....Just Another Tune

Songs & Their History



The Adventurous Story Of Poor
 "Mary Of The Wild Moor"



I.  "One Of Them Old Southern Mountain Ballads..."

"Mary Of The Wild Moor" is a popular song from the 19th century that is known today as an "old Folk ballad".

More Song Histories

It was first recorded and released by the Blue Sky Boys, - a popular and influential duo from North Carolina - in 1940 for Bluebird (B-8522, see Russell, p. 114; available at YouTube at the moment):

'Twas on one cold wint'ry night,
And the wind blew across the wild moor,
When poor Mary came wandering home with her child.
'Till she came to her own father's door.
"Oh Father, dear father" she cried,
"Come down and open the door,
Or the child in my arms it will perish and die,
By the winds that blows across the wild moor.

Oh why did I leave this fair spot,
Where once I was happy and free,
I'm now doomed to roam without friends or a home,
And no one to take pity on me."
But her father was deaf to her cries,
Not a sound of her voice did he hear,
So the watch dog did howl and the village bell tolled,
And the wind blew across the wild moor.

Oh how the old man must have felt,
When he came to the door in the morn,
And found Mary dead but the child still alive,
Closely pressed in its dead mother's arms;
In anguish he tore his gray hair,
While the tears down his cheeks they did pour;
When he saw how that night, she had perished and died
From the winds that blew across the wild moor.

The old man with grief pined away,
And the child to its mother went soon,
And no one, they say, has been there since this day,
And the cottage to ruin has gone;
But the villagers point out the spot,
Where the willow droops over the door,
Saying there Mary died, once a gay village bride,
From the winds that blew across the wild moor.

The allmusic guide lists versions ranging from the classic recording by the Louvin Brothers (1956) to contemporary attempts by David Pajo (2005) and Sara Evans (2001), the latter from the soundtrack to Songcatcher (see IMDB), a movie based very loosely on the life of Folk song collector Dorothy Scarborough. I first heard "Mary Of The Wild Moor" from Bob Dylan who performed it - with Regina Havis singing harmony and playing the autoharp - at 16 shows in 1980 and 1981. It was the time when began to overcome the fervent musical evangelism of his so-called "religious period" and started to reinstate some of his 60s and 70s classics  into his concert repertoire. This "old southern mountain ballad" was an ironic answer to the people asking him to play his "old songs" and he used to introduce his fine performances with comments like these:

    "All right, we're gonna try something new tonight. Don't know how it's gonna come off, but we'll try it anyway. A lot of people ask me, they want to know about old songs, and new songs and stuff like that. This is a song I used to sing before I even wrote any songs. But this is a real old song, as old as I know. This here is called an autoharp. So this is how I guess you call one of them old folk songs, I used to sing. I used to sing a lot of these things. Well, I hope it brings you back, I know it brings me back. This is Mary And The Wild Moor. I guess it's about 200 years old" (San Francisco, 12.11.1980)

    "People are always asking me about old songs and new songs. Anyway, this is a real old song. I used to sing this before I even wrote any songs. One of them old Southern Mountain ballads [...] about somebody dyin' in the snowstorm. Anyway, it's called Mary And The Wild Moor". (San Diego, 26.11.1980)


II. "This Is A Real Old Song..."

"Mary Of The Wild Moor" is in fact an "old" song, but not as old as other so-called "folk songs". The text first appeared on broadside sheets in England in the early 19th century. By all accounts it was a very popular broadside ballad. At least 36 printers not only from London but from all over Britain have published the song. Besides these we also have some more - at least 10 - without imprint and in these cases it is impossible to say where or when they were printed. These numbers are based on the extant copies available in the two massive collections, the Bodleian Libraries' Broadside Ballads Online (BBO) and the Madden Ballads (MB) as well as the references in the Roud Index (No. 155). There is no doubt that there have been more. What has survived is surely only a part of what was printed at that time.

It is important to distinguish between two kinds of popular songs common at that time. First there were those written and produced for the more educated people. They were usually performed by the great singing stars of that era and published as sheet music as well as in more expensive song books. The target group were those who could afford these publications and were able to read music. Typical examples are hits like "Robin Adair" - introduced by the great John Braham in 1811 - and the works of composers John Whitaker and Joseph Augustine Wade, to name only two of the successful songwriters of this era.

