(Text based on M. C. Dean, somewhat shortened)
Come all ye bold sailors that follow the Lakes
On an iron ore vessel your living to make,
I shipp’d in Chicago, bid adieu to the shore,
Bound away to Escanaba for red iron ore.
Derry down, down, down derry down.
In the month of September, the seventeenth day,
Two dollars and a quarter is all they would pay,
And on Monday morning the Bridgeport did take
The E. C. Roberts out in the Lake.
The wind from the south’ard sprang up a fresh breeze,
And away through Lake Michigan the Roberts did sneeze
Down through Lake Michigan the Roberts did roar,
And on Friday morning we passed through Death’s Door.
This packet she showled* across the mouth of Green Bay,
And before her cutwater she dashed the white spray,
We rounded the Sand Point† and anchor let go,
We furled in our canvas and the watch went below.
Next morning we hove alongside the Exile
And soon was made fast to an iron ore pile,
They lowered their chutes and like thunder did roar,
They spouted into us that red iron ore.
Some sailors took shovels while others got spades,
And some took wheelbarrows, each man to his trade.
We looked like red devils, our fingers got sore.
We cursed Escanaba and that damned iron ore.
The tug Escanaba she towed out the Minch
The Roberts she thought she had left in a pinch
And as she passed by us she bid us good-bye
Saying, “We’ll meet you in Cleveland next Fourth of July!”
We went through North Passage — O Lord, how it blew!
And all ’round the Dummy a large fleet there came too
The night being dark, Old Nick§ it would scare
We hove up next morning and for Cleveland did steer.
Now my song it is ended, I hope you won’t laugh.
Our dunnage is packed and all hands are paid off.
Here’s a health to the Roberts, she’s staunch, strong and true,
Nor forgotten the bold boys that comprise her crew.
* showled: our guess is that this means to avoid shoals
† Dean’s text reads “the sand point,” in lower case, and this is how the text was printed in the original Songbook, but the reference is probably to Sand Point at Escanaba.
§ Old Nick: traditional name for the Devil
Update: In September 2016, Solomon Foster researched this song, and using online information not available when the Heritage Songbook was compiled, managed to locate most of the ships mentioned, including the E. C. Roberts, and to assign some dates. Here is a lightly edited version of the information he gave me:
I think we can say with some confidence that the E.C. Roberts is this ship — http://greatlakeships.org/2897492/data?n=64 — the 1856 one mentioned in Walton et al. According to the database she was owned by one H. Rumage from 1866 through 1873. Given that some versions of the song speak of “Captain Harve Rummage” and that time period overlaps nicely with the periods of service of the Escanaba, Kate Williams, and Exile (not to mention three Minches), it would be a fantastic coincidence if the song were about some other E.C. Roberts.The other ships:
Tug Escanaba: http://greatlakeships.org/2901197/data?n=1
Schooner Exile: http://greatlakeships.org/2900874/data?n=1
The Minch is harder. I’m guessing it’s
Schooner Charles P. Minch: http://greatlakeships.org/2903457/data?n=3
But based on the other dates I’m working with, it could conceivably be
Schooner Anne S. Minch: http://greatlakeships.org/2903457/data?n=3
Schooner Sophia Minch: http://greatlakeships.org/2902718/data?n=7
as they were both built in 1873, the last year H. Rumage was owner of the Roberts. (Though if the song was written at a time there were three Minches sailing out of Cleveland, it would be a bit odd to not be more specific naming her.)The Exile was built in 1867, so combining that with the time H. Rumage was an owner gives us 1867-1873 as the time period for the events of the song. I don’t see any obvious way to narrow it down further [but] the 1866 owner is listed as “Rumage & Anderson.” I’ve been assuming that was the same Rumage as “H. Rumage,” but there was also a Solon Rummage active in Cleveland shipping. If that’s the Rumage of Rumage & Anderson, then we’d have narrowed down the possible timeline to 1871-1873. But that’s pure speculation.