03 April 2012

#115-118, 120 Shenandoah (series)

The expansive, the romantic…the iconically American. We move out of the “valley” of little-known chanties, in Stan Hugill’s Shanties from the Seven Seas, and find towering before us this ubiquitous classic, a song which one might say has transcended the chanty genre, while still being one of its key pieces of repertoire.

What is the most famous chanty? “Drunken Sailor”? “Blow the Man Down”? It may well actually be “Shenandoah,” although most of those who now know it would not know it as a chanty. Though it has been speculated that it may have come to sailors from riverboat men, it is first as a chanty that it was documented, for many decades.

As this post will demonstrate at length, and while the original meaning of “Shenandoah” is unknown, the textual theme seems closely linked to the hoary theme of “Sally Brown.”

In my historical survey, “Shenandoah” turns up at least 28 times with reference to times through the 1880s, making it among the “top ten” chanties. I will present a selective chronology of these.

The memoirs of Gen. William Jackson Palmer put “Shenandoah” as having been sung at least as early as 1856, on a packet ship bound from Liverpool to New York. Mentioned alongside “Mister Stormalong” and “Santiana,” this suggests it was among the older (but not necessarily oldest) batch of chanties.

The song is not mentioned in publication, that I know of, until the 1860s. Clark’s Seven Years of a Sailor’s Life (1867), also the first to use the word chanty, mentions one called “Rolling River.” It was sung while raising the anchor on a clipper ship from Bombay to New York, c. 1860-1.

An April 1868 issue of The Riverside Magazine for Young People is the first to offer a text, as it was sung at the capstan during a voyage on the Atlantic. The lyrical themes are those typically associated with “Sally Brown” and “Blow, Boys, Blow.” In this first appearance of the name, it is not as “Shenandoah,” but as “Shannydore.” Perhaps notably, we also don’t see “Missouri,” but rather “Atlantic.”
O, Shannydore, I long to hear you!               
Away, you rollin' river!                                                               
O, Shannydore, I long to hear you!
Ah ha! I'm bound away
On the wild Atlantic!
Oh, a Yankee ship came down the river:
And who do you think was skipper of her?

Oh, Jim-along-Joe was skipper of her:
Oh, Jim-along-Joe was skipper of her!

An' what do you think she had for cargo?
She had rum and sugar, an' monkeys' liver!

Then seven year I courted Sally:
An' seven more I could not get her.

Because I was a tarry sailor,
For I loved rum, an' chewed terbaccy.

Later published works also suggest this chanty was common in the 1860s. A work describing Yankee “hellships” of that decade (Boyd, The Shellback, 1899), tells us the anchor was raised on the ship Altamont, from Melbourne to South America’s West Coast, to the chorus of “Rolling River.” Adams’ account (1879) tells us that in the late 1860s the men sang it at halyards. Similar to the above, he calls it “Shanadore” and suggests a “Sally Brown” theme—at least, it says that Shannadore” is a “bright mulatto.” But “he” is also a “packet sailor” and “it” is a “rolling river.” One presumes that lyrical themes were already mixed at this point; mixed, but certainly not fixed. Adams is first in print to suppose that the Shenandoah River is meant, and yet the lyrics sketch no set theme.

One of the best illustrations of the absolute nothingness that characterizes the words of these songs, is given by the utterances attending the melody called “Shanadore,” which probably means Shenandoah, a river in Virginia. I often have heard such confusing statements as the following:—

Shannadore's a rolling river,
      Hurrah, you rolling river.
Oh, Shannadore's a rolling river.
      Ah hah, I'm bound away o'er the wild Missouri.

Shanadore's a packet sailor,
Shanadore's a bright mulatto,
Shanadore I long to hear you.

and so the song goes on, according to the ingenuity of the impromptu composer.

Since this would be one of very few attributions of the chanty to work at halyards, I’ll mention here another “Shanadar” for halyards from that time period. A James Thomas, one of Cecil Sharp’s (1914) informants, said he heard it often while sailing to America on the ship The City of Washington in 1870. It allegedly contained four “pulls” per verse. Only one verse was noted.

Shanadar is a rolling river,
E-o, I-o, E-o, I-o.

Hugill reproduced the example in his collection, which I recorded here:

Capt. Whall learned most of his chanties in the 1860s, so we might assume that his version of “Shenandoah” reflects that period. However, his orthography and other details might have been influenced by events before he first published in 1906. Indeed, I suspect he adjusted his presentation to conform to what had by then become a rather well-known song in the mainstream. Whall states that the usual pronunciation was “Shannadore,” so his spelling is a rationalization based on what he assumes was meant. He claims to have actually heard the song on land in the late 1850s or early 1860s before hearing it at sea, and speculates that it was originally a song of the voyageurs of North American rivers. This is an example of the "Indian maiden" theme.