Then there were the broadside ballads, cheaply produced and cheaply sold, the "literature of the poor people" (Shepard 1969, p. 14). The friends of more sophisticated music used to look down on these kind of songs. The editor of a Book of Modern Songs (London 1858, p. iii) complained about "those questionable productions [...] popular enough in the streets and at the lower-class theatres and concert-rooms". Of course the texts of many of the most popular hits were also reprinted - illegally and unauthorized - by the broadside publishers. The poor people also loved Braham & co. and they also knew these kind of songs and their tunes. But this was a one-way street. Only very few of those songs originating as broadsides were promoted to higher class popular music. In England "Mary Of The Wild Moor" was not among them. It was never published as sheet music and it never appeared in any of the popular song collections like Bingley's Select Vocalist (1842, available at the Internet Archive) or Davidson's Universal Melodist (1853, available at the Internet Archive). This song remained p art of the "lower" stratum of popular music.

When was this song first published? This question is not easy to answer. The printers never included the year of publication on these sheets, they were not registered for copyright and of course they were never announced or reviewed in newspapers and magazines. In fact I know of no single reference to this song in contemporary publications. In the library catalogs and the broadside collections we only find very rough and imprecise datings that usually reflect the business years of the respective printers.

It is a good idea to start with the two most important British broadside publishers of the first half of the 19th century, John Pitts and James Catnach. Both have published this song in several editions and it looks as if these are among the earliest of the surviving prints. Pitts and Catnach, very successful businessmen in Seven Dials - "the largest and most squalid slum in London" (Shepard 1969, p. 39) - dominated the broadside market during this era. According to an article about "Street Ballads" in the National Review in 1861 (p. 400) even Catnach's successors still had "on stock half a million of ballads, more than 900 reams of them". They both supplied pedlars, hawkers and patterers with broadsides that these middlemen sold not only in London but all over England (see f. ex. Shepard 1973, pp. 99-101; Shepard 1969, pp. 45-6). Not at least they also furnished provincial printers with material. For example Joseph Russell in Birmingham - he was busy between 1814 and 1839 - made a "'little fortune' by 'printing and selling Catnach songs'" (quoted by Palmer, Birmingham Ballad Printers 3, available at mustrad.org).

John Pitts started his business in 1802 at No. 14, Great St.Andrews Street. In 1819 he moved to No. 6. Three extant prints can be found in the Bodleian’s collections (Harding B 25(1538), Harding B 11(2789), Harding B 17(243b), here at Broadside Ballads Online) and one in Madden Ballads (MB 04-2908). The imprint on these four editions is "Pitts, Printer, Wholesale Toy and Marble Warehouse, 6, Great St. Andrew-street, Seven Dials". This means that they were all published since 1819. There is no evidence that he had printed this song at his first address.

Most interesting is one print, Harding B 25(1538) (BBO). This is the only one of all extant British versions of this text where a tune - "Robin's Petition" - is indicated. That melody was composed by John Whitaker and published in 1814. I will discuss this song later but at least it should be noted that it was not uncommon for the broadside printers to borrow the tunes of popular hits for new pieces. A single sheet with a slightly different text (Harding B 17(243b), BBO) doesn't name the tune but it is simply impossible to know which one was published earlier. Nor is there any external evidence that would help to determine more exact publication dates.

On another sheet (Harding B 11(2789), BBO) "Poor Mary Of The Moor" was combined with a song called "Old England For Ever Shall Weather The Storm" as well as a parody of that piece. The tune of "Old England" was written by composer Thomas E. Williams (d. 1854, see Brown/Stratton 1897, p. 449 & Grattan Flood 1915). By all accounts this popular patriotic song was a product of the 1820s. We find it for example in Vol. 3 of the Universal Songster (1826, p. 251, at Google Books). Pitts only published the text from his new address (MB 04-2908). The earliest available broadside seems to be one by Catnach (reprinted in Goldstein 1964, p. 56, at Google Books). Thankfully we can read on this sheet that it was also "sold by [...] Hook, Brighton". Richard Hook was apparently only busy during the first half of the 1820s (see British Book Trade Index and also Hepburn 2000, p. 201). But of course this is in no way conclusive evidence for a definitive publication date of "Poor Mary Of The Moor". The only thing we know at this point is that Pitts' sheet with "Poor Mary" and "Old England" can't have been published before 1820. But on the other hand it is not unreasonable to assume that both songs belong to the same time period, the early 20s.

