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Origins/Meaning: Follow the Drinking Gourd

DigiTrad:
FOLLOW THE DRINKING GOURD


Related threads:
Folklore: Website on the 'Drinking Gourd' song (34)
Scholastic/Folkways Recordings-We shall overcome (5)
(origins) Origin: Follow the Drinking Gourd (Burl Ives?) (17)
Chords Req: Follow the Drinking Gourd (7)
Chords Req: Follow the Drinking Gourd (11)
Follow The Drinking Gourd: 2001 (6)
Story: Follow The Drinking Gourd II (64)
Story: The Drinking Gourd I (62)
(origins) Origin: Follow the Drinking Gourd (5)
Tune Req: Follow the Drinking Gourd (9) (closed)


In Mudcat MIDIs:
Follow the Drinking Gourd (from Lomax, American Ballads and Songs, 1934 - taken from the article by H.B. Parks)
Follow the Drinking Gourd (Weavers) (from The Weavers Song Book)


GUEST,Pablo 02 Feb 00 - 04:43 PM
Frank in the swamps 02 Feb 00 - 05:04 PM
Uncle_DaveO 02 Feb 00 - 05:37 PM
MMario 02 Feb 00 - 05:45 PM
Barry Finn 02 Feb 00 - 09:20 PM
GUEST,Pablo 02 Feb 00 - 10:06 PM
BK 02 Feb 00 - 10:19 PM
BK 02 Feb 00 - 10:26 PM
Hotspur 02 Feb 00 - 10:36 PM
Amos 02 Feb 00 - 10:47 PM
GUEST,Frank of Toledo 02 Feb 00 - 11:03 PM
Amos 02 Feb 00 - 11:24 PM
kendall 03 Feb 00 - 08:42 AM
Amos 03 Feb 00 - 09:02 AM
GeorgeH 03 Feb 00 - 09:23 AM
catspaw49 03 Feb 00 - 09:25 AM
GUEST,Barry Finn 03 Feb 00 - 09:26 AM
kendall 03 Feb 00 - 11:50 AM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 03 Feb 00 - 12:12 PM
Pablo 03 Feb 00 - 07:12 PM
BK 03 Feb 00 - 11:31 PM
Amos 03 Feb 00 - 11:37 PM
GUEST,Barry Finn 04 Feb 00 - 08:17 AM
kendall 04 Feb 00 - 08:51 AM
pastorpest 04 Feb 00 - 04:30 PM
Barry Finn 04 Feb 00 - 07:36 PM
Pablo 04 Feb 00 - 08:00 PM
BK 04 Feb 00 - 08:47 PM
Uncle_DaveO 05 Feb 00 - 04:53 PM
McGrath of Harlow 05 Feb 00 - 07:21 PM
Sorcha 05 Feb 00 - 09:21 PM
Lesley N. 08 Feb 00 - 04:31 PM
Barry T 09 Feb 00 - 11:52 PM
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Pablo 09 Apr 00 - 12:43 PM
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masato sakurai 01 Oct 01 - 05:00 PM
McGrath of Harlow 01 Oct 01 - 05:07 PM
GUEST,Frank 01 Oct 01 - 07:28 PM
raredance 02 Oct 01 - 12:34 AM
McGrath of Harlow 02 Oct 01 - 07:13 AM
GUEST 02 Oct 01 - 10:38 AM
raredance 02 Oct 01 - 02:01 PM
McGrath of Harlow 02 Oct 01 - 03:23 PM
masato sakurai 02 Oct 01 - 07:23 PM
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Azizi 04 Mar 05 - 02:31 AM
Azizi 04 Mar 05 - 02:37 AM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 04 Mar 05 - 01:21 PM
wysiwyg 04 Mar 05 - 05:42 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 04 Mar 05 - 05:50 PM
wysiwyg 04 Mar 05 - 06:28 PM
Azizi 05 Mar 05 - 01:28 AM
wysiwyg 05 Mar 05 - 09:47 AM
Azizi 05 Mar 05 - 01:11 PM
wysiwyg 05 Mar 05 - 01:21 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 05 Mar 05 - 05:08 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 05 Mar 05 - 05:19 PM
Azizi 05 Mar 05 - 08:10 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 05 Mar 05 - 08:56 PM
Lighter 05 Mar 05 - 09:21 PM
Azizi 05 Mar 05 - 09:31 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 05 Mar 05 - 09:58 PM
Greg F. 06 Mar 05 - 08:19 PM
wysiwyg 06 Mar 05 - 08:34 PM
Greg F. 06 Mar 05 - 11:33 PM
NH Dave 07 Mar 05 - 03:39 AM
wysiwyg 07 Mar 05 - 06:15 AM
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Greg F. 07 Mar 05 - 07:44 AM
GUEST 13 Apr 05 - 01:02 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 13 Apr 05 - 02:03 PM
GUEST,Seneschal 13 Apr 05 - 02:16 PM
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GUEST,Joel Bresler 18 May 05 - 08:28 PM
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Q (Frank Staplin) 18 May 05 - 11:25 PM
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Q (Frank Staplin) 19 May 05 - 02:21 PM
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Subject: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Pablo
Date: 02 Feb 00 - 04:43 PM

Digitrad has great threads on Slavery songs, but what about the symbolic meanings of those lyrics for "Follow the Drinking Gourd." I remember some of them are more occult than just the big-dipper, north star bit in the title line.

The old man?

The dead trees show you the way?

Left foot, PEG FOOT ?

Any interpreters?

I'm singing this for inner-city grade school kids, along with Go Down Moses, and Many Thousands Gone.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Frank in the swamps
Date: 02 Feb 00 - 05:04 PM

Zora Neale Hurston may have collected lore on this, I'd check out "Of Mules And Men".

Frank i.t.s.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 02 Feb 00 - 05:37 PM

As to "Peg Foot", I've heard that there was a one-legged white man (former sailor?? don't recall) who participated in the underground railway, who was supposed to be referred to there.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: MMario
Date: 02 Feb 00 - 05:45 PM

off the top of my head here, but peg foot...how much truth is there to the tale that some captured runaways had a foot chopped off to prevent repeat attempts?


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Barry Finn
Date: 02 Feb 00 - 09:20 PM

From Lomax's American Ballads & Folk Songs. A sailor named Peg Leg Joe helped runaway slaves. This was in the country north of Mobile & the trail discribed in the song followed north to the headwaters of the Tombigbee River, then over the Divide & down the Ohio River. They were to follow the trail marked by a left footprint & a hole. The gourd=big dipper
the great big one=Ohio River

"The river's bank is a very good road
The dead trees show the way
Left foot, peg foot going on
Follow the dr........

The river ends between 2 hills
Follow the dr.........
Another river on the other side
Follow th............

Where the little river
meets the great big one
the ol' man waits
Follow th....

Frankie Qumbie(sp?) of the Georgia Sea Island Singers does quite a job on these slave "Code Songs" . She mentioned one they'd sing when Harriet Tubman (sp? again?) would be coming through, so every one (slaves only) who was going better get ready to go. Barry


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Pablo
Date: 02 Feb 00 - 10:06 PM

Grateful to ALL for the quick response. I'll post again if I find more than the above.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: BK
Date: 02 Feb 00 - 10:19 PM

Lotta variations of this; mine is only slightly different, learned from a mishmash of sources; anyway I'd always wondered abt the "left foot, peg foot" part. Makes sense. I probably should look at the words in the DT. A great version of this was recorded by "Joe & Eddie" in the 60's.

Cheers, BK


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: BK
Date: 02 Feb 00 - 10:26 PM

Just looked at the DT version. Heard many I like better, but - most of all - can that guy (Paul Campbell?) really copyright what I've always thought was a true traditional song, created by blacks in the south, for the underground railroad??? Seems like dirty pool to me; I bet somebody can explain, but is it REALLY ethical??

Cheers, BK


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Hotspur
Date: 02 Feb 00 - 10:36 PM

The Old Man is the mighty Mississippi, or so I've been told.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Amos
Date: 02 Feb 00 - 10:47 PM

The Almanac Singers or the Weavers recorded this back in the 40's -- and I don't recall Paul Campbell being among 'em. Who was Paul Campbell?

A


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Frank of Toledo
Date: 02 Feb 00 - 11:03 PM

I'm quoting from a Weavers' songbook, date 1960. In the Introductory Notes they say "To most readers of a book like this, the crediting of material is of minor interest. To say therefore that the name Paul Campbell, to which many of the songs in this book are assigned, was a pseudonym adopted from 1950 to 1953 for Ronnie Gilbert Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman and Pete Seeger should ordinarily suffice. However the Weavers' employment of a nom de plume had a significance considerably beyond its use as a publishing device." This include the song "Follow The Drinking Gourd".


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Amos
Date: 02 Feb 00 - 11:24 PM

Well, I'll be hornswoggled! The things ya learn on Mudcat! I never knew the Weavers had a nom de plume! Dang!
Thank you, Frank, for enhancing my education!

A


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: kendall
Date: 03 Feb 00 - 08:42 AM

A close friend of mine lives in an old house that was a stop on the "railway". It is haunted by the spirit of a slave who was murdered in the "safe room". I have seen evidence of this with my own eyes. If anyone wants to know about that, I'll post it here.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Amos
Date: 03 Feb 00 - 09:02 AM

Please do, Kendall! What have you seen? What is the story behind it?

A


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GeorgeH
Date: 03 Feb 00 - 09:23 AM

Am I being more than usually stupid here?? I can't for the life of me figure what's meant by:

"However the Weavers' employment of a nom de plume had a significance considerably beyond its use as a publishing device."

in Toledo Frank's post . . Can someone explain, please?