Missouri she’s a mighty river.
Away you rolling river.
The redskins’ camp lie on its borders.
Ah-ha I’m bound away ‘cross the wide Missouri.

The white man loved the Indian maiden,
With notions his canoe was laden.

“O, Shenandoah, I love your daughter,
I’ll take her ‘cross yon rolling water.”

Whall’s melody has the pitch movement “sol-mi” at the end of the first phrase. Note at this point that it is different from today’s typical “la-sol.”

Hugill’s version “B” corresponds to the “Indian maiden” theme—which I believe he must have developed partly under the influence of Whall.

Estimated (by me) to have been learnt in the 1860s is the version collected by Cecil Sharp from John Allen in 1909. As Sharp was being descriptive, we get the form “Shanadar.” As in the “redskin” theme, Shanadar’s daughter is being asked for. With no actual mention of Indians, however, this again is very similar to “Sally Brown.”

O Shanadar I’ll have your daughter;
Way-o, you rolling ruin;
I love her as I love the water,
Ha! Ha!
I’m bound away across the wild Missouri.

O Shanadar what is the matter?
Your daughter's here and I am at her,

The melody here also has “sol-mi.” Please note that that pattern is shared with the Sally Brown variant called “Walkalong, You Sally Brown.”

The idea of "Shenandoah, I Love your Daughter" was also attested, as sung in the mid-1860s, by an apprentice of a West Indiaman (The Master, Mate and Pilot 7(2) (July 1914)). His barque from Liverpool to Barbados included Black crew members from Baltimore and U.S. cotton ports. The crew sang the chanty while discharging cargo.

“Love your daughter” is transformed to “love your waters” in the version remembered by Fred Buryeson (1909), a sailor of the 1860s-80s. (Again, the spelling of “Shenandoah” may have been tweaked for this later publication.)

Shenandoah, I love your waters;
And away, you rolling river
I love your clear and rushing waters
Ah, ah, ah, we’re bound away, across the wide Missouri.

The ship sails free, a gale is blowing;
Her braces taut and sheet a-flowing.

Shenandoah, I love to hear you;
Shenandoah, I long to see you.

Black-eyed Sue is sure a beauty;
To sing her praise it is our duty.

Shenandoah, I'll ne'er forget you,
But think of you and love you ever.

Give me a good old Yankee clipper,
A bully crew and swearing skipper.

Shenandoah, my heart is longing
To see again your rolling waters.

Good shipmates always pull together,
No matter what the wind or weather.

Shenandoah, I'd love to see you,
And hear again your tumbling waters.

Shenandoah, my thoughts will ever
Be where you are, sweet rolling river.

Richard Maitland’s version, collected by Doerflinger, may date back to 1869, when he first learned chanties in the schoolship Mercury. Doerflinger transcribed it as follows.

Shanadore, I love your daughter,
Hooway, you rolling river,
Oh, Shanadore, I love your daughter,
Hyah, bound away, To the wild Missouri!

For seven long years I’ve courted your daughter.
Oh, Shanadore, I want to marry.

Now, Shanadore, will you give me your word to?
Oh, Shanadore, give me your word to,

To marry your daughter, I love her dearly.

Evidence for this chanty in the 1870s decade comes from R.W. Gordon and F.P. Harlow. Robinson’s remembered version, which could be tied to that time, appears in this later-published (1917) form:

Shenandoah! I long to hear you—
Hurrah! you rolling river.
Oh, Shenandoah! I long to hear you—
And hurrah! we’re bound away! On the wide Missouri!

I love the murmuring of your waters,
I love the beauty of your daughters.

Seven long years since I lost Dinah;
I've searched seven years. I cannot find her.

'Twas down in Shenandoah's sweet valley 

Where first I met and courted Sally.

To Shenandoah I am returning.

My heart for thee is ever burning.

When wide Missouri's call is over, 

I will go back and stay forever.

Published and learned around the same time is Bullen’s similar version:

Shanandoh, I long ter hear ye;
A way, you rolling river;
Oh Shanandoh I can’t get near ye
Ha ha! I’m bound away on the wide Missouri!

Chanty collector R.R. Terry said he learned the song as a boy. The version he offers (1920, 1921), also ca.1870s in origin, is quite similar to the preceding two. However, its melody contains the “la-sol” figure.

Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you.

Away you rolling river.

Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you.

Away, I'm bound to go
'Cross the wide Missouri.

Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter.

'Tis seven long years since last I see thee.

Oh Shenandoah, I took a notion

To sail across the stormy ocean.

Oh Shenandoah, I'm bound to leave you.

Oh Shenandoah, I'll not deceive you.

Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you.

