The Flying Cloud

Laws K28

FlyingCloud

My name is Willie Hollander, as you may understand,
I was born in the County Waterford in Erin’s happy land.
When I was young and in my prime, then beauty on me smiled.
My parents doted on me, I being their only child.

My father bound me to a trade in Waterford’s fair town.
He bound me to a cooper there by the name of Willie Brown.
I served my master faithfully for eighteen months or more,
Then I shipped on board of the Ocean Queen, bound for Valparaiso1 shore.

And when we reached Valparaiso1 shore I met with Captain Moore,
The captain of the Flying Cloud that sails from Baltimore.
He asked me if I would sail with him on a slaving voyage to go
To the burning shores of Africa where the coffee seeds do grow.

The Flying Cloud was a clipper ship of five hundred tons or more,
She could easy sail ’round anything going out of Baltimore.
Her sails were as white as the driven snow and on them there’s no speck.
And forty brass nine-pounder guns2 she carried on her deck.

The Flying Cloud was as fine a ship as ever sailed the seas,
Or ever spread a main topsail before a freshening breeze.
I have often seen that gallant bark with the wind abaft her beam
With her main top royal and stunsails set taking sixteen from the reel.

The first place that we landed ’twas on the African shore,
And five hundred of those poor slaves from their native land we bore;
We marched them out upon our plank and stowed them down below,
It was eighteen inches to a man was all that they had to go.

Early next morning we set sail with our cargo of slaves.
It would have been better for those poor souls if they’d been in their graves,
For the plague and fever came on board, swept half their number away,
And we dragged their bodies on the deck and threw them in the sea.

In the course of three weeks after we arrived on Cuba’s shore.
We sold them to the planters there, to be slaves forevermore,
The rice and coffee seeds to sow beneath the burning sun,
To lead a hard and wretched life until their career was run.

And now our money is all spent and we are off to sea again,
When Captain Moore he come on board and said to us his men,
“There is gold and silver to be had if with me you’ll remain,
We’ll hoist aloft a pirate flag and scour the Spanish Main.”

We all agreed but five young lads who told us them to land.
Two of them were Boston boys, two more from Newfoundland,
And the other was an Irish lad belonging to Tramore,3
I wish to God I had joined those boys and went with them on shore.

We sank and plundered many a ship down on the Spanish Main,
Left may a widow and orphan child in sorrow to remain.
We made them walk out on our plank, gave to them a watery grave,
For the saying of our captain was, “Dead men tell no tales.”4

Pursued we were by many ships, both frigates and liners too.
But for to catch the Flying Cloud was a thing they ne’er could do.
It was all in vain astern of us their cannons roared so loud.
It was all in vain for to ever try for to catch the Flying Cloud.

Till a Spanish ship, a man-of-war, the Dungeon,5 hove in view.
And fired a shot across our bows6 as a signal to heave to.
We gave to her no answer but sailed before the wind.
Until a chain shot broke our mizzen mast, and then we fell behind.

We cleared our deck for action as she come up ‘longside,
And soon from off our quarterdecks there ran a crimson tide.
We fought till Captain Moore was slain, and eighty of his men,
When a bomb shell set our ship on fire; we were forced to surrender then.

Now fare you well, you shady groves, and the girl that I do adore.
Your voice like music soft and sweet will never cheer me more.
No more will I kiss those ruby lips or clasp that silk-soft hand,
For here I must die a shameful death out in some foreign land.

It was to Newgate7 I was brought, bound down in iron chains,
For the plundering of ships at sea down on the Spanish Main;
It was drinking and bad company that made a wretch of me,
So, youths, beware of my sad fate, and my curse on Piracy.

Textual notes:

  1. Dean’s text reads “Bellefreisers,” but Valparaiso, on the coast of Chile, is surely meant; it was one of the great ports of the age of sail. Rickaby calls the place “Belfraser,” Belden “Belfrazer”; Colcord has “belonging to Tramore” for “bound for [wherever] shore.” Gray reads “Bermuda shore.”
  2. Dean’s text reads “forty-nine brass pounder guns,” which makes nonsense, though Rickaby’s text also has this reading. Since a nine-pounder was at the light end of the range of weapons used by sailing ships, I have amended this to “forty nine-pounder guns,” which also has the advantage of being an even number. It is unlikely that a slaver would be that heavily armed (they were designed to be fast but not to fight), but this is at least a reasonable reading. Colcord’s version reads “forty men and fourteen guns” — but forty men couldn’t man fourteen guns! Belden has “thirty-two brass guns.” Perhaps the best reading is in Gray, who has two texts which read “eighteen brass nine-pounder guns.” The real Flying Cloud is listed as 1782 tons but was not armed.
  3. Dean reads “Trimore,” and the other texts vary widely. I print “Tramore” (the reading of Colcord) because it is a genuine Irish town — the only one starting with “tr” and ending with “more” that I can find. What’s more, it is near Waterford, so it is at least possible that the singer and the Tramore man had been together for a very long time.
  4. Line slightly emended for clarity.
  5. Although “Dungeon” is a typical reading of English versions, one suspects the original read “Don Juan.” Assuming it was a Spanish ship, anyway — why would a Spanish ship take convicts to Newgate? Colcord in fact makes it a British ship, named Dunmore. Rickaby makes it a Spanish ship but has no name. In Belden, it’s the Dreadnaught — obviously a British ship though that text mentions no nation.
  6. Dean’s text reads “boys” rather than “bows,” but this is probably a typo. Every text I checked said either “bow(s)” or “deck(s).”
  7. Dean reads “next to New Gate,” but this scans poorly, and New Gate is surely Newgate Prison in London. This is the reading of Colcord; Rickaby’s informant couldn’t remember the name; Belden had “Rulawarp,” but knew texts reading “Newgate.”