Some more information can be derived from the broadsides published by James Catnach, Pitts' great rival (see Hindley 1878, a fascinating biography, available at the Internet Archive). He started his business in 1813 at 2, Monmouth Court and remained there until he retired in 1838 (see Shepard 1969, pp. 46 & 74). Therefore his publications are usually dated in catalogs as from "1813-1838". That's of course not very helpful. But thankfully Catnach's catalog from 1832 has survived and here this song is listed. He called it "Mary Of The Moor" (MB 05-1832, p. 4; also reprinted in Shepard 1973, pp. 216-23, here p. 219). At least we know now that it was available before that year. This is confirmed by another edition by London printer T. Batchelor, "14 Hackney Road, Crescent", one of Catnach's "agents" who was busy between 1828 and 1832 (see Madden Ballads, Publisher's Introduction).

Catnach also combined "Mary" with other pieces. There is one sheet where it is printed together with "The Waterman" (see Copac) and another one with not only "The Waterman" but also "All's Well" (see Copac). These are both older songs. "All's Well" was written by John Braham and Thomas Dibdin and first published around 1803 (see Copac) while "The Waterman" was known at least since the 1810s. Pitts had printed this song both at his first address before 1819 and at his new location after that year (see MB 03-2323 & 04-2791). But there is no evidence that "Mary" is as old as these two pieces. It was not uncommon to print new songs with popular oldies and these two sheets look like a typical example for this practice.

Much more helpful is a so-called "Long song-sheet" with the title St. James's Looking Glass that is available in two versions. These kind of collections of songs on a big sheet of paper tha1.  Long Song Seller, London ca. 1840s/50s, from: Henry Mayhew, London Labor And The Poort were sold very cheaply on the streets were an innovation either by Catnach or Pitts (see Shepard 1963, p. 81; Shepard 1969, p. 55):

    "The long-song sellers did depend on the veritable cheapness and novel form in which they vended popular songs, printed on paper, three songs abreast, and the paper was about a yard long, which constituted the three yards of song. Sometimes three slips were pasted together. The vendors paraded the streets with their three yards of new and popular songs for a penny. The songs are, or were, generally fixed to the top of a long pole, and the vendor cried the different titles as he went along". (Henry Mayhew, London Labour And The London Poor, Vol. 1, 1861, p. 221)

One version of this "Long song-sheet" has 12 songs ((Harding B36(15), not available online at the moment; also MB 05-3556) and one only nine texts (Johnson Ballads, fol. 27, BBO). Nearly all of the songs printed here besides "Mary Of The Moor" can be found in Catnach's 1832 catalog. Most of them seem to be from the 20s but some are a little bit older. Thomas Campbell's "Poor Dog Tray" and "The Mariners Of England" were written at the turn of the century and "Robin Hood" was first published in 1751 as part of a "New Musical Entertainment" about this famous outlaw (ESTC T212637, available at ECCO). In fact this is a typical compilation of old hits and new songs, both broadside ballads and works by popular poets. I have no idea why this sheet was called "St. James's Looking Glass". Perhaps this was a performance venue or maybe an attempt at a periodical. There was another one with that title, also printed by Catnach, that includes a "series of cuts, followed by a song and monologue written by David Roach, all satirizing various personalities of the time" (see Copac).

In the catalog of the British Library these broadsides are dated as from "1829?" (see Copac). This is not an unreasonable assumption. On the shorter version with nine songs we can find the note that it was also "Sold by Simmons [sic!], Reading". According to the British Book Trade Index John Simons in Reading was busy between 1826 and 1830. In fact this is the earliest reasonably dateable print of "Mary Of The Moor" and we can at least safely assume that this song was already available in the second half of the 1820s. But it can't have been the first published version. We can find "Poor Mary Of The Moor" listed in one catalog from the first half of the 1820s. Richard Hook from Brighton sold a broadside with this text (see Roud Index S158250, MB 11-7526) and - as already mentioned - he apparently was busy only between 1820 and 1824. This is the earliest datable reference to the song. But it is very unlikely that Hook was the one who had published it first. Some more of of his broadsides can be found in the Madden Ballads (MB 11-7511 - 7526). An considerable part of these are standards from that era that were also sold by Catnach and Pitts. It is not unreasonable to assume that he had also received "Mary" from one of the London publishers. Mr. Hook had business connections with James Catnach (see Hindley 1878, p. 90) but in this case Pitts may have been his supplier. His text had the same title as the latter's version: "Poor Mary Of The Moor".