G.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: catspaw49
Date: 03 Feb 00 - 09:25 AM

Hey Amos.....Find a thread entitled "Pete Seeger Pseudonyms" and you can read a bit more on the subject.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Barry Finn
Date: 03 Feb 00 - 09:26 AM

No George, you're not unless I'm too (a decent chance there). I can guess at it but I wouldn't mind knowing why either. Barry


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: kendall
Date: 03 Feb 00 - 11:50 AM

That house is in Fayette Maine. I was visiting my friend, and, he was showing me some work he was doing in a small room. The door was closed, and there was no one else around. As we talked, suddenly, I heard a strange sound. I turned around, and rolling across the floor toward me, was a penny-- OUT OF A BLANK WALL! I commented on this odd happening, and he told me it happens all the time, that he had a jar half full of such coins. He showed it to me, and there were indeed many old coins. Now, this I saw with my own eyes..no second hand info here. According to him, there have been many strange happenings there, such as a rocking chair which rocks by itself, a guitar that makes strumming sounds, and pots and pans being rattled around in the middle of the night. He is not one to make up stories, in fact, he is a devout Catholic and does not believe in spooks. However, one of the children saw an entity sitting on the stairs and really freaked out. At his wife's request, they had the place blessed and the entity has since moved on.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 03 Feb 00 - 12:12 PM

WOW Kendall- that's some story!! I have a friend who lives in a house here in southwestern NH with a hidden "safe room" that was built for the Underground RR. She claims there is a ghost in the house, but that when she arrived she had a "talk" with it and has never been bothered by it. Her cleaning service has beent frightened a few times, though!
Here's what I undersand about "peg foot": Peg Leg Joe was a white man, a "conductor" , or guide, on the Underground RR. He would work as an itinerant carpenter on the slave plantations, and teach Follow the Drinking Gourd and other songs to help the slaves escape. "Peg foot" was a sign he would carve into the trunks of trees: the shape of a left foot, next to a small circle, signifying his foot-print, to let the escapees know they were on the right track. He would then wait at the Ohio River to row them across and get them started in the path of safe houses. This site gives some more info and some links. It's a great song, and an inspiring story.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Pablo
Date: 03 Feb 00 - 07:12 PM

Again many thanks: ghosts, midi, maps, more than I dreamed of.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: BK
Date: 03 Feb 00 - 11:31 PM

Great story from Kendall & great link on the drinking gourd; THIS kind of thread is why I still love the mudcat, no matter what some mentally ill (but not in a fun or merely eccentric way) person(s) may do in an attempt to dammage it. VIVA MUDCAT!!

ps will try, sometime... to dig up some other verses for this song.

Cheers, BK


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Amos
Date: 03 Feb 00 - 11:37 PM

Who was the old guy who got "blessed out" of the house? Anyone know why he was "hantin'" the place? Had he been killed, or somehow disappointed...unfinished business??

And, did the old pennies stop coming after the blessing, or was that independent? How old were they? Wow! I'm intrigued!!

This is the first first-hand report I have heard of solid poltergeistery of this magnitude.

A


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Barry Finn
Date: 04 Feb 00 - 08:17 AM

Slaves didn't drink from the same vessels as the white folks drink from, this they refered to as white water. Something about a gourd that makes the water in it taste cool, so they much prefered drinking from it. Barry


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: kendall
Date: 04 Feb 00 - 08:51 AM

The man who was killed was a slave. It may have been an accident or a murder. we just dont know for sure. Anyway, the spirit was not a bad guy, it had a sense of humor, never threw anything at someones head etc. The penny I picked up was an Indian head, I dont remember the date, but, all the others he kept were very old. Not knowing his name, they simply called him "pinky"


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: pastorpest
Date: 04 Feb 00 - 04:30 PM

Sandwich Baptist Church, Windsor, Ontario, (across the river from Detroit) has hidden cupboards in its basement where escaped slaves hid until they could move further away from the American border. Amherstburg, town on the Canadian side of the Detroit River is home to a Black historical museum, maintianed by descendants of slaves. Both are worth a visit to anyone interested in this subject. Besides it is a great song!


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Barry Finn
Date: 04 Feb 00 - 07:36 PM

Sorry, the above should've read snow water not white water. Barry


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Pablo
Date: 04 Feb 00 - 08:00 PM

BK, in the name of Pinky, please don't hold back extra drinking gourd verses (if you know some missed by Lomax). Awaiting breathless.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: BK
Date: 04 Feb 00 - 08:47 PM

Pablo; I'll try, hopefully fairly soon; no one has ever accused me of having my music (or much else) very organized in recent decades, 'n we have moved a lot.

Cheers, BK


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 05 Feb 00 - 04:53 PM

In case anybody missed the reference, "the drinking gourd" referred to is the Big Dipper constellation, which points to the north star.

And "the old man" can't very well be the Mississippi, because "The old man is a-waitin' for to carry you to freedom," but the Mississippi would just carry you south to slave territory again. I assume it's got to be Peg Leg Joe who's a-waitin'.

Dave Oesterreich.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 05 Feb 00 - 07:21 PM

If you were walking along the bank, the Mississipi would accompany you going North instead of South, if you were following the Drinking Gourd. "Carry" wouldn't have to mean you were floating.

But I reckon there might well be some other meanings around in the background of the song, to do with the spirit world. Was this song collected in many places and many times? Or are we going back to one version? Are there any other songs with similar imagery, either in the Black American traditions, or elsewhere, for example in the Caribbean or West Africa?

I think it's time for some heavy duty folklore imput, like we'd get on the Mudcat if this was a question about an Irish song or a Child ballad.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Sorcha
Date: 05 Feb 00 - 09:21 PM

Help, Allan Lomax, WHERE ARE YOU??


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Lesley N.
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 04:31 PM

Try here (http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/planetarium/ftdg1.htm) for more information.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Barry T
Date: 09 Feb 00 - 11:52 PM

For the historians among us I just tripped across this superb site on the Underground Railroad... here.

Well researched and worthwhile reading!


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Feb 00 - 02:19 PM

Fascinating links. But can anyone tell us more about when and where the song was collected, and whether there are any variant versions collected?


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: harpgirl
Date: 02 Apr 00 - 03:36 PM

...Hi Dave...I have really enjoyed your singing and playing on hearme by the way! I read the notes on "Follow the Drinking Gourd" from RUS. McGrath's question is interesting! RUS says trad. arranged by Lee Hayes and The Weavers 1951 and renewed 1979 Folkways Music Publishers etc. Thi song derives from the time of the underground RR and offers instructions to runaway slaves for reaching freedom in Canada-above all of course to keep heading toward the "the drinking gourd" (The Big Dipper). On Sparky Rucker "Heroes and Hard Times", Pete Seeger "I can see a new day" and "50 Sail, Weavers"At Carnegie Hall" & Gr H "Bright Morning Star Arisin", Kim and Reggie Harris "M & the underground rr", & Shays Rebellion "Daniel Shay's Hwy." In the Weavers SB, S of the Spirit, Carry It on, Here's to the Women & Children, S for a Friendly Planet.
I first heard it at the FFF done by Last Rites, a stellar group from South Florida. Dr. Sound and I, who have started to play gigs together, are going to be working on it for a Friday night Art Opening at City Hall in Tallahassee. It is a community wide art show, a fitting venue for such an important song.
Could our scholars suggest more such songs? Barry and I find them very sympatico to our politics and intent in musical expression...harpgirl


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 02 Apr 00 - 04:45 PM

I liked this song, even before I found out on this thread that it was literally a map to freedom. The information has increased my appreciation many times over. GREAT thread.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 03 Apr 00 - 05:00 PM

Animaterra, thanks for the site link which gives explanation of several lines in the song no one has mentioned.

1) When the sun goes back and the first quail calls
Follow the drinking gourd

This advises the escaping slave to leave in late winter. The assumed time of travel was one year from the area of Central and South Alabama ,where this song was known, to the Ohio River, which was the major obstacle. This would put the slaves at the Ohio in winter when it was frozen and crossable.

2)The river bed makes a mighty fine road( the Tombigbee River in Central Alabama)

3)The river ends between two hills(headwaters of the Tombigbee)
There's another river on the other side(the Tennessee River)

4)Where the little river meets the great big one(where the Tennessee runs into the Ohio)
The Old Man's waiting to carry you to freedom(Peg Leg Joe)

Thanks again, and especially to Pablo for starting this one.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 03 Apr 00 - 05:54 PM

It's a great song, and a fascinating story. But I can't help wondering whether get the feeling the story came first, or the song.

Is this a traditional song which was actually sung back in the first half of the 19th century by people using the Underground Railway? Or is it a song made up in the second quarter of the 20th century by someone who felt that there ought to be a song about the UIndergrond Railway?

Where did it first come to light? And where did the first people identified as singing it get it from? (So far the earliest anyone seems to have tied it down on the Mudcat appears to have been the Weavers. And though that's a good site that Animaterra gave us, it doesn't look into those questions.)


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 03 Apr 00 - 07:06 PM

SEems to me I first heard it in the 40s, by Burl Ives.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Pablo
Date: 09 Apr 00 - 12:43 PM

Re: Lonesome EJ's post. I would just add that the Tombigbee flows through northeastern Mississippi. It's just south of Tupelo on the map.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Eluned
Date: 22 Apr 00 - 11:26 PM

This is one great thread!! I've always thought that the song dated back to the actual time of the underground RR, and from what Barry Finn said early on, I would think that was definitely true. However, McGrath of Harlow's questions made me wonder; do we really know this to be true? Could this be simply be a mistaken belief, like the story told about Washington and the cherry tree, or the tale that Lincoln was born in a log cabin?


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 30 Sep 01 - 08:18 PM

This is a thread that died away with question I asked in it unanswered - specifically, how old is this song, and does it go back to slave times, or was it a more recent creation.

Anyway, searching for something else, I came across this post that goes some way to answer that. The song was evidently in a collection of slave songs published in 1867.