(Click here for a PDF version of the music * Click here for an MP3 recording)

It may seem odd to say that a sea song about slaving is one of the most popular traditional songs in Minnesota — but it was. There are two Minnesota collections — one from Dean (who made it the “title song” of his book) and one from Frank Covell of Beaver Bay (also of Split Rock Lighthouse, and later Manilla, Iowa) which was published in the Journal of American Folklore many years ago and reprinted by Gray as his “B” text (for the full text of this, see below). In the JAFL version, the singer’s name is Edward Hallahan. Rickaby found a version in North Dakota which is told by Henry Hollinder. Belden has a version from Madison, Wisconsin in which the singer is Edward Hollander. Robert Walker of Crandon, Wisconsin had a most unusual name; in his version, the singer was Edward Rollins. There are other versions from throughout Canada and many parts of the United States. My guess is that the singer’s name in the original version was “Houlihan,” since that’s the only Irish name in the list — but the only version I’ve seen with that name was that sung by New York’s Yankee John Galusha.

The author of this song is unknown, and for many years it was assumed that it was pre-Civil War. The problem with this was the ship name. There was, of course, a famous clipper the Flying Cloud, but she was not built until 1851; there wasn’t much time between her construction and the Civil War for the name to have gotten into a song. Plus no one has found a version of this song from before 1880. Jonathan Lighter speculates that the song may have been written between 1880 and 1890, and the slaver named after the famous clipper which set the record for the New York to San Francisco voyage. If so, the song rapidly became immensely popular; it was collected at least six times by 1925, with versions from as far apart as the Upper Midwest and Scotland. Interestingly, of those six early versions, four (Belden’s, Dean’s, Rickaby’s, and the 1922 JAFL version from Frank Covell) are from the Upper Midwest. It’s not proof, but the evidence is surprisingly strong that the song originated somewhere in our area.

Source: The text is from Dean. The tune is one I learned many years ago from a group called Huxtable, Christensen, and Hood. It is very similar to, though not identical with, that in Colcord. Rickaby’s North Dakota tune, from Arthur C. Milloy of Omemee, is also similar. The range, unfortunately, is very large, and difficult to sing, but it’s a very majestic tune.

If you are singing this, it is probably wise to omit the fourth and fifth verses, describing the Flying Cloud, since they just stop the song in mid-story.

The full version of Frank Covell’s text is given below (I’ve made some changes in the orthography used by Gray, but the words are unchanged). Note that this version has several errors which affect the sense: The fourth stanza has been moved ahead of where it belongs, and the capture of the Flying Cloud is omitted.

My name is Edward Hallahan, as you shall understand,
I belong to the County Waterford in Erin’s happy land.
When I was young and in my prime, kind Fortune on me smiled.
My parents reared me tenderly, I being their only child.

My father bound me to a trade in Waterford’s own town.
He bound me to a cooper there by the name of Willie Brown.
I served my master faithfully for eighteen months or more,
When I sailed on board the Ocean Queen, bound for Bermuda’s shore.

When we arrived at Bermuda’s shore I met with Captain Moore,
The commander of the Flying Cloud belonging to Trimore.
So kindly he requested me along with him to go
To the burning coast of Africa where the sugar cane doth grow.

We all agreed excepting five, and these we had to land,
Two of them being Boston men, and two from Newfoundland,
The other was an Irishman belonging to Trimore,
Oh, I wish to God I had joined those boys and stayed with them on shore.

The Flying Cloud was as fine a boat as ever sailed the seas,
As ever hoisted a maintopsail before a lively breeze.
I have ofttimes seen our gallant ship, as the wind lay abaft her wheel,
With the royal and the skysail set aloft, sail nineteen by the reel.

Oh, the Flying Cloud was a Spanish boat of five hundred tons or more;
She could outsail any other ship I ever saw before.
Her sails were like the drifting snow, on them there was no stain;
And eighteen brass nine-pounder guns she carried abaft her main.

We sailed away without delay till we came to the African shore,
And eighteen hundred of those poor slaves from their native isle sailed o’er.
For we marched them all along our decks and stored them down below;
Scarce eighteen inches to a man was all they had to go.

The very next day we sailed away with our cargo of slaves.
‘Twould have been much better for those poor souls had they been in their graves,
For the plague and fever came on board, swept half their number away,
And we dragged the dead upon the deck and threw them in the sea.

We sailed away without delay, till we came to the Cuban shore.
We sold them to a planter there, to be slaves forevermore,
The rice and coffee fields to hoe beneath the burning sun,
To lead a long and wretched life until their career was run.

And when our money was all gone we put to see again.
When Captain Moore he come on deck and said to us his men,
“There’s gold and silver to be had if with me you will remain,
We’ll hoist aloft a pirate’s flag and we’ll scour the raging main.”

We robbed and plundered many a ship down on the Spanish Main,
And many’s the widow and orphan child in sorrow must remain.
For we made them walk to our gangplank, and gave to them a watery grave,
For the saying of our captain was, “A dead man tells no tales.”

At length to Newgate we were brought, bound down in iron chains,
For robbing and plundering merchant ships down on the Spanish Main;
It was drinking and bad company that made this wretch of me,
Now let young men a warning take, and a curse to piracy!

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