But of course this is more speculation than proof and here we can see how scarce the documentation is. Hook's broadside with this song hasn't survived and we only know of it because it is listed in his catalog. Otherwise there is no further conclusive evidence that "Mary" was already available in the early 1820s. This in in fact the only thing we know at the moment. It is not possible to find out which printer had been the first to publish this text on a broadside. Even if Hook had used Pitts' version it doesn't exclude the possibility that Catnach was the song's originator. There was a "powerful rivalry" (Hindley, p. 49) between these two businessmen and they always took great pains to outdo each other. According to Hindley (p. 49) "each printer accused the other of obtaining an early sold copy, and then reprinting it with the utmost speed, and which was in reality often the case, as 'Both Houses' had emissaries on the constant look-out for any new production suitable for street-sale".

The text of "(Poor) Mary Of The (Wild) Moor" on the British broadsides remained very stable. The words used by Catnach on all of his broadsides and by Pitts on all except one were reprinted by most of the other publishers:

    'Twas one cold night when the wind
    It blew bitter across the wild moor,
    When poor Mary she came with her child,
    Wandering home to her own fathers's door,
    She cry'd, father, oh pray let me in,
    Do come down and open your door,
    Or the child at my bosom will die,
    With the wind that blows 'cross the wild moor.

    Why did I ever leave this dear cot,
    Where once I was happy and free,
    Doom'd now to roam without friend or home,
    Oh, dear father, take pity on me.
    But her father was deaf to her cries.
    Not a voice, not a sound reach'd the door,
    But the watch-dog's bark, and the wind
    That blew loudly 'cross the wild Moor.

    But now think what the father he felt,
    When he came to the door in the morn,
    And found Mary dead, the child still alive,
    Fondly clasped in its dead mother's arms.
    Wild and frantic he tore his grey hairs,
    As on his Mary he gaz'd at the door,
    'Who in the cold night had perish'd and died
    With the wind that blew 'cross the wild Moor.

    Now the father in grief pined away,
    The poor child to its mother went soon,
    And no one they say has liv'd there 'till this day,
    And the cottage to ruin is gone.
    And villagers point out his cot,
    Where a willow droops over the door,
    Cries there Mary died once our village pride,
    With the wind that blew 'cross the wild Moor.

One of Pitts' editions, the one where "The Robin's Petition" is named as the tune (Harding B 25(1538), BBO) offers some minor variations. The first line reads "'Twas one cold winter night [...]" instead of "'Twas one cold night when [...]" and in verse 2 it is a "fair cot" instead of a "dear cot". This text was reprinted occasionally by other publishers (see f. ex. Harding B 11(4232), by J. Harkness, Preston, between 1840 and 1866, BBO). But these are really no earth-shattering changes.

The original melody of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" is not definitely known but there is good r2. From: Maria Edgeworth, Early Lessonseason to assume that it was in fact "The Robin's Petition". That song was one of the great popular hits of this era. The words were originally a children's poem from Maria Edgeworth's Continuation of Early Lessons (1814). It is part of the story "The Bee And The Cow" from her series of tales about "Rosamond" (here in a complete edition of the Early Lessons [18??], p. 139/40). But the poem itself is possibly older. A version with some more verses had already been published in 1802 in the Scots Magazine (p. 921).

In 1814 John Whitaker added a melody and published it as a song. Whitaker (1776-1848; see Brown/Stratton 1897, pp. 443-4) was a very popular composer of that time and also one of the owners of the music publishing firm Button & Whitaker in London (Kidson 1900, p. 21). He was involved in the writing of Guy Mannering, a very successful opera (1816, with Henry R. Bishop) and also composed the tunes for songs like "My Poor Dog Tray" (words by Thomas Campbell), "Emigrant's Farewell" (see Copac), "Indian Maid" (see Copac), "Oh Rest Thee Babe" (see Copac) and "Mary's Love" (see Copac). Apparently the quality of his melodies was especially noteworthy. For example an ad in The Harmonicon. A Journal of Music in December 1824 (p. 270) pointed out  the "sweet fancy and poetic elegance" of his compositions:

"Their simplicity recommend them to the lovers of melody, and their graceful arrangements will ensure them a good reception with the scientific".