But it'd still be interesting to know how far it has been in the oral tradition over the next few generations, and whether there are variants which have been collected.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Fred
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 12:53 AM

Recent TV specials on the underground railroad and on Harriet Tubman said the song originated during the time of the underground railroad, as I recall sometime in the 1850's. There were several other "spirituals" which also were used for instruction or to tell when the railroad was making its next move.

Re: Paul Campbell - the Weavers used this nom de plume (or more likely, nom de guerre) when they were blacklisted during the McCarthy era.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 01:29 AM

The following includes another rendition of the escape instructions in the song, along with some other thoughts on spirituals and the Underground Railroad.

CLICK!

~S~


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 07:03 AM

Interesting stuff. But what I haven't come across are references to is material relating directly to the slave and post slave period, or to accounts collected from the field. It always seems to be people much later retelling the story.

There's a book which doesn't seem to have been mentioned on these threads which is really worth having for anyone interested in these things, Harold Courlander's Negro Folk Music, published originally in 1963, though there's a modern paperback edition with Amazon.

He makes the point that sometimes the interpretation of other songs which emphasise their possible coded meaning may be a misinterpretation, and that their direct religious meaning was more significant at the time.

"A large number of spirituals and anthems were so worded that they could have a disguised meaning; but it is not safe to assume...that they were created as anything else but religious songs."

Of "Follow the Drinking Gourd" he writes "There undoubtedly were some songs which served the slaves in their efforts to escape. For example Follow the Drinking Gourd is thought to have been a kind of oral map leading out of slave territory. The Drinking Gourd presumably was the Big Dipper, by which one readily locates the North Star:

When the sun comes back and the first quail calls
Follow the drinking gourd,
For the old man is waiting to carry you to freedom
If you follow the drinking gourd.

The river bank will make a very good road
The dead trees show you the way.
Left foot, peg foot, travelling on
Follow the drinking gourd.


"These and other stanzas are found in Silber (Irwin Silber, Songs of the Civil War, published 1960). Making due allowance for rearrangements that may have been made in the lyrics since the song was first sung, a careful reading nevertheless gives the impression that the song is not couched in traditional Negro images or vernacular and that the entire effect is literary and contrived. The legend attributed to it says in fact that it was taught to the slaves by a peg-leg ex-sailor who wandered round the countryside telling them how to escape to the North.

But once again, retelling, with a reference only dating to 1969 for those verses. It would be interesting to see what the version from 1867.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: masato sakurai
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 01:27 PM

No such song as "Follow the Drinking Gourd" (at least under that title) could I find in the 1876 Slave Songs of the United States. In the bibliography of the site posted by Lesley N. above, there is this entry:

Botkin, B.A. 1944. A Treasury of Southern Folklore. Crown Publishers, NY. "Follow the Drinking Gourd" was first documented by a folklorist, H.B. Parks, in Texas. His account of discovering the song and the story behind it are difficult to obtain ("Follow the Drinking Gourd." 1928. Publications of the Texas Folklore Society, Frank Dobie, ed). Botkin's account of the song is essentially a reprint of Park's publication.

Botkin quotes verbatim from Park's article except the music, which is from People's Songs, vol.1, No.2, p.12 (1947), as sung by Lee Hayes. Another reprint of the Parks article is in Mother Wit from the Laughing Barrel: Readings in the Interpretation of Afro-American Folklore, edited by Alan Dundes (University Press of Mississippi, 1990, pp. 465-468), with the original music and lyrics.
Parks records the story by "an old Negro" he met at College Station, Texas (date not given) as follows:

He [i.e., the old Negro] said that just before the Civil War, somewhere in the South, he was not just sure where, there came a sailor who had lost one leg and had the missing member replaced by a peg-leg. He would appear very suddenly at some plantation and ask for work as a painter or carpenter. This he was able to get at almost every place. He made friends with the slaves and soon all of the young colored men were singing the song that is herein mentioned. The following spring nearly all the young men among the slaves disappeared and made their way to the north and finally to Canada by following a trail that had been made by the peg-leg sailor and was held in memory by the Negroes in this peculiar song....
One of my [i.e., Park's] great-uncles, who was connected with the railroad movement, remembered that in the records of the Anti-Slavery Society there was a story of a peg-legged sailor, known as Peg-Leg Joe, who made a number of trips through the South and induced young Negroes to run away and escape through the North to Canada....

Parks had heard this song sung by "a little Negro boy" in Hot Springs, North Carolina in 1912; by "a Negro fisherman" in Lousville in 1913; and by "two Negro boys" at Waller, Texas in 1918.
The story behind the song seems to have mainly come from the anonymous "old Negro."

~Masato


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 02:08 PM

Slaves liberated by a shanty?

~S~


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 02:19 PM

Thanks a lot for that, Masato.

No, there doesn't seem any trace of it in the book - I wonder where M Ted got the info that it did? Maybe it is mentioned in Harold Courlander's introduction to the new edition mentioned in M Ted's post.

Anyway now the song in some form is traced back to 1912, which would be well within the lifetime of people who had been slaves. It'd be interesting to see how far the version as collected by Parks was the same as the one that's current now.

I'm glad to see that version of the story, which puts more flesh on the bare bones. That mention of the story of Peg-Leg being "in the records of the Anti-Slavery Society" is fascinating. It'd be great to have that chased up and brought here.


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Subject: Lyr Add: Follow the Drinking Gourd
From: masato sakurai
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 02:48 PM

I'll add all the lyrics from Parks' article above (titles were not given).

(1) Sung by a little Negro boy in Hot Springs, NC in 1912.

Foller the drinkin' gou'd,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd;
No one know, the wise man say,
"Foller the drinkin' gou'd."

(2) Sung by two Negro boys about sixteen, with violin and banjo, at Waller, Texas in 1918.

Foller the Risen Lawd,
Foller the Risen Lawd;
The bes' thing the Wise Man say,
"Foller the Risen Lawd."

(3) Sung by an old Negro at College Station, Texas.

When the sun come back,
When the firs' quail call,
Then the time is come
Foller the drinkin' gou'd.

(Chorus)
Foller the drinkin' gou'd,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd;
For the ole man say,
"Foller the drinkin' gou'd."

The riva's bank am a very good road,
The dead trees show the way,
Lef' foot, peg foot goin' on,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd.

(Chorus)

The riva ends a-tween two hills,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd;
'Nuther riva on the other side
Foller the drinkin' gou'd,

(Chorus)

What the little riva
Meet the grea' big un,
The ole man waits--
Foller the drinkin' gou'd.


Click to play

(from Lomax, 1934, taken from the article by H.B. Parks -JRO-)
Incidentally, Slave Songs was published in 1867 (my mistake); Botkin's Treasury (pp. 476-478) in 1947 (bibliographer's mistake). The author's name is Parks (not Park); the place name is Louisville.

~Masato


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 03:13 PM

If you have not yet welcomed new member Masato Sakurai, this would be a good time to do it. He has been presenting scholarship like this for several weeks now, mostly in the spirituals project.

I think we should take up a collection to get the man a scanner!

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Ponytrax
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 04:10 PM

There is also a fascinating book, "Hidden in Plain Sight" that discusses how quiltmakers (slaves) used quilt patterns (the blocks) and quilting patterns (the stitches that hold the top, stuffing, and bottom together) as maps or memory devices to aid escapees. Both sets of patterns are connected to traditional African patterns.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 04:21 PM

That was great Masato - and prompt. That bit Harold Courlander said about how "the song is not couched in traditional Negro images or vernacular and that the entire effect is literary and contrived" falls away when you see the collected versions, compared to the smoothed down and reconstructed version we know.

I was looking around on the net at anti-slavery sites, and at sites relating to this song, all of which, so far as I could see, seem just to retell and elaborate that story from Parks. I wonder if anyone has ever done any proper research on the anti-slavery records and such, to find out what lies behind the story.

I mean, is there a real Peg-Leg Joe at the back of it, or was that made up retrospectively to tie in with the words, with them maybe having some other meaning to them? And why did does it seem to have taken half a century for the song to get collected in any version. I noticed in "Slave Songs" from 1867 that the authors specifically said that they hadn't managed to get by any means all the songs, which isn't surprising. But even so, a song with a story attached like that, I'd have thought it might have turned up sooner. So maybe it did, in some dusty archive somewhere.

If there was a real Peg Leg Joe it'd really be good to find out more about him.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 04:25 PM

McGrath, as you can imagine, with the project on spirituals going full tilt boogie, I too am cruising around a lot of sites of that era looking for material on all of the spirituals. I will keep my eye out.

If you have any bookmarks for us, please share them-- there's a thread called Links on Spirituals where you could toss 'em. Eventually all those links will get edited together and inserted in the permathread. Don't worry about making clickies-- I can automate them when I edit it all together.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 04:54 PM

Here's a Spirituals bibliography which looks useful enough. And here is another

One thing struck me looking at that first version Parks gave -

Foller the drinkin' gou'd,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd;
No one know, the wise man say,
"Foller the drinkin' gou'd."

- it sounds like a fragment of a Christmas Carol, wise men following the star...


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: masato sakurai
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 05:00 PM

Parks writes about an incident when he for the first time heard the boy sing this song (no. 1) in 1912:

It is very doubtful if this part of the song would have attracted anyone's attention had not the old grandfather, who had been sitting on a block of wood in front of the cabin, slowly got up and, taking his cane, giving the boy a sound lick across the back with the admonition not to sing that song again. This excited my curiosity and I asked the old man why he did not want the boy to sing the song. The only answer I could get was that it was bad luck.

~Masato


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 05:07 PM

And Follow de Drinkin' Gourd - by Frank J. Dobie, ed. - Volume VII of Publications of the Texas Folklore Society, published 2000 sounds as if it might answer a few questions. "It is doubtful if any thing more novel than H. B. Parks' 'Follow the Drinking Gourd' has ever been printed in the realm of American folklore." — J. Frank Dobie, from the Preface."


