Although it may share the customary lyrical theme, and its chorus contains the name “Sally Brown,” this is a different framework than the typical “Sally Brown” chanty.
Melodically, it more closely resembles “Shenandoah.” Yet doesn’t Shenandoah have a family resemblance to Sally Brown? It’s chorus phrase also reminds one of the chanty “Walk Him Along, John,” and the “patting juba” song from Louisiana, “Hop Jim along/Walk Jim along/Talk Jim along” (in Northup’s Twelve Years of a Slave, 1855), along with other African-American “walkalong” lyrics.
The chanty turns up a few times in the historical record.
Referring to the late 1860s is Adams’ account (On Board the Rocket, 1879) mentions the ship Dublin, which shipped with an all Black crew out of Boston. While in port at Genoa (Italy), cargo was unloaded:
Every morning they were waked up by the song of the crew, as they commenced at five o'clock in the morning to hoist out the tobacco, for it is not customary in port to “ turn to “until six, and all day long such choruses as “Walk along my Sally Brown,” and “Hoist her up from down below,” rang over the harbor, with all the force that a dozen hearty negroes could give them. When the “shanty man “ became hoarse, another relieved him, and thus the song and work went along,...
Remembering chanties from his experience ca. 1870s, Capt. Robinson (1917) also noted this song. He gives a melody (similar to Hugill’s) and the following lyric:
Sally Brown's a bright Mulatto,
Oh Sally Brown's a bright Mulatto--
Oh walk along, you Sally Brown.
Hugill’s presentation is very brief, giving only one verse (“The words are the same as for Sally Brown”) and saying he got it from his West Indian informant “Tobago” Smith.
The suggestion is that this is a particularly “Caribbean” sort of chanty. As such I decided to give it some harmony.
My rendition here was included on the Mudcat Café’s 2011 members’ CD set.