In the sea shanties Sally Brown is the stereotype of the cheerful woman of the Caribbean seas, mulatta or creole, with which our sailor tries to have a good time.
Probably of Jamaican origin according to Stan Hugill, it was a popular song in the ports of the West Indies in the 1830s.
The textual and melodic variations are many.
FIRST VERSION: WAY, HEY, ROLL AND GO
In this version the chorus is split into two short sentences repeated by the crew in sequence, after each verse of the shantyman, and is more properly a halyard shanty.
Paul Clayton “Sally Brown” from LP. “Sailing And Whaling Songs Of The 19th Century” 1954
|Oh Sally Brown she’s a creole(2) lady,
Way, hey, roll(1) and go
Sally Brown’s a gay old lady,
spend my money on (with)(3) Sally Brown.
|Sally Brown she has a daughter,
Sent me sailin’ ‘cross the water.
Oh seven long years I courted Sally,
Then she said she would not marry.
She wouldn’t have no tarry (4) sailor,
Wouldn’t have no greasy whaler.
Sally Brown I’m bound to leave you,
Sally Brown I’ll not deceive you.
Sally Brown she took a notion (5),
Sent me sailin’ ‘cross the ocean.
1)The term “Creole” can be understood in two exceptions: from the Spanish “crillo”, which originally referred to the first generation born in the “New World”, sons of settlers from Europe (Spain or France) and black slaves. The most common meaning is that which refers to all the black half-bloods of Jamaica from the color of the skin that goes from cream to brown and up to black-blue. In the nineteenth century with this term was also indicated a small elite urban society of light skin in Louisiana (resident mostly in New Orleans) result of crossings between some beautiful black slaves and white landowners who took them as lovers.
2) the term is generically used by sailors to say many things, in this context for example could mean “sail”.
3) change the article immediately makes the difference “I spend the money on” Sally implies that I pay for his sexual performance “I spend the money with” Sally is more bland ..
4) tarry is a derogatory term to distinguish the typical sailor. More generally Jack Tar is the term commonly used to refer to a sailor of merchant ships or the Royal Navy. Probably the term was coined in 1600, alluding to the tar with which the sailors waterproofed their work clothes.
5) the lady to get rid of the sailor (left without money) sends him back to work, probably on a whaler
I shipped on board of a Liverpool liner,
Way, hey, roll and go
bunked long side the 49 ers
spend my money on Sally Brown.
|O, Sally Brown, of New York City(1),
O, Sally Brown you’re very pretty
O, Sally Brown’s a bright mulatter,
She drinks rum and chews tobaccer.
O, Sally Brown’shes a Creole lady, (2)
She’s the mother of a yellow baby(3).
Sally’s teeth are white and pearly,
Her eyes are blue, her hair is curly.
Seven long years I courted Sally,
Sweetest girl in all the valley.
Seven long years she wouldn’t marry,
And I no longer cared to tarry.
So I courted her only daughter,
For her I sail upon the water.
Now my troubles are all over,
Sally’s married to a dirty soldier
1) the shanty is also widespread on the packet ships in Liverpool-New York routes, so Sally lives in the city of New York
2)in this description the Creole girl is a mulatto from the skin in the clearest gradation, with blue eyes and wavy hair
3) or from the skin with a caramel tinge