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Frank
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 07:28 PM

This song brings into focus the issue of copyright. THe question is: when does a song become a variant of a known song or when is it re-written using only a lyric theme or a basic tune?

Having been associated with "Paul Campbell", I know that some songs that they do have been changed radically from their source.

That's because "Paul Campbell" contains songwriters.

"Delta Dawn", a popular song from years ago uses the same tune as "Come and Go With Me To That Land". There are many such examples. "The Twelth of Never" from the fifties based on "The Riddle Song".

Then there is the controversey surrounding Paul Simon's popularizing "Scarborough Fair" which some say was taken from the arrangement by Davy Graham. But the "Canticle" part was Simon's own creation.

I'm not sure but I would guess that the Weaver's version of "The Drinking Gourd" would be quite different from the source.

When does the artist re-create the song and when is it stolen? The "moral judgement" about such matters is murky im my view.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: raredance
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 12:34 AM

The reprint of the Dobie book contains the Parks article that Masato has been citing. The original Dobie book is from 1928. I have a copy of a 1965 reprint. The Parks article is just 4 pages long. Judging from the summaries and quotes Hasato has entered, he has the entire article from a secondary source. Nevertheless, I will see if I can get a scanned copy of the whole article to post here, so Masato doesn't have to type it in paragraph by paragraph. Since the little boy's grandfather in 1912 knew the song was bad luck we can be reasonably sure that the song predates 1912. We just don't know by how much.

rich r


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 07:13 AM

Not Davy Graham's arrangement, Martin Carthy's.

I think there is a big difference between making up a new song, and making a new variant of a pre-existing song, and on the basis of that claiming some ownership of the song on which you built that variant.

But that's a side issue here. I'm looking forward to seeing that article if you can get it, rich. I noticed that the versions Parks collected came from as far apart as North Carolina and Texas, which indicates that it was widely dispersed, so I'd be surprised if no one collected versions from elsewhere, assuming that there were collectors looking in the right places.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 10:38 AM

FOLLOW THE DRINKING GOURD

By H. B. PARKS

The following story is a compilation of three incidents and an attempt to explain them. A number of years ago while a resident of Alaska I became much interested in folk-lore and consequently anything of this nature came to attract my attention quickly. I was a resident of Hot Springs, North Carolina, during the year of 1912 and had charge of the agricultural work of a large industrial school. This school owned a considerable herd of cattle, which were kept in the meadows on the tops of the Big Rich Mountains on the boundary between North Carolina and Tennessee. One day while riding through the mountains looking after this stock, I heard the following stanza sung by a little negro boy, who was picking up dry sticks of wood near a negro cabin:

Foller the drinkin' gou'd,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd;
No one know, the wise man say,
"Foller the drinkin' gou'd."

It is very doubtful if this part of the song would have attracted anyone's attention had not the old grandfather, who had been sitting on a block of wood in front of the cabin, slowly got up and, taking his cane, given the boy a sound lick across the back with the admonition not to sing that song again. This excited my curiosity and I asked the old man why he did not want the boy to sing the song. The only answer I could get was that it was bad luck. About a year later I was in the city of Louisville and, having considerable time to wait for a train, I went walking about the city. My journey brought me to the river front, and while standing there watching the wharf activities I was very much surprised to hear a negro fisherman, who was seated on the edge of the wharf, singing the same stanza on the same tune. The fisherman sang the same stanza over and over again without any variation. While I am unable to write the music that goes with this stanza, I can say that it is a jerky chant with the accented syllables very much prolonged. When I asked the fisherman what he knew about the song, he replied that he knew nothing about it; he would not even converse with me. This seemed to be very peculiar, but because of the story of bad luck told by the grandfather in North Carolina I did not question the negro further. In 1918 I was standing on the platform of the depot at Waller, Texas, waiting for a train, when, much to my surprise, I heard the familiar tune being picked on a violin and banjo and two voices singing the following words:

Foller the Risen Lawd,
Foller the Risen Lawd;
The bes'thing the Wise Man say,
"Foller the Risen Lawd."

The singers proved to be two Negro boys about sixteen years of age. When they were asked as to where they learned the song, they gave the following explanation. They said that they were musicians traveling with a colored revivalist and that he had composed this song and that they played it and used it in their revival meetings. They also said the revivalist wrote new stanzas to fit the meetings. These three incidents led me to inquire into the subject, and I was very fortunate in meeting an old Negro at College Station, Texas, who had known a great many slaves in his boyhood days. After I had gained his confidence, this man told the following story and gave the following verses of the song. He said that just before the Civil War, somewhere in the South, he was not just sure where, there came a sailor who had lost one leg and had the missing member replaced by a peg-leg. He would appear very suddenly at some plantation and ask for work as a painter or carpenter. This he was able to get at almost every place. He made friends with the slaves and soon all of the young colored men were singing the song that is herein mentioned. The peg-leg sailor would stay for a week or two at a place and then disappear. The following spring nearly all the young men among the slaves disappeared and made their way to the north and finally to Canada by following a trail that had been made by the peg-leg sailor and was held in memory by the Negroes in this peculiar song.

(music line inserted here)

1 When the sun come back,
When the firs' quail call, Foller the drinkin' gou'd.

Chorus: Foller the drinkin' gou'd,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd;
For the ole man say,
"Foller the drinkin' gou'd."

2 The riva's bank am a very good road,
The dead trees show the way,
Lef' foot, peg foot goin' on,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd.

Chorus:

3 The riva ends a-tween two hills,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd;
'Nuther riva on the other side
Follers the drinkin' gou'd.

Chorus:

4 Wha the little riva
Meet the grea' big un,
The ole man waits--
Foller the drinkin' gou'd.

Now my birthplace is in the North and I also belong to a family that took considerable part in the underground railroad movement; so I wrote about this story to the older members of the family in the North. One of my great-uncles, who was connected with the railroad movement, remembered that in the records of the Anti-Slavery Society there was a story of a peg-legged sailor, known as Peg Leg Joe, who made a number of trips through the South and induced young Negroes to run away and escape through the North to Canada. The main scene of his activities was in the country immediately north of Mobile, and the trail described in the song followed northward to the head waters of the Tombigbee River, thence over the divide and down the Tennessee River to the Ohio. It seems that the peg-legged sailor would go through the country north of Mobile and teach this song to the young slaves and show them a mark of his natural left foot and the round spot made by the peg-leg. He would then go ahead of them northward and on every dead tree or other conspicuous object he would leave a print made with charcoal or mud of the outline of a human left foot and a round spot in place of the right foot. As nearly as could be found out the last trip was made in 1859. Nothing more could be found relative to this man. The Negro at College Station said that the song had many verses which he could not remember. He quoted a number which, either by fault of memory or secret meaning, are unintelligible and are omitted. The ones given are in the phonetic form used by the College Station Negro and become rather simple when one is told that the "drinkin' gou'd" is the Great Dipper, that the "wise man" was the peg-leg sailor, and that the admonition is to go ever north, following the trail of the left foot and the peg-leg until "the grea' big un" (the Ohio) is reached, where the runaways would be met by the old sailor. The revivalist realized the power of this sing-song and made it serve his purpose by changing a few words, and in so doing pointed his followers to a far different liberty than the one the peg-leg sailor advocated.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: raredance
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 02:01 PM

the complete Parks text (minus the music score) is entered in above. As you can see Masato has already entered more than half of it by force of his own fingertips. The reference is the Dobie book cited by both Masato and McGrath. HOt Springs, NC referred to in the text is located northwest of Asheville and east of the Smoky Mountins right near the Tennessee border. Also I could find no reference to Drinkin Gourd in the Fracnk C Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore although those volumes do contain a significant amount of African American material.

rich r


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 03:23 PM

Brilliant stuff!

I'm still hoping sometime we'll get someone who can get back into the records of the Anti-Slavery movement and find out if there is any way of finding out more.


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: masato sakurai
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 07:23 PM

rich r, thank you very much. Now I don't have to type the Parks material any more. I am thinking of getting a scanner, though. The music is reprinted as it is in the Lomaxes' American Ballads and Folk Songs (p. 227).

~Masato


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Subject: Slave song: There'a a man going round takin names
From: GUEST,gloriafs@yahoo.com
Date: 04 Oct 01 - 10:37 PM

Does anyone know the words to a song that begins with, There's a man goin round takin names There's a man goin round takin names He has taken all our names and he's locked them all in chains There's a man goin round takin names

It's from slavery times and refers to the fact that all African names were changed to English names. Names in Africa told a person's village, tribe, clan, etc. So in essence, "the man" was taking away their identity. Gloria Shaner


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 04 Oct 01 - 11:23 PM

See THIS THREAD for a discussion (and hopefully lyrics) on "Man Goin' Roun'."

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Help: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 05 Oct 01 - 11:14 PM

You never where something will lead, at the Mudcat.

Story: The Drinking Gourd

~S~


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Joe Offer
Date: 04 Mar 05 - 01:41 AM

There's a discussion of this song in Joe Hickerson's "Songfinder" column in the current issue of Sing Out! Magazine, Vol. 49 #1; and there's a previous discussion in Vol. 48, #4. Hickerson summarizes the research of Joel Bresler:
    The song ostensibly tells slaves from the Mobile, Alabama, vicinity the following:
    1. What time of year to leave to give them the best chance of success (winter)
    2. How to distinguish the Tombigbee River from other north/south rivers in the vicinity
    3. How to get to the Tennessee (River) once they reached the headwaters of the Tombigbee, and so forth.
    But the question remains, why hasn't the song been recorvered in the Alabama/Mississippi area from whence its road map apparently originates? So who can find such a source, or even the hymn (Follow the Risen Lord) upon which it is allegedly based.