The reviews of 3. Review of John Whitaker's "Robin's Petition" in: The Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures, 2nd Ser., Vol. 1, No. 1, London 1816, p. 114"The Robin's Petition" were mostly positive. The British Lady's Magazine & Monthly Miscellany (Vol. 2, No. 11, November 1815, p. 334) noted that this "little ballad is remarkable for its simplicity and neatness". The Monthly Magazine And British Register (Vol. 39, No. 265, February 1815, p. 61) called it "one of the pleasing novelties of the day" and 10 months later  the same publication (Vol. 40, No. 276, December 1815, p. 451) recommended this song once again:

"The melody of this little ballad is natural, appropriate, and attractive. We do not mean to say, that there is much in it; but that the little it possesses is good. With the introductory and concluding symphonies, we are much pleased"

A second edition of "The Robin's Petition" was published by Whitaker & Co. in 1819 and the song was regularly reprinted (see Copac) during the next decades. An American version  in a collection for children called Little Songs For Little Singers (New York 1854, at Music For The Nation, LOC) had a different melody and was credited to one Max Braun.

"The Robin's Petition" must have been very popular in Britain. I found 23 broadsides in the Bodleian's collections  (see Broadside Ballads Online). On Catnach's Windsor Songster (Harding B35(18), between 1813 and 1838) it's called a "favourite song". It was also included in song collections like The Universal Songster, or: The Museum of Mirth (London 1834, p. 43/44)) and in Davidson's Universal Melodist (London 1854, p. 276), here with melody:

4. "Robin's Petition" from Davidson's Universal Melodist, 1853, p. 276

The song was also performed on stage and is for example listed on a  playbill for the Royal English Opera House in London from 1823. The people used to sing it, too. Reader W. W. Strugnell reported in Notes & 5. A part of a playbill for the Royal English Opera House in September 1823Queries in December 1875 (Ser. 5, Vol. 4, p. 504) that "The Robin's Petition" "is sung at the door of every house" in Cheltenham "at Christmas-tide".

The lyrics of this song are thematically related to "Mary Of The Moor". It is about a robin searching for shelter from the cold winter and a couple of ideas obviously have found their way into the lyrics of "Mary". Besides that it is no problem to sing the words of "Mary Of The Moor" to this tune.


III. Broadsides And Popular Songs

At this point we only know that the words of "Mary Of The (Wild) Moor" were most likely first published on broadsides during the first half of the 1820 and that the original melody was apparently borrowed from a popular hit written by composer John Whitaker. That's not much and in fact there is much more we don't know than what we know. A lot of questions remain: who has written this text and who has performed the song?

 There was a wealth of professional public entertainment in 19th century London: from the poor or not so poor street singer to theaters like the Adelphi, from the pub houses to the pleasure gardens. The theater wasn't yet an exclusive domain of the higher and more educated classes. Performers of the highest ranks like Luzia Vestris, John Braham, John Liston  or Maria Theresa Bland  were popular among all Londoners and they used to perform all kinds of songs.  The major function of broadside song sheets was to offer the lyrics of those songs popular at the moment to the prospective customers who had heard these songs in performance. "Three yards a penny! Three yards a penny! Beautiful songs! Newest songs! Popular Songs! Three yards a penny! Song, song, songs!" (Mayhew 1861, p. 221) the sellers used to shout to advertise their long song sheets.

The terms "broadside ballad" or "street literature" are a little misleading. They are surely appropriate for the topical broadsides, the "Ballads on a Subject" like the gallows literature that was the very lucrative main business of printers like Catnach. These "murder sheets" (see Shepard 1962, p. 80) were sold in great amounts, some of them even in a million copies. But songs on broadsides usually didn't originate on the streets but from professional entertainment. "[...] whatever was popular singing material was also very soon appropriated and sold on the streets" (Joy, p. 9).

This was in no way a new phenomena of the 19th century. Already "in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries [...] many [songs that were later called 'Folk Songs'] came from professional entertainers and writers for special occasions". And it should not be forgotten that Samuel Pepys in 1666 heard 'Barbara Allen's Cruelty  from a stage actress, his beloved Mrs. Knipp, "and it may have made its debut on that occasion" (Pound, Nebraska Folklore, pp. 236/7). Since the late 18th century with "the institution of Pleasure Gardens, like Vauxhall, Marylebone and Ranelagh, where music was a regular attraction" street broadsides show an "increased preoccupation with professional performers and shows" (Shepard 1962, pp. 71/73).