The only contemporary reference I have from the 70s comes in MacGahan’s Under the Northern Lights (1876). MacGahan, a correspondent of the New York Herald was on the ship Pandora sailing Artic waters when the men at the capstan sang,

Oh, Shanadoa, I longs to hear you.
Ha! ha! the rolling water.
Oh, Shanadoa, I longs to hear you.
Ho! ho! the cold, pale water.

Oh, Shanadoa, I've seen your daughter,

Oh, Shanadoa, I loves your daughter.

When I return I'll wed your daughter.

For seven long years I woo'd your daughter.

Oh, Shanadoa, where is your daughter?

Oh, Shanadoa, beneath the water.

Oh, Shanadoa, there lies your daughter.

1880s publications provide several recent or contemporary versions. In his Harper’s article (1882), Alden states,

One of the best known of the windlass songs was the “Shanandore”:

You Shanandore, I long to hear you.
Hurrah, you rollin' river!
You Shanandore, I long to hear you.
Ah, ha, you Shanandore.

This is clearly of negro origin, for the “Shanandore” is evidently the river Shenandoah. In course of time some shanty-man of limited geographical knowledge, not comprehending that the “Shanandore” was a river, but conceiving that the first chorus required explanation, changed the second chorus. Thus the modified song soon lost all trace of the Shenandoah River, and assumed the following form, in which it was known to the last generation of sailors:

For seven long years I courted Sally.
Hurrah, you rollin' river!
I courted Sally down in yon valley.
Ah, ha! I'm bound away on the wild Missouri.

Alden’s was only about the third version in publication. I’m not sure what evidence he had to actually draw this conclusion—essentially that the song was originally about the Shenandoah River, but then got confused with Sally Brown. Nor do I see the evidence, though the theory itself is reasonable. I find it interesting that his “old” version has a symmetrical form, that one would expect from a chanty, whereas the “newer” version (known to us) has the longer second refrain. Quite honestly, I’m not sure how one could sing “Shenandoah” at the brake windlass, due to this asymmetry.

An 1884 The New York Times article gives this:

Shanadore is my native valley,
Hurrah, rolling river,
Shanadore I love your daughters,
Ah-ha, bound away 'cross the wild Missouri.

For seven long years I courted Sally,
Seven more and I could not get her,

Seven long years I was a 'Frisco trader,
Seven more I was a Texas ranger.

Having just seen the above, probably authentic, text, once might declare that to attempt to distinguish distinct “versions” of this chanty is rather pointless. For his versions “C” and “D”, Hugill presented one text with “Shenandoah” as a geographic place and the other as the Sally Brown theme. But seeing as how singers mixed both kinds of lyrics, along with other “floaters,” I saw no reason to artificially distinguish. The following recording is meant to do duty for “both” versions.

Continuing the history…
In 1887 we have Davis and Tozer’s chanty collection. Their version does not even contain the name “Shenandoah.” As in other cases in the collection, perhaps the authors felt the need to rationalize what they could not explain. Perhaps not. This just means the version takes the cast of “Sally Brown.”

The Wide Missouri

Oh, Polly Brown, I love your daughter,
Away my rolling river!
Polly Brown, I love your daughter,
Ah! Ah! we're bound away
'Cross the wide Missouri.

Oh, Polly's girl just took my fancy,
She's clipper built, her name is Nancy

She lives alone in London City,
Perhaps you'll think it more's the pity

I take her coral beads and laces,
I love to call her "Queen of Faces"

The ship sails free, a gale is blowing,
The braces taut, the sheet's a-flowing 

Oh! Polly Brown, I love you dearly,
My heart is yours, or very nearly

Commentators are unanimous in calling “Shenandoah” an “American” song. W. Clark Russell (1892) wrote,

[Americans] invented the double topsail yards ; they invented the “chanty,” the inspiring choruses of the windlass and the capstan, such hurricane airs as “Across the Western Ocean,” “Run, Let the Bulljine Run!” “Shanadoah,” “Old Stormy,” “Bully in the Alley,” “ Cheerily, Men!” and scores besides…

...while Whitmarsh (1903) stated,

Thus we find a number of ancient airs set to words distinctly American, such as those of “Shenandoah,” “Sally Brown,” and “On the Banks of the Sacramento.” The first two doubtless came from some Southern cotton ports, as they bear ear-marks of negro singers.

The turn of the 20th century brought “Shenandoah” into the mainstream consciousness. Bradford and Fagge included a performance version in their 1904 mini collection.

Shanadoah, I love your daughter,
Away ye rolling river!
Shanadoah, I long to hear you.
Away we're bound away
'Cross the wide Missouri!

The ship sails free, a gale is blowing,
The braces taut, the sheets aflowing,

Shanadoah, I’ll ne'er forget you,
Till I die, I’ll love you ever,

It’s melody had some original variations. This version had the honor of the first to be recorded, on cylinder by the Minster Singers in 1905.