Here's the entry from the Traditional Ballad Index:

Follow the Drinking Gourd

DESCRIPTION: A guide to slaves fleeing to freedom. Various landmarks are described, and the listeners are reminded, "For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom." Above all, they are reminded to "follow the drinking gourd."
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1928 (Texas Folklore Society)
KEYWORDS: slave freedom
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Lomax-ABFS, pp. 227-228, "Foller de Drinkin' Gou'd" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-CivWarFull, pp. 278-280, "Follow the Drinking Gourd" (1 text, 1 tune, being essentially The Weavers version)
Arnett, p. 62, "Follow the Drinkin' Gourd" (1 text, 1 tune)
Greenway-AFP, pp. 99-100, "The Drinking Gourd" (1 text, 1 tune)
DT, FOLGOURD

Roud #15532
RECORDINGS:
Pete Seeger, "Follow the Drinking Gourd" (on PeteSeeger46)
NOTES: The "Drinking Gourd" is, of course, the Big Dipper, pointing north to the Ohio River, New England, Canada, and freedom. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.2
File: Arn062

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2015 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.


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Subject: ADD Version: Follow the Drinking Gourd (Weavers)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 04 Mar 05 - 02:28 AM

Here's the version from the Weavers Song Book, which is almost the same as what's in the Digital Tradition.

FOLLOW THE DRINKING GOURD

CHORUS
Follow the drinking gourd, follow the drinking gourd,
For the old man is a-waitin' for to carry you to freedom,
Follow the drinking gourd.

When the sun comes back and the first quail calls,
Follow the drinking gourd.
The old man is a-waitin' for to carry you to freedom,
Follow the drinking gourd.

The river bank'll make a mighty good road,
The dead trees will show you the way.
Left foot, peg foot, traveling on,
Follow the drinking gourd.

CHORUS

Now the river ends between two hills,
Follow the drinking gourd.
There's another river on the other side,
Follow the drinking gourd.

CHORUS


The following verse is in the Digital Tradition, but not in the Weavers book:
    I thought I heard the angels say
    Follow the drinking gourd
    The stars in the heavens gonna show you the way
    Follow the drinking gourd

    CHORUS

Click to play


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Azizi
Date: 04 Mar 05 - 02:31 AM

Joe, thanks for refreshing this thread.

I've found it to be VERY interesting. This is not only an example of why I love Mudcat, but it further fuels my conviction that many Mudcat threads should be used as supplemental educational resources in schools and universities etc. The shame of it is that so few people are probably doing so..

I'm wondering if Mudcat has an index of threads listed under different subjects..for instance a thread on Secular slave songs..or does the Search and knowledge box fit that purpose? If so, it would be interesting if some funding could be found to provide print versions of that to schools..[this is just stream of consciousness thought, but I'm wondering what you think of that idea-Joe-and others..]

BTW, upstream someone posted that 'Pinky' was the name of the slave spirit who haunted a house as he was murdered in a safe room of the Underground Railroad..

FWI, 'Pinky' was used as a nickname or name for a light complexioned male or female...I believe that it was the name of the woman who 'passed for white' in the movie 'Imitation of Life'. That nickname is still somewhat used in that context among African Americans today..

And on behalf of all my ancestors, THANK YOU for your ancestors' efforts in the Underground Railroad.

Without White support many African Americans would not have been able to successfully escape to freedom in the Northern United States and in Canada.


Azizi
    Hi, Azizi - try a DT Keyword search - on the QuickLinks dropdown menu.
    -Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Azizi
Date: 04 Mar 05 - 02:37 AM

Correction..FWI was supposed to be FYI {for your information]
Sometimes I have fun making up acronyms, but that was just a plain ole typo..

Again, this is a FASCINATING, RICH Thread!!! Thanks all!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 04 Mar 05 - 01:21 PM

Isn't it great? I'm fascinated with this song, too. And my students LOVE it! We sang it two months ago in music class and they still hum it to themselves almost every day. And they're always reporting that they saw the Big (or Little) Dipper- and how safe it made them feel, because of this song and its association wtih freedom.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 04 Mar 05 - 05:42 PM

What secular slave songs we have, have been included in the Spirituals Permathread, since so many of the work songs were religious in text but were used at work, and since coded meanings are hard to untangle at this late date. Authors' print collections often lump them together in one book (altho in categories), so I think we might as well put them all together in one place. However, as they were posted, whatever was known about their type or origin was included in the thread, and more can always be added-- nature of the medium.

In education settings, the Cleveland index of spirituals in print is considered the standard reference, altho it was INcomplete in the last edition I saw. I have a personal-use index that goes beyond the books that Cleveland included, and of course, Cleveland does not include Mudcat as a print source and thus, whatever the Spirituals Permathread team found from rare sources and posted, may very well NOT be in Cleveland.

I'm satisfied with the usefulness of what we have organized here, and I would not be in favor of attracting additional attention to it by offering it as a print source. It's a resource that was created as a free part of Mudcat, and it should stay that way. Nor do I consider our work here authoritative enough to be cited formally-- it was compiled as a resource for singers, more than as a resource for researchers.

We always welcome folks adding to it, and it will evolve accordingly, but hopefully in the spirit in which it was created by the folks who worked on it first.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 04 Mar 05 - 05:50 PM

As posted in another thread, this song is controversial. The words were collected by J. Frank Dobie in 1928 at College Station, Texas, from "an old man."
Whether this is a valid, old song or something devised by someone at the University (Texas A & M) is uncertain.
Also, as posted elsewhere, the song, if valid, would be for exceedingly dumb slaves. The slave narratives and other records of slavery times suggest a higher degree of sophistication among the slaves and word of mouth communication of specific information about possible escape routes.
Parks (in the article posted above by 'Guest'), repeats the anecdote about a peg leg man, a story which, following emancipation, was spread widely and appears in the song, and also relates the song to a probable spiritual fragment, "Follow the Drinkin' Gou'd," collected in North Carolina by Parks and to "Foller the Risen Lawd," collected by Parks in Texas from members of the troupe of a 'colored revivalist.'

A nice little story, but impossible to document.

The same volume of the Publications of the Texas Folk-Lore Society, No. 7, 1928, "Follow de Drinkin' Gou'd," has a very good article by Mary Virginia Bales, "Sone Negro Folk-Songs of Texas," some with music, pp. 85-112; and another by N. J. H. Smith, "Six New Negro Folk-Songs with Music," pp. 113-118.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 04 Mar 05 - 06:28 PM

Perhaps it is partly the impossibility of nailing down the "true" origin of any of the songs, balanced against the deceptive recency of their currency, that makes the whole genre so fascinating.

I'm studying Shaker music these days, for Lent, and it's very interesting that they documented SO MUCH of what was freely and abundantly created in song. Yet even tho the notes were dutifully transcribed and preserved, there is quite a bit of scholarship suggesting that whatever tempo, mode, and time signature they were scribed in-- that ain't at all how singers SANG 'em. Reasons range from folk process-type things to the changing stylistic preferences of the higher-ups, who from time to time attempted to standardize some of the musical conventions of the group, with little success at the grass-roots level where the creative process was at work.

I've learned not to worry so much about all that, and just SING them-- both the slave spirituals and related songs, and the Shaker spirituals. And now that I am into the Shaker corpus, it's wonderful to discover how alike these two particular forms of "spiritual" turn out to be, in the hearing and in the singing.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Azizi
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 01:28 AM

Susan,

I believe that the last two paragraphs of your comment on 04 Mar 05 - 05:42 PM are in response to my comment that "it [this thread] further fuels my conviction that many Mudcat threads should be used as supplemental educational resources in schools and universities etc. The shame of it is that so few people are probably doing so.."

I still maintain that many Mudcat threads could be excellent learning supplements-in part because of the information found therein and also because they are examples of this newly emerging literary and communicative genre of blog posts. Online discussion forums such as Mudcat also provide information on how people separated by miles and having never seen each other [and possibly may never see each other]exchange communication.

So IMHO, the fact that we [meaning 'Catters] do not have [or may not have]the authoritive answer about particular subjects is largely beside the point.

I want to be clear about this-I personally am not interested in printing Mudcat threads and circulating them in schools, universities, or community groups. Doing such a thing without prior permission from Max, the owner of this site, and/or every Member posting in that thread seems like it might be a copyright violation.

However, given the way the world is and given current attitudes about copying online information for people's "personal use", I'm sure that somebody [a number of somebodies actually] has already and will in the future copy partial or complete Mudcat threads.

What I AM advocating is spreading the word about Mudcat.

I still want more people to know about this rich resource.

I particularly want more people of color to know about, participate in, and benefit from this rich resource.

I have and will continue to alert people to this site by casual mention of it to friends and acquaintances, by emails, and by formally mentioning it, when appropriate, in any public presentations that I give.

I hope other 'Catters are/will continue to spread the word about Mudcat.

I'm not sure what the spirit of folks who created this site was, but I would hope that they didn't want it to evolve into a closed resource for those lucky enough to be invited in, or for those who by happen chance stumbled across it.

Azizi


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 09:47 AM

Azizi, that is not at all what I meant. Perhaps you are not aware that educators (ans students) DO use this site. "Closed" resource? It is to laugh. Humbly proud of our work, yes. Open to the world, yes. Helpful in education, yes. Of COURSE!

I responded to your suggestion about for a commercially available printed resource and attempted to address questions you raised about index resources. Sorry if I was so unclear that you could take it wrong.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Azizi
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 01:11 PM

THREAD DRIFT

Susan, it seems that both our comments may have been unclear and misunderstood by each other.

My comment on 04 Mar 05 - 02:31 AM was:

"I'm wondering if Mudcat has an index of threads listed under different subjects..for instance a thread on Secular slave songs..or does the Search and knowledge box fit that purpose? If so, it would be interesting if some funding could be found to provide print versions of that to schools.."

You will note that I wrote that I was wondering if any index of Mudcat subjects could be PROVIDED to schools {not sold to schools}.
Also you will not that there is no mention of SELLING Mudcat threads or indexes to schools, universities, or anywhere in my 05 Mar 05 - 01:28 AM post either.