Now printers like Catnach and Pitts were busy bringing "all the standard and popular works of the day [...] within the reach of all" (Brown, quoted from Hindley 1886, p. 222). In the 1840s Henry Mayhew (p. 280) was told that "all those sort of songs come now to the streets [...] from the concert rooms". For the printers it was an easy job. They  could simply "steal" the songs and sell them cheaply on the streets. "They come to the printer, for nothing, from the concert-room" (Mayhew, p. 278) or they could be copied from popular songbooks by the major song publishers. Catnach published "all sorts of songs and ballads, for he had a most catholic taste, and introduced the custom of taking, from any writer living or dead, what ever he fancied, and printing it side by side with the productions of his own clients" (Anon., Street Ballads, 1861, pp. 415-6).

"Long song-sheets"  from the this time period offer interesting collections of popular songs that were sometimes dedicated to a performer or a venue. Titles of these broadsides as found in the Bodleian's collections were for example: The Rural Songster; Liston's Drolleries; The Vocal Braham;  The Musical Museum. A collection of excellent songs or the Vauxhall Songster (at BBO). Performers were mentioned not that often, only if they were very popular "stars" like Braham, Liston, Mme. Vestris, Ms. Bland or Catherine Stephens. Their names surely helped selling the song sheets.

But unfortunately there is no evidence that "Mary" was ever performed by one of these or other notable singers of that era. In fact it is not known who sang this song. By all accounts it was - to quote again the editor of the Book of Modern Songs (Carpenter 1858, p. iii) - one of "those questionable productions [...] popular enough in the streets and at the lower-class theatres and concert-rooms" and the names of the performers are forever lost.

The writer of "Mary Of The Moor" has also remained anonymous, he wasn't credited. But that was standard practice of all printers and happened even to songwriters of the higher ranks like Joseph A. Wade. His "Meet Me By The Moonlight Alone" (1826) was among the most popular songs of the 19th century and widely reprinted on broadsides in Britain. This song can also be found on "Long song-sheets" from the 20s like Catnach's Life In London Songster  (Harding B 36(9))  and Pitts' The Harvest Concert ( Johnson Ballad fol. 121) but his name is never mentioned. Usually only well known poets and writers dead or alive like Burns, Clare, Campbell - responsible for two songs on The St. James's Looking Glass -, White or John Howard Payne, the author of the great hit "Home Sweet Home", were credited. But that may have helped more selling the broadsides than supporting the poets themselves or their heirs who surely weren't paid anything.

So for the most part of the 19th century we don't know who actually wrote the songs. Occasionally it may have been the performers and musicians themselves. But often enough the singers and concert halls as well as the broadside printers bought the lyrics from the street and tavern poets. But at least some information about these writers is available.

In a book called Real Life In London (Egan 1821, pp. 512-3, at Gutenberg.org; also in Hindley 1878, pp. 176-7) we can find an interesting report about one Mr. Goosequill, an up-and-coming playwright who had some problems selling his theatrical works. But he had  "made an agreement with a printer of ballads in Seven Dials, who, finding his inclinations led to poetry, expressed his satisfaction, telling him that one of his poets had lost his senses, and was confined to Bedlam, and another was dazed with drinking drams". This work brought him some income but not much. He only "earned five-pence-three-farthings per week".

Pitts and Catnach had a "stuff of bards" (Hindley, p. 49) and the latter "was a bit of the poet" (Hindley, pp. 156-7) and even wrote new song lyrics himself. The author of  an article about "Street Ballads" in the National Review (1861, pp.415-6) reports that he had often heard that Mr. Catnach  "kept a fiddler day and night in a backroom, where he used to sit, like Old King Cole, with a pot of ale and a long clay, receiving ballad-writers and singers, and judging of the merits of any production which was brought to him by having it sung then and there to some popular air played by his fiddler" (pp. 415-6). Hindley (p. 157) gives an interesting description of a typical songwriting session:

One of his friends "had a fine voice [and] used to sing the tune over while Jemmy composed. Many a ballad was thus produced: the elaboration of the ideas, the length of the lines, and the setting of the type all going on simultaneously, 'Sing it over again, Tom,' was a frequent request, and when the verse and music did not satisfy Jemmy's ear, and after repeated efforts, it was pronounced fit for the national taste, and then printed off for immediate sale".

