes of Wisconsin People and Places_, Wisconsin House, 1962, pp. 95-96, "(The Raftsman's Life)" (Excerpts of a sing that is clearly "The Pinery Boy," presumably from Wisconsin although no source is listed)
David C. Peterson, "Wisconsin Folksongs," chapter in _Badger History: Wisconsin Folklore_, State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Volume XXV, Number 2, November 1973), p. 53, "The Pinery Boy" (1 text, 1 tune, which I strongly suspect has been shortened)
Frank Moore, _Anecdotes, Poetry and Incidents of the War: North and South, 1860-1865_, Bible House, 1867, p. 180, "Heart-Rending Boat Ballad" (1 text)

Roud #273
Anita Best and Pamela Morgan, "A Sailor's Trade is a Weary Life" (on NFABestPMorgan01)
Dock Boggs, "Papa, Build Me a Boat" (on Boggs2, BoggsCD1) (a complex version, with this plot but many floating verses, e.g. from "The Storms Are On the Ocean")
Rufus Crisp, "Fall, Fall, Build Me a Boat" (on Crisp01)
John Joe English, "My Boy Willie" (on ITMA/CapeShoreNL)
Dan Hornsby Trio, "A Sailor's Sweetheart" (Columbia 15771-D, 1932; rec. 1931)
Liz Jefferies, "Willie, the Bold Sailor Boy" (on Voice03)
Mikeen McCarthy, "Early in the Month of Spring" (on IRTravellers01)
Maggie Murphy, "Willie-O" (on IRHardySons)
Mrs. Otto Rindlisbacher, "The Pinery Boy" [instrumental] (AFS, 1941; on LC55)
Phoebe Smith, "Sweet William" (on Voice11)
Art Thieme, "The Pinery Boy" (on Thieme04)

Bodleian, Harding B 11(2298), "The Maid's Lament for her Sailor Boy," J. Catnach (London), 1813-1838; also Firth c.12(226), Harding B 11(3375), Harding B 25(1684), "Sailor Boy" ("Down by a chrystal river side"); Firth c.12(227), "The Sailor Boy and his Faithful Mary"
cf. "The Butcher Boy" [Laws P24] (lyrics)
cf. "A Soldier's Life" (lyrics, theme)
cf. "The Deep Blue Sea (I)" (plot)
cf. "Tavern in the Town" (lyrics)
cf. "Darling Johnny O (I)" (lyrics, plot)
cf. "The Croppy Boy (I)" [Laws J14]" (tune, per Morton-FolksongsSungInUlster 7)
cf. "Darling Johnny O (I)" (plot, lyrics)
The Pinery Boy
Papa, Papa, Build Me a Boat
A Shantyman's Life
I Have No One to Love Me
Captain Tell Me True
The Sailor Boy and his Faithful Mary
Sailin', Sailin's a Weary Life
The Broken Hearted Lover
NOTES [579 words]: Paul Stamler suggests that "The Deep Blue Sea" is a worn-down version of this song. He may well be right (see the notes to that song), but I believe that the characteristic of Laws K12 is the girl's request of a boat. Since "Deep Blue Sea" lacks that feature, I tentatively separate the songs.
The "Pinery Boy" versions are heavily localized to Wisconsin and the lumber business, and could almost be considered a separate song -- except that very many of the lyrics from "The Sailor Boy" still endure.
The "Pinery Boy" versions tend to mention Lone Rock and/or the Wisconsin Dells as the site of this tragedy, but the Wisconsin, River, according to Gard/Sorden, p. 95, was a very dangerous stream for raftsmen for much of its length: "[M]any of these danger spots, still bearing the names given them by the raftsmen, are points of interest along the Wisconsin River. Among these names are Sliding Rock, whose sloping sides make it impossible to gain any foothold; Notched Rock; the Devil's Elbow, a right-angle turn making passage very difficult; and the Narrows, where the River is said to be turned on its side, since its width is only fifty-two feet, and its depth is one hundred and fifty feet."
The whole Dells region must have been difficult, since the river goes through a series of rather sharp bends, and the riverbanks and the bed are rough.
The small town of Lone Rock is not properly part of the Dells; it is several dozen miles downstream, in a marshy, heavily wooded area. But it is on the Wisconsin River (and it has a Lone Rock Cemetery, according to Google Maps, so perhaps our hero was buried there). Ironically, the cemetery (off U. S. Highway 14) seems to be one of the few spots in the area which largely lacks trees.
Lone Rock the town, not surprisingly, is named for a rock named Lone Rock, a sandstone formation on the north bank of the Wisconsin that raftsmen used for navigation -- this far below the Dells, the Wisconsin is fairly straight. but there is a spot near the rock called Devil's Bend, and the current is swift. So Lone Rock was important to let the raftsmen know there were near a tricky place.
The Rock is no longer really visible, according to an online history of the area ( Much of the rock was taken and used for construction.
Lone Rock the town came into being in 1856. The name "Lone Rock" for the sandstone pillar is older, but it seems unlikely that they would have buried the Pinery Boy there had the town not existed.
Creighton-SongsAndBalladsFromNovaScotia shows a collector misled by a source. The version is only a single verse, identical to broadside Bodleian, Firth c.12(227), "The Sailor Boy and his Faithful Mary" ("A sailor's life is a merry life"), J.Harkness (Preston), 1840-1866. The singer, in this case, thought this was a returned lover ballad -- from Creighton's title -- of the broken ring type.
Also collected and sung by David Hammond, "Early, Early All in the Spring" (on David Hammond, "I Am the Wee Falorie Man: Folk Songs of Ireland," Tradition TCD1052 CD (1997) reissue of Tradition LP TLP 1028 (1959)). Like Morton-FolksongsSungInUlster 7, Hammond's version shares its tune with "The Croppy Boy (I)." - BS
The Dan Hornsby Trio recording is included by deduction; I have not heard it. - PJS
OCroinin/Cronin-TheSongsOfElizabethCronin text is from Kidson, A Garland of English Folk-songs, pp. 92-93. Only the title is listed in one of Elizabeth Cronin's song lists. - BS
Last updated in version 6.4
File: LK12

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