I am glad to learn from your last post that some schools are using Mudcat as an educational resource. I'd love many more to do so.

I'm also glad to know that I misunderstood the last sentence in your 04 Mar 05 - 05:42 PM post.

I consider Mudcat to be too good for us to keep it to ourselves. And it appears that you agree.

Peace and best wishes,
Azizi


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 01:21 PM

To reiterate, I'm satisfied with the usefulness of what we have organized here, and I would not be in favor of attracting additional attention to it by offering it as a print source.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 05:08 PM

At one time it was customary to append @civil war, @spirituals, @gospel, @hymn, @slavery, @minstrel, etc., to songs in the DT. There was never any direction on this, so one would have to look up several of these groupings. Moreover, many songs never reach the DT, and are scattered in the various threads.
Secular slave songs would be under a variety of headings. Many would be found only by the title or a phrase and have not been grouped. In other words one would have to know the song or its content to find it.
It would be easier to start at the library, using Talley, White, Odum, Perrow, Scarborough, Noble, Parrish, Epstein, Lomax, Botkin, Courlander, etc.
For the great majority of these, it is not known if they were were sung during slavery times, or developed after emancipation.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 05:19 PM

Azizi, the secular "Caroline," from Allen's Slave Songs, is in the grouping @creole.
As noted above the groupings at Mudcat are capricious.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Azizi
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 08:10 PM

Q,

Thanks for that information.

At first I wasn't sure what you meant by "library" in your comment:
"It would be easier to start at the library, using Talley, White, Odum, Perrow, Scarborough, Noble, Parrish, Epstein, Lomax, Botkin, Courlander, etc.

But I put one of those authors/editors into the 'Lyrics and Knowledge Search' box so I assume that this is the library you were referring to..

And it does yield some interesting results.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 08:56 PM

Azizi, glad you got some results inserting those names in Mudcat, but I meant a public library with real books.
(Which shows my age- I still prefer paper to electronic pages)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Lighter
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 09:21 PM

Scholars are beginning to think that Praks, the "collector," wrote this haunting song himself not too long before 1928.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Azizi
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 09:31 PM

Q,

LOL!

I'm a big fan and active user of libraries..But in this computer age, it's nice to have access to so much information at home.

For example, when the word "Lomax" is put in the 'Lyrics and Knowledge Search' engine Mudcat uses, it yields over 120 songs and 2276 mentions on Mudcat. Of course, I imagine that number of mentions changes with each mention of the name and of a song or different version of a song that found in any of the Lomaxs' books or recordings.{like Drinking Gourd}.

It seems to me that it's better to read books about a subject along with the piece meal comments and articles that are posted online.
I count myself lucky to live near the main branch of the library in my city, and several branches of that library.

And everyday I am thankful that I have a home computer.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 09:58 PM

Just noticed that I attributed Parks article (and composition?) to Dobie. The volume "Follow de Drinkin' Gou'd" was edited by J. Frank Dobie, but he was author of only two of the articles, "More Ballads and Songs of the Frontier Folk," and (as co-author) "Pioneer Folk Tales."
No excuse for my sloppiness.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Greg F.
Date: 06 Mar 05 - 08:19 PM

I'm satisfied with the usefulness of what we have organized here...

That's the royal "we" of course.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 06 Mar 05 - 08:34 PM

That's the royal "we" of course.

I see you've gone from baiting me in BS threads to doing it in the music threads, Greg F. The "we" in my post refers to the wonderful team of people here at Mudcat who did the hard work on the spirituals permathread, and to "we" the MUDCAT COMMUNITY.

Lurk off now like a nice boy, now, hm?

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Greg F.
Date: 06 Mar 05 - 11:33 PM

My mistake. Didn't realize that god had annointed you spokesperson for "The Mudcat Community" to make pronouncements about what "the site" and "the community" ought and ought not to do.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: NH Dave
Date: 07 Mar 05 - 03:39 AM

The Weavers and many other groups singing songs they had dug out of folk history had two problems with singing these songs. It's all well and good to say the song is a folk song or attribute to that famous writer of songs, Annonymous, but if they performed a song that resembled something sounding too much like what others were singing they might find themselves in trouble for infringing on another's copyright. Additionally if they modified a song to fit the expectations of their audience, and didn't copyright it, others could use that tune, words, and arrangement and sing it for pay, either in a concert or by writing it down and selling it as a song sheet.

Many of the songs and tunes the Weavers sang had been changed to fit their audience, and once changed were copyright under the non de plume of Paul Campbell to protect a product of their labor and to allow them to sing them without any problems from others singing a similar version of the song. Since a part of the Weavers income resulted from the records and song books they sold, protecting their creative talents made sense. You have to remember that back in 1950, the Weavers were on the hit parade with recordings of On Top of Old Smokey, and Good Night Irene, so this was an important considration.

I'm not sure how much the McCarthy and the House Unamerican Activities Committe's investiagations had to do with using this pseudonym, as the Weavers were using it before that whole ruckus started. It did put Pete in a lot of trouble since he told McCarthy and the HUAC that they had no right to ask him what groups he was a member, and whom he saw at meetings of said groups. The troubles swirled around him for some time, which resulted in him being banned from appearing on any comercial radio or TV station, and alsoI understand that he withdrew himself from the Weavers to reduce the fall out on them and their means of earning a living.

Pete eventually was exonerated of any real crimes against America and the HUAC, but the power of the Little Blach Book listing every employee of the entertainment business who had either refused to testify or had been linked to a dubious organization lasted for a long time, and kept him from working on commercial radio and TV. Sincde our Public Radio and TV stations were funded by contributions from their members, as opposed to commercial advertisments, he found a place where he could still perform.

Pete Seeger used to precede his rendition of Kisses Sweeter than Wine by explaining that the song originated as a song of an Irishman bemoaning the loss of his cow, sing a verse or so to demonstrate that the older song wasn't commercially valuable, and then note that they had written new words and speeded up the tune a bit to produce the song he was about to sing. Of course groups popularized their version of many songs that were still well remembered by their critics, and were roundly damned for these "improvements."

Dave


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 07 Mar 05 - 06:15 AM

Greg F, no one at Mudcat needs to be anointed by anyone to express a personal opinion when a suggestion is raised.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST
Date: 07 Mar 05 - 07:11 AM

Actually the drinking gourd was the Little Dipper. Which if you look at the top gives you the Pole Star, or north star. The big dipper represented the drinking vessel of the slave owners and the gourd, the drinking vessel of the slave.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Greg F.
Date: 07 Mar 05 - 07:44 AM

Why do you then express that "personal opinion" in the plural, ~Susie?
Must be that "christian humility" I've heard so much about.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST
Date: 13 Apr 05 - 01:02 PM

Surely the main reason why this wasn't collected for so many years after was because they didn't WANT it known? That's the whole point of a secret song. Imagine what would have happened if it was found? Old habits dying hard, they would not have been keen about revrealing it even years later. Another thought, maybe it was directed at children or adolescents?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 13 Apr 05 - 02:03 PM

It is more likely the story was invented.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Seneschal
Date: 13 Apr 05 - 02:16 PM

I would be more suspicious if it HAD been well documented.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Suffet
Date: 13 Apr 05 - 08:49 PM

Greetings:

Follow the Drinking Gourd is just one song in a family of fugitive slave songs. I found a tantalizing piece of close relative from a high school student who learned the following from her grandmother who had come up from the South as a little girl. The tune of the first, second, and fifth lines is similar to Do What the Spirit Says Do. The tune to the third and fourth lines is the similar to the tune of "There's an old man waiting there to carry you to freedom" from Follow the Drinking Gourd:

STARS GONNA SHOW YOU THE WAY
Anonymous(?)

Stars gonna show you the way,
Stars gonna show you the way,
It's run, nigger, run,
When the paddy rollers come,
Stars gonna show you the way.

That's it, just a fragment. Here's what I did with it:

STARS GONNA SHOW YOU THE WAY
Based on a traditional theme.
New words and music adaptation by Stephen L. Suffet ©2005.

Stars gonna show you the way,
Stars gonna show you the way,
It's run, children, run,
When the paddy rollers come,
Stars gonna show you the way.

Keep in the water and low,
Keep in the water and low,
It's run, children, run,
When the paddy rollers come,
Stars gonna show you the way.

Go where Old Rattler can't go,
Go where Old Ratter can't go,
It's run, children, run,
When the paddy rollers come,
Stars gonna show you the way.

Go by the dark of the night,
Go by the dark of the night,
It's run, children, run,
When the paddy rollers come,
Stars gonna show you the way.

Hide by the light of the day,
Hide by the light of the day,
It's run, children, run,
When the paddy rollers come,
Stars gonna show you the way.

Do what the spirit says do,
Do what the spirit says do,
It's run, children, run,
When the paddy rollers come,
Stars gonna show you the way.

Stars gonna show you the way,
Stars gonna show you the way,
It's run, children, run,
When the paddy rollers come,
Stars gonna show you the way.

It really works well as a children's song, especially if you can get the kids to act it out.

--- Steve


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 13 Apr 05 - 11:11 PM

After passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, an escaping slave could no longer just head more or less north to cross the Ohio River or otherwise reach a non-slave state.
The task of conducting the slaves fell to careful, well-organized members of the Underground Railway. Routes were not straight line. It was mostly up to the escapee to reach the first 'station', which he did by following carefully the path passed by word of mouth among the slaves by 'travelers.'
Once the escapee reached a station, his fate was in the hands of the conductors, who laid out the route and escorted the slaves. The route never was due north, but zig-zaged according to location of safe houses or sites, and sometimes was delayed for days to a time until the route was deemed safe.
Much is written about one or two of these conductors, but there were others that were more important.
John Parker helped slaves to cross the Ohio River and passed them on to other helpers.
William Cretty of New York helped 3000.
Robert Purvis of Philadelphia is credited with transporting 9000.
William Still, also of Philadelphia, conducted many.
Others included David Ruggles, Josiah Henson, Harriet Tubman and many others whose names are buried in records or unknown.
Purvis, Still and Ruggles were African-American free men.