During the chanty boom of the 1920s, in addition to Terry’s version already mention, we have Colcord’s collected version (1924). The “Sally Brown” type theme is continued.

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you, 

Way hay, you rolling river! 

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you,
Ha ha, we're bound away, 'cross the wide Missouri! 

Oh, Shenandoah, I love your daughter, 

Missouri she's a mighty river; 

When she rolls down her topsails shiver. 

Seven years I courted Sally, 

Seven more I longed to have her. 

Farewell, my dear, I'm bound to leave you,
Oh, Shenandoah, I'll not deceive you.

Shay (1924) and Bone (1931) offered similar texts to what we’ve been seeing.

This era saw several commercial recordings of the chanty. I don’t believe the 1905 (English) Minster Singers recording was very influential. But in June 1917, Henry Burr and Albert Campbell recorded the song, arranged by “Halsey K. Mohr,” for the Victor label. It reached #9 on the Billboard chart in October 1917. I don’t know what source they used, but it’s quite possible that this recording introduced the U.S. nation at-large to the song, and set an influential standard.

Recordings of the song in the 1920s were set among other chanties, and contemporary reviews make it clear that the song was well-known by that time. John Goss and the Cathedral Singers recorded it for HMV in 1925. John Buckley recorded it for Vocalion, Kenneth Ellis for Patlophone, Robert Carr for Edison Bell, and John Thorne for Aco in 1926-7. Thus it was among the most recorded of early chanties, though as we know today, the song has lost it’s association with the chanty genre for many audiences.

A couple observations... 

First is that the lyrical clichés of “Shenandoah” and “Sally Brown” seem hopelessly mixed throughout most versions. Though one may suspect that an “original” Shenandoah was altered to conform to Sally Brown stuff (for Sally Brown appears to have been the earlier known song amongst sailors), there is no clear evidence to form a strong opinion on how the development may have taken place. The “Indian maiden” theme, which would suggest something independent, really only appears in the sailor version of Whall. I am not clear (though I suspect it would entail a study of non-chanty “folk song” volumes of the 20th c, or commercial recordings) how this theme became so dominant in the landsman’s version of this song, though I can see why it would be more popular than Sally Brown for folksong-singers. In any case, the Shenandoah chanty of sailing history looks to be a Sally Brown with a different emphasis. While Sally Brown has a bittersweet feel, part “love ‘em and leave ‘em” swagger and part “love sucks”…Shenandoah emphasizes the yearning aspect of separation—inching ever more towards the violent separation of “Shallow Brown” and its echoes of the slave experience. I feel as though Sally Brown is sung in a “male” voice (to a female) and Shenandoah is sung in a “female” voice (to a male). The chanties are the two sides of a single experience.

The melancholic—shall we say “shallo”?—aspect of the song is emphasized in Hugill’s version “A,” which he learned from an African-American informant. It has a nostalgic feel throughout. For reference, note that it also has the (discussed below) “la-sol” melodic figure. In fact, Hugill gave just one melody to be used for all of his text variations.

Second observation is that the melody in almost all the versions I’ve examined has the figure sol-mi, as opposed to today’s popular la-sol. Only Terry’s—whose collection I’ve seen to be one of the most influential on revival interpretations—has the latter figure. (Some of the other 1920s collections may also have it, but they are not currently with me to check.) As further evidence we have JM Capenter’s field recording of Jack Murray, who learned chanties between 1867 and 1885. His “Shanadore” can be heard sung with sol-mi. The implication of all this is that today we may be singing Shenandoah the “wrong” (or the uncommon) way.

Here are the Barouallie Whalers singing their orally transmitted version, “Oh My Rolling River.” They have preserved in it the “original” sol-mi pattern. Incidentally, another related chanty that was still in use by off-shore whalers in the Caribbean, as collected by Abrahams in his Deep the Water, Shallow the Shore (1974), uses the name "Salambo," which I think is a nice mid-point between "Shenadore" and "Sally Brown."

Ever longing to hear your daughters' waters,

Ranzo :{


  1. Hi, first off I want to thank you for your wonderful work on sea chanteys! I just stumbled across your site through your youtube site. You've done an amazing job reproducing Stan Hugill's work. I've always been fascinated by this genre and am so glad I can learn more about it!

    1. Great to hear from you, Dave! Thanks for your kind words.
      I must apologize for the sketchy nature of the blog -- it is more of a "process" than a finished product. I hope to basically throw up some of the significant info about each song (along with my reflections on the challenges/issues of learning them) and get through them all to get a sense of the big picture. if there's any particular chanty you ever want to know about, feel free to ask and I will dig deeper! regards, Ranzo