Later Hen6. Pirate Of The Isles, New York, ca. 1860sry Mayhew (p. 279f) was even able to interview one of these poets who had to work on both sides of the tracks to make a living, for the printers and for the concert-venues and whose songs had been very successful. They can be found in the broadside archives and some of them were even published in the USA:  :

    "The first song I ever sold was to a concert-room manager. The next I sold had great success. It was called the `Demon of the Sea,' and was to the tune of `The Brave Old Oak.' [...] That song was written for a concert-room, but it was soon in the streets, and ran a whole winter. I got only 1s. for it. Then I wrote the `Pirate of the Isles,' [New York ca. 1860s] and other ballads of that sort. The concert-rooms pay no better than the printers for the streets. Perhaps the best thing I ever wrote was the 'Husband's Dream.' [New York ca 1860] [...] I dare say I've written a thousand in my time, and most of them were printed. I believe 10,000 were sold of the `Husband's Dream.' [...]"

 It seems that songwriter wasn't a well-respected job at that time nor was it a profession to get rich with. These anonymous street poets surely were educated and very experienced professionals but of course they were never reviewed in the British Ladies Magazine or in the Monthly Magazine And British Register.


IV. Sad Tales Of Betrayed Mothers And Poor Orphans

"Mary Of The Moor" treats a topic well known from literature and song: the girl with child - sometimes illegitimate - is betrayed and left by her husband or lover, she wants to return home but her father despises her and in the end she and the child will die. German readers may be aware for example of Gottfried August Bürger's Des Pfarrers Tochter von Taubenhain (1778), where this topic is combined with that of the desperate mother murdering the child.

But it isn't necessary to go that far, British songs from the broadside collections offers enough possible precursors and parallels. There is for example a ballad called "Winter's Evening, or: The deploring damsel", printed in London between 1780 and 1812 (Harding B 17 (342a), BBO), also in Newcastle between 1774 and 1825 as "The Winter's Night" (Harding B 25(2058),BBO), and then reprinted in Britain at least until the 1850s. In the 20th century it was collected by Folklorists in Britain, Ireland, Canada and the USA as "The Fatal Snowstorm" or "The Forsaken Mother And Child" (Roud # 175):

    Twas one winter's evening when first came down the snow,
    And bleak o'er the wild heath a bitter blast did blow.
    I saw a damsel all alone and weeping on the way
    She p[r]est her baby to her breast, and sadly then did say -

    How cruel was my father to shut the door on me,
    And cruel was my mother such a sight to see;
    How cruel is the winter wind that chill my heart with cold,
    How cruel also then was he that left his love for gold.

    Hush, hush my dearest baby, I'll warm you at my breast,
    How little does your father think how sadly we're distrest;
    As wretched as he is, did he but know how we fare,
    He'd shield us in his arms, from the bitter piercing air.

    Hush, hush, my little baby, thy little life's gone."
    Let these tears revive you that trickle fast down,
    So fast the tears flow they as they fall.
    O wretched, wretched mother, was our downfall.

    Down she sun despairing on the drifted snow,
    And filled with anguish, lamenting her woe;
    She kiss'd her baby's lips, & laid it by her side,
    She cast her eyes to heav'n, bow'd her head and died.

This song alone could easily have served as a model and inspiration for the writer of the lyrics of "Mary Of The Moor". It is surely one of the saddest songs I've ever seen and it has an obvious theatrical quality. I can actually imagine it performed by an actress on stage. But there is one major difference in motives: this song has the cruel father who had "shut the door" on the girl while in "Mary" he was only "deaf to her cries" because he wasn't able to hear her voice: the wind "blew loudly 'cross the wild moor". The different dramaturgy allows the sorrowful father's death at the end of the song and makes the whole story even more tragic than "Winter's Evening".

The other major difference is that "Mary" lacks most of the background of the girl's story. It is never explained - as in "Winter's Evening" - why she returns home with her child in a dark and stormy night, except for a short allusion at the end that she once had been "our village pride". Maybe the song was originally only a part of a stage play that had offered Mary's story, or maybe it had been introduced with a narrative describing the background.