Routes through the northeastern states of New York, New Jersey, parts of Pennsylvania, etc., involved transit by boat, train and horse-drawn vehicles, carefully worked out to avoid enforcers of the Fugitive Slave Act.
Some 30,000 reached Canada, and others were hidden in rural areas with strong anti-slave populations.

Few slaves would be dumb enough not to know the dangers of simple-mindedly "following the drinking gourd." Getting to the first station required following careful directions which reached him by word of mouth and diagrams drawn in the dirt.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: katlaughing
Date: 14 Apr 05 - 02:17 PM

Well done, Steve/Suffet. I like it.

There was an interesting episode on HGTV about "Historic Homes Of Freedom." Here's the blurb about one of them:

Levi Coffin House, Fountain City, Ind. House of a Quaker couple, Levi and Catherine Coffin. They built the house specifically for hiding runways, fitting it with secret rooms and stairways. (Photo courtesy of the Levi Coffin House Association.

According to the website for the house, HERE, Levi Coffin was often referred to as the "President of the Underground Railroad" and their house was known as the "Grand Central Station" of it.

kat


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Leadfingers
Date: 14 Apr 05 - 02:20 PM

Lots of good info in here - Very Interesting wether I ever sing the song or Not !!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: katlaughing
Date: 14 Apr 05 - 02:24 PM

*smile*

There are some really great links at the house link in my last posting, including the text of Reminiscences of Levi Coffin.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Joel Bresler
Date: 18 May 05 - 08:28 PM

Hi, Lighter wrote on 05 Mar 05 - 09:21 PM

Scholars are beginning to think that Parks, the "collector," wrote this haunting song himself not too long before 1928.

Which scholars, please? I am researching the song. Are you referring to the Tuscaloosa News October, 2004 article? The source won't go on the record.

Many thanks,

Joel


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Joel Bresler
Date: 18 May 05 - 08:51 PM

On 04 Mar 05 - 05:50 PM Q wrote:



>Parks (in the article posted above by 'Guest'), repeats the anecdote about a peg leg man, a story which, following emancipation, was spread widely and appears in the song

I would be interested in any anecdotes about a peg legged abolitionist, especially one working in the South. Citations would be welcome.

Thanks!

Joel


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 18 May 05 - 11:25 PM

Joel, see my post in thread 81241, 17 May 05, 08:54PM- Drinkin' Gourd
(posted as Guest when Mudcat was severely ill).

In the over 75 years since Parks published his story and song in 1928, no one has found any evidence of the pegleg conductor. There are no citations other than those based on Parks article.
The story is dubious, since the underground railway operated by word of mouth in getting the escapee to the 'first station,' a safe location or house. A 'conductor' would supervise from then on.
Also, as noted in this thread, 13 Apr 05, going north solo was almost a sure way to get caught, since the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 applied in ALL states; if found anywhere, the slave by law was returned to his owners.
The story has been embroidered by singers like Campbell and Seeger (the one in the DT, for example) and in a book for children that I have seen.

I wrote Parks 'repeats' in a mixed-up post written from my poor memory before I checked my copy of the Folk-Lore Society publication; I attributed the story to the editor of the volume (Dobie) and not to the author of the paper (Parks). I had to apologise and correct that error. Parks did not 'repeat;' the only citation is in his paper.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 19 May 05 - 08:58 AM

I don't have my reference handy, but the scholarly suspicions stem from exactly the sort of points that Q has raised here.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Joel Bresler
Date: 19 May 05 - 09:48 AM

Hi, thanks to everyone for reviving this thread. I am combining posts from the two different threads here for comment. I have been researching a cultural history of the song for about half a year now. Whether the song is "authentic" or not doesn't affect this cultural history, though as you might imagine, I would love to be able to answer the authenticity question.

>No other record or fragment of the song has been found, although 77 years have passed since publication.

Lee Hays claims to have heard the song from his Aunty Laura when a young boy.

>No record of any such underground railroad conductor has been found

True enough, although there were three major national anti-slavery societies and many hundreds of local societies at the time he would have been active.

>My personal belief is that Parks concocted the story, partly from an old spiritual, and abetted by wishful thinking, and perhaps a desire to put one over on J. Frank Dobie, at that time editor for the Texas Folk-Lore Society

Based on what I've learned about Parks (including discussions with former associates, correspondence and phone calls with his granddaughter) this would have been out of character. (Of course, that doesn't mean it's impossible!) I think he would have been loathe to jeopardize his relationship w/ Dobie, which was very important to him. Plus, he was working in a university setting, and had he been found out, it likely would have been the end of his academic career.

Incidentally, I can't find any trace of the supposed old spiritual, "Follow the Risen Lord."

>Others have questioned the story, but I must emphasize that the above remarks are solely mine.

I'd only note that in the folklore field, improbability does not necessarily mean falsification. But yes, FTDG is an improbable story.

>...since the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 applied in ALL states; if found anywhere, the slave by law was returned to his owners.

Abolitionists and the UGRR didn't care what the Slave Act said, they still assisted runaways.

Again, my thanks for the interesting contributions.

Best,

Joel


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 19 May 05 - 02:21 PM

Good luck on your research.
Whenever I get time, I look into more of the underground railway literature, and interviews with former slaves, looking mostly for songs, but also just interested in learning a bit more.

I think the idea of coded 'escape' songs is largely nonsense. Word-of-mouth and sketches in the dirt would be much more effective.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 19 May 05 - 08:30 PM

Joel, good research ! I generally agree with Q. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, if it was truly "out of character" for Parks to have concocted the story, perhaps he was taken in by somebody else ! The point is that the song just sounds too good to be true - in many ways.

Too bad we don't have the text that Lee Hays heard as a young boy. A comparison would be in order.

A further possibility - assuming Hays's recollection was correct - is that the song was commercially written, perhaps for a long-forgotten stage drama, not long before Parks heard it.

Just thoughts.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 19 May 05 - 09:54 PM

Parks, I believe, was an entomologist and botanist at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, at the then Texas A & M College (The institution has evolved into a very large university).
He was especially known for his plant and animal studies of the East Texas region.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST
Date: 20 May 05 - 10:22 AM

From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 19 May 05 - 08:30 PM

>At the risk of pointing out the obvious, if it was truly "out of character" for Parks to have concocted the story, perhaps he was taken in by somebody else!

He would have to have been duped by four different informants separated by over 1,000 miles...

>Too bad we don't have the text that Lee Hays heard as a young boy. A comparison would be in order.

The song would have been transmitted orally. I've been through Lee Hays' papers at the Smithsonian looking for all references to this song. There were some interesting bits, but nothing on the provenance.

FWIW, Parks wrote that the song originated with the UGRR as "Follow the Drinking Gourd" and had been altered later to make it into a spiritual, "Follow the Risen Lord." Hays seemed quite convinced that the song had started as a pre-civil war camp revival song, "Follow the Risen Lord", and that the UGRR had then adapted it to suit its purposes. If he uncovered any documentation to this effect, I could not find it in his papers.

Thanks for the comments!

Joel


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,JTT
Date: 20 May 05 - 01:55 PM

I always understood that the Drinking Gourd was the Big Dipper - what we in Ireland call the Plough in the Stars.

The song was a coded instruction (as I was told, anyway) to explain to slaves how to find their way north to Canada by following the North Star.

I assume that the other instructions - the river ending between two hills, the peg-leg, etc - are also coded references to a known safe route.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 20 May 05 - 01:57 PM

Yeah-- code to find the OTHER POSTS where it's all explained, bunked, and debunked, endlessly.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 20 May 05 - 02:09 PM

Re duped by four different informants-
If one accepts that Parks encountered fragments of an old gospel or spiritual in the NC-Tenn area, and from the traveling revivalist at Waller, as you say Hays suggested, then only the material from College Station needs re-examination.
A university town is a good place in which to be 'duped.' Like a number of songcatchers, Parks expertise was in another field.
(Not that there is anything wrong with that, Dobie never had an academic doctorate, although he wrote several books which would qualify as research on the doctorate level, and Mody (Moody) Boatwright, who succeeded him as editor of the Texas Folk-Lore Society, was a petroleum geologist).

Oh, well, just more speculation. Keep hunting!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Azizi
Date: 20 May 05 - 02:37 PM

GUEST,JTT,

I've read the same explanation. Note I said 'read'

I'm African American but this song certainly wasn't anything that was passed down to me by oral tradition. But, then again, to be fair, that could be explained by the fact that I don't have any Southern relatives {or at least I didn't have any relatives who lived in the Southern part of the United States until a few members of my family started moving to different Southern states about five years ago}.

So-forget about my personal lack of knowledge about this song.
I don't get a sense that it is part of the oral tradition of African Amerians who have had Southern roots for a long time.

And I don't see it mentioned in published recollections of former slaves as a means by which they or people they knew escaped from slavery.

The idea that there were "coded references to a known safe routes" to freedom that were passed on without someone who was a trusted 'family retainer' i.e. a House Negro {substitute the word you want} not hearing about it and not telling ole massa and missus, seems to me to be beyond belief.

I think that 'Follow The Drinking Gourd' is like an urban legend only it's not urban.



Azizi


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Feb 07 - 01:28 PM

Historian Fergus M. Bordewich has written a fine book called "Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America." He shows how the Underground Railroad forced Americans to think about slavery in new ways, as it delivered tens of thousands of former slaves into Northern communities.

In an article for the NY Times (Feb. 2, 2007), he discusses the myths that "submerge the horrific reality of slavery in a gilded haze of uplift. But in claiming to honor the history of African-Americans, they serve only to erase it in a new way"

Not his main theme, but he considers the myths and bizarre legends attached to the Underground Railroad. One of them concerns the ballad, "Follow the Drinking Gourd."
The version as taught in some schools and often heard as 'truth' actually was composed by Lee Hays of the Weavers in 1947, a fictional song based on two little fragments collected in 1928 of what may be an old hymn.

