There is Ella Ree, so dear to me,
She’s gone forevermore,
Her home was down in Tennessee
Before the cruel war.
Then carry me back to Tennessee,
There let me live and die.
Among the fields of yellow corn
In the land where Ella lies.
Oh, why did I from day to day
Keep sighing to be free,
And from m master run away,
And leave poor Ella Ree?
The summer soon will rise an fall,
The tune birds sing their lay,
And the ‘possum and the coon will softly tread
O’er the grave of Ella Ree.
But now the cruel war is o’er,
And the colored folk are free,
And the good old times will come again
Way down in Tennessee.
This song has a confusing history. In 1852 or 1853, C. E. Steuart and James W. Porter published “Ella Rhee.” In 1865, Septimus Winner produced “Ellie Rhee,” altering the song to fit the post-Civil War circumstances. That seems to be the original of most of the traditional versions, although they cannot agree on whether the girl is Ella or Ellie, and Ree or Rhee or Rhea, or even “Allalee.”
Septimus Winner was a well-known composer; he also published “O Where O Where Has My Little Dog Gone” under his own name, and, under the name “Alice Hawthorn,” releasing the extremely well-known “Listen to the Mockingbird” and “Whispering Hope.”
Source: The text is M. C. Dean’s. The tune is from Peters, Folk Songs Out of Wisconsin, pp. 119-120. Peters prints a single-verse fragment collected from Leslie Burton of Lancaster, Wisconsin in 1946.