Sea shanties and maritime music

A chanty is a seaman's work song, and the Chanty Man is its leader – the acknowledged foresinger, forehand of the working crew. Black and blue from the thuggery of Shanghai Brown's boarding-house – or Patch Eye Curtin's, or Katie Wilson's; split-lipped, broken-nosed, ear-slit, scalp-torn; cheated and shown by cozen and crimp; sick of soul and body; his chief earthly possessions a port, pannikin, and spoon, and a pair of leaky sea-boots...

And still he could sing! Blessed was the ship that could boast one good man of his tribe. Thrice blessed she that could boast one in each watch.

William Brown Meloney IV, Everybody's Magazine, 1915

This Day in History (November 28, 1720)

The number of women venturing to sea was surprisingly high: as servants or prostitutes, as laundresses or cooks, and occasionally, as sailors, merchants, or pirates. Anne Bonny and Mary Read were among the most famous of that final group, particularly after "Captain Charles Johnson's" mythical portrayals in A General History of the Pyrates (1724). The two were dressed as boys from an early age; for Bonny as she was hidden from her mother, and for Read to maintain an inheritance and later to gain work as a sailor/soldier. Similar stories are told in Handsome Cabin Boy, and of a female Captain in The Female Warrior.

As for their crimes, Bonny and Read found themselves on board Calico Jack Rackham's ship. The crew terrorized the waters around Jamaica for a short reign until a sloop commissioned by the Governor brought the pirates to justice. The trio was specifically identified in the stealing of seven fishing boats, three merchant sloops, and a schooner, as well as the robbery of a canoe. Rackham was quickly tried and hanged, and the fate of the two women was to be the same until they revealed they were each with child (an act common enough to be termed "pleading the belly"). Clemency was granted and while Read died within months of fever, Bonny appears to have quietly lived out her days. Full details of the trials can be found in the UK's National Archives.

This Day in History (November 19)

Try a random shanty sampling

Skön Jungfrun Hon Gångar Sig Till Högsta Berg
Heaving shanty

The pretty maid climbs up the highest mountain,
To look out over the foaming sea,

(Repeat first two lines of a verse as chorus):
The pretty maid climbs up the highest mountain,
To look out over the foaming sea,

Then she could see a rolling ship,
Which sailed upon the sea.

The youngest, the very smallest boy,
Who was on board that ship,
He would with the maid betrothed be,
Although he was still so young.

When the lad should sail away,
To a far foreign shore,
So he took up five golden rings,
To place on the maiden's hand.

When the lad had sailed away,
The maid took another friend,
The lad to whom she gave her pledge,
She loved him now no more.

When three long years had passed away,
The boy came home again,
When he came home to his father's farm,
He asked how his sweetheart was.

"Now, you have been away many years,
Today your sweetheart will be a bride,
For we have both heard and thought,
That you were long since dead."

So he went into his bedroom,
Where he combed and oiled his hair,
Then he went to the wedding place,
Saw the bride before him stand.

"So, they have been lying to you,
And said that I was dead,
So it will not be but one more hour,
Ere you see my deep distress."

The boy he went into his own chamber,
And locked the door behind him,
So he sat himself down for to write,
A moving farewell letter.

When the letter at last was written,
And the hour had ticked away,
Then the lad drew forth his fine, golden knife,
And thrust it into his waist.

"God forgive me," said the poor girl,
"For the deed that I have done,
The one man I am now married to,
The other swims in blood."