(Lee Hays is currently associated with BMI; Follow the Drinking Gourd is BMI Work # 3519896)


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Subject: Code Language in Spirituals
From: wysiwyg
Date: 05 Feb 07 - 01:45 PM

Not on the song specifically, but since this thread has come to include a discussion of code language I want to make a comment I believe I have made before in other threads-- but who knows where, now? ~:)

And that is, that code language could have been used not only about escapes-- I agree with Azizi's doubts about that-- but in communicating among slaves about day-to-day life. Not code for the purpose of fooling massa about escape plans, Capital C Code-- but veiled references to feelings and experiences of life as an owned, oppressed, grieving, angry human being. Small c "code."

It's my opinion that such would have served as a point of perceived commonality between slaves and the way unsaved folks were portrayed by religious imagery of the time. Slave songs (for that's what the authentic songs we now call spirituals are ) resonate with metaphors of captivity, just as many Bible passages recount previous historical captivities as well as the captivity of a soul in bondage to sin.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Feb 07 - 06:29 PM

Why would they have to talk in 'code language' to each other?
Did the owners fit each one with a recording microphone?
I fail to see any reason for it.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 05 Feb 07 - 06:44 PM

OK, an example.

Well, if your brother had been sold to the next plantation over, and your work-group met his work-group on the road, you might want to keep the contact quiet. Having had two step-brother sons in the Navy, I can assure you that you don't always want to let the powers-that-be know how to gain any leverage on you. But you might want to inquire how your brother is doing, and tell him how his wife and kids are missing him and keeping him in their thoughts and, maybe, prayers.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Feb 07 - 08:50 PM

Your example is far-fetched.
Plantation life required frequent changes in use of labor, frequent sharing of labor with neighboring farms and plantations including transportation and cartage among plantations in the same area. The slave hierarchy- house, craftsmen, those engaged in animal husbandry, carters, oarsmen, etc., allowed communication from the farm-plantation to the city slaves of merchants, warehousemen and dock workers as well as the personal slaves of professional and other well-to-do citizens. Communication among workers, slave or free, was as essential on a plantation as it is now in the corporation tower (or corporate farm).

Suggested reading-
Rosengarten, Theodore, 1986, "Tombee, Portrait of a Cotton Planter, with The Journal of Thomas B. Chaplin (1822-1890)."

(Who was the senior officer of the two boys, Captain Queeg? Personal conversations are not forbidden in the U. S. Navy).


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 05 Feb 07 - 10:04 PM

(Who was the senior officer of the two boys, Captain Queeg? Personal conversations are not forbidden in the U. S. Navy).

When you are in training, you don't get to room with your brother. Because they were step-brothers, and had different last names, they ended up rooming a lot, just by the luck of the draw. They didn't advertise the relationship, and because of it they were able to look out for one another in some interesting ways.

As far as far-fetched-- I doubt it was the custom for slaves to let their true feelings about overseers known. "Sure, massa! I love being a slave!" seems somewhat at variance with what we can know, today, about the realities of slavery. I am also sure that overseers would not have responded positively to reality-oriented speech in response to their orders.

Maybe, as Azizi has suggested, there were snitches among the slaves. But I think a more pressing danger would have been the overseers. And I doubt that an intelligent, creative people would have preferred silence to lash-provoking speech. Human beings communicate. As best they can.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego
Date: 13 Sep 07 - 07:22 PM

Speaking of the "Nom de Plume" reference, in one of the entries above, I have often wondered how many traditional songs were "modified" to satisfy copyright laws in the U.S. I recall learning of this early on, in the 1950's, when I saw printed versions of Kingston Trio lyrics and compared them to versions found in various compilations by people like Alan Lomas, et al. Often, only part of a recurring phrase or a few words would be changed, along with small changes in the tune, thus creating a "new" version, which could then be protected as a group's own.

If you follow the logic of the rumor repeated around the table, person to person, what some of us think of as traditional songs may be quite a bit different from the original. Of course, some have always called that the "folk tradition."


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: wysiwyg
Date: 23 Sep 07 - 08:50 PM

SIDE COMMENT

Regarding doubts about codes in "Pre-Emancipation" African American songs and spirituals (since that discussion was most easily findable in this thread when I went back to look for it)--

I've been reflecting as well as continuing to check my sources. If an African American performer, scholar, and/or collector of songs they say they trace back to songs they received from their grandmothers- who-were-alive-"Pre-Emancipation," say that their songs had codes-- I find that credible.

And I also find it credible, given what African American friends have confided to me about the closed-loop nature of communication in the black community (as they called it), where words in the community STAY in the community precisely because that is how the culture and the "race" (their word) survived.

I personally recall African American parents in an early-90's parents' group confiding that "severe discipline" (which we might recognize by today's standards as harsh abuse) would enforce this expectation of "keep it in the community."

And this "keep it in the community" imperative is not at all unique to the African American experience.... it is also the experience of many, MANY an oppressed group during the worst of the mistreatment as well as for years afterwards-- a cultural legacy of strong loyalty to the group for the very survival of that group. I live it today, in the place our church's area has in our Diocesan life.

SPECIES survival is a strong instinct as much as the instinct toward self-survival that might have led an occasional individual to "tell on" their poorer, less-"privileged" fellow slaves. (What do we think drives the "black enough" controversies and words like "Oreo" applied to light-skinned Afrcian Americans? Clearly-- fear of divided loyalty.)

As a matter of logic, the idea that one or more people might have "informed" does not preclude that by and large, there WAS an abiding hope in the chance that secret communication might just prevail every now and then. We're talking about desperate and creative people, who would have been trying each and every strategy they possibly could.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Margaret
Date: 20 Oct 09 - 03:18 PM

Thanks to everyone on this thread! I have an acting class assignment where we are supposed to act out something about a composer and perform his/her music. I started out with the idea that I could be the famous "anonymous" and sing this song as a nameless slave dreaming of freedom. Then I was stunned to find Paul Campbell mentioned as the composer in Tom Glazer's "Songs of Peace, Freedom and Protest." After following this thread through the Weavers, Hays, Parks, ghosts, haunted houses and PegLeg Joe my head is still spinning. I think I'm going to stick to the good story and wish you all luck as you try to verify it or expose it as a romantic "non-urban legend." I'm still like those school kids mentioned here - when I look at the Big Dipper it makes me feel safe, even though I've been living far from home for over 30 years.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 20 Oct 09 - 03:57 PM

FWIW, I've now done an extensive search of various American newspaper, book, and periodical databases back to 1800: millions and millions and millions of words. I haven't found a single reference to the song or the legend earlier than Parks's in 1928.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 20 Oct 09 - 05:53 PM

Lighter- Which adds to the opinions of many folklore specialists that the song did not exist before the 'date of collection'.
The legend is ridiculous anyway; The North Star (Polaris, Dhruva, many names) would lead an escapee into certain recapture by 'patrollers'; any codes would have to do with contacting the underground railway or other assistance to fleeing slaves.
Of course various words or phrases would be developed to hide meaning ('codes'); all groups desiring secrecy develop them, but the 'Gourd' song has no value in this regard.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST
Date: 20 Oct 09 - 06:32 PM

Exactly, Q.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 20 Oct 09 - 07:37 PM

That last "Guest" was me. Something keeps eating my cookie.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: M.Ted
Date: 21 Oct 09 - 12:12 AM

Joel Bresler, who posted extensively above, has recently published his work, which draws from and expand upon this discussion-- Follow the Drinkin' Gourd.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 21 Oct 09 - 01:30 PM

Anybody interested in this song should take a look at Joel Bresler's outstanding research at the link M.Ted provides.

"If it seems too good to be true...it probably is."


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Lighter
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 10:01 AM

The legend lives on. From another current thread:

"15. Follow the Drinking Gourd (Traditional) 3:00 A code song based on the Underground Railroad activities of Peg Leg Joe, a 'conductor.' He traveled to plantations as a handy man and gave secret instructions about a trail he marked with his peg leg for heading north by following the handle of the Big Dipper (the drinking gourd) pointing north to the Ohio River and ultimately freedom in the north."


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: GUEST
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 11:02 AM

Going in the river was supposed to throw off the scent of the slave catchers' dogs. I remember watching a movie about this a long time ago. It was fiction, but there was a character named Peg Leg Joe who helped the slaves escape. The dead trees marked out a trail. Except for the first piece of information, I'm not sure how accurate all that is.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Follow the Drinking Gourd meanings
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 01:30 PM

Good story about pegleg, but no more than that.


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Subject: RE: Origins/Meaning: Follow the Drinking Gourd
From: GUEST,Azizi
Date: 05 Apr 12 - 02:33 PM

Greetings!

I'm posting here to inform those who may be interested that I just published a post on my website that is a compilation of eight comments from this thread, a comment from Joel Bresler's website on "Follow The Drinking Gourd" as well as a video of Weaver's rendition of that song.

The title of the post reflects my position on the authenticity of that song: The Fakelore Of The "Follow The Drinking Gourd" Song.

Click http://cocojams.com/content/fakelore-follow-drinking-gourd-song to read that post.

My concern is that children, youth, and adults are being taught a feel-good story about this song. I believe that people deserve to know that a number of individuals who have studied "Follow The Drinking Gourd" have a great deal of skepticism about the authenticity of that song.

That post provides a small sample of the posts here (with no off-topic comments).That post includes comments from masato sakurai, Q, Lighter, Joel Bresler, and me.

I've added a hyperlink to this website and Joel Bresler's website and I've encouraged readers of that page to visit this page, Joel Bresler's site, and read or engage in other research on the topic of The "Follow The Drinking Gourd" song.

Thanks!


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