But the listeners and readers of that era surely didn't have any problems understanding this ballad. There were enough songs around that offered versions of this very popular topic. One example from the same is "Wandering Girl", here from a London broadside dated 1817 - 1828 (Firth c. 18(104), BBO), also reprinted in later years. Here the girl with her child, left by her true love and despised by her father, "must wander like one that is poor". The grim ending is missing, instead she warns all "pretty fair maids [...] never trust a young man in any degree":

    I lov'd a young man as dear as my life,
    He often told me he'd make me his wife,
    But now to some other fair girl he is gone,
    Left me and my baby in sorrow to mourn.

    My truelove has left me I know not why,
    Left me and my baby in sorrow to cry,
    My father and mother forget I ne'er shall,
    How they've turned their backs on the Wandering Girl.

    My father despises me because I did so,
    Now I'm despis'd by the girls that I know,
    My father and mother turn'd me from the door,
    Now I must wander like one that is poor.

    Once I was fair as the bud of the rose,
    Now I'm pale as the lily that grows,
    Like a flower in the garden my beauty is gone,
    See what I come to by loving a man.

    Come ye pretty fair maids wherever ye be,
    Never trust a young man in any degree,
    They'll kiss you, and court you, and swear they'll be true,
    And the very next moment they'll bid you adieu.

Another Mary's story is told in "Blue-Eyed Mary Or: The Victim Of Seduction" (Harding B 11(346), BBO), also printed by Catnach, but not dateable, so it may also postdate "Mary Of The Moor". This girl from a "cottage embosom'd within a deep shade", at first also the pride of the village, is seduced by a squire, follows him to the town and in the end dies as a prostitute:

    In a cottage embosom'd within a deep shade,
    Like a rose in the desert ah, view the meek maid,
    Her aspect a' sweetness, al plaintive her eye,
    And a bosom for which e'en a monarch might sigh.

    Then in neat Sunday gown see her met by the squire,
    All attraction her countenance, his all desire:
    He accosts her by blushes - he flatters, she smiles -
    And soon Blue-Ey'd Mary's seduced by his wiles.

    Now with eyes dim & languid, the once blooming maid,
    In a garret on straw faint and helpless is laid;
    Oh! mark her pale cheeks,she scarce draws her last breath,
    And lo! her blue eyes are now sealed up in death.

Even printer James Catnach himself tried his hand at a song about this extremely popular topic. His "Home", first published in 1823 in The May-flower. New songs (Johnson Ballads fol. 17), was written to the melody of "Sweet Home" by John Howard Payne, one of the great hits of that time and is a good example for a typical answer-song. Later it was even printed by Catnach's rival Pitts side by side with the original and another parody  (Harding B 11(3711), BBO) :

    I was courted by a young man who did me betray,
    From the cot of my childhood he led me away;
    But now he has left me in sorrow to roam,
    Far, far from my parents, and far from my home.

    Home! home! sweet, sweet home!
    There's no place like home.


    Farewell, peaceful cottage, farewell happy home,
    For ever I'm doom'd a poor exile to roam;
    But this poor aching heart must be laid in the tomb,
    Ere it can forget the endearments of home. -Home! home! &c

Wandering girls were usually betrayed mothers with a little child, the wandering boys used to be poor orphans. A well known example is Henry Kirke White's (1785 - 1806) poem "The Wandering Boy" where the "winter wind whistles along the wild moor". It circulated widely on broadsides and was performed by singers. Liston's Drolleries (Catnach 1822, Johnson Ballads fol. 14, BBO) includes the original version as "sung by Master Hyde at the London concerts":

    When the winter wind whistles along the wild moor,
    And the cottager shuts on the beggar his door;
    When the chilling tear stands in my comfortless eye,
    Oh, how hard is the lot of the Wandering Boy.

    The winter is cold, and I have no vest,
    And my heart it is cold as it beats in my breast;
    No father, no mother, no kindred have I,
    For I am a parentless Wandering Boy.

    Yet I had a home, and I once had a sire,
    A mother who granted each infant desire;
    Our cottage it stood in a wood-embower'd vale,
    Where the ringdove would warble its sorrowful tale.

    But my father and mother were summoned away,
    And they left me to hard-hearted strangers a prey;
    I fled from their rigour with many a sigh,
    And now I'm a poor little Wandering Boy.

    The wind it is keen, and the snow loads the gale,
    And no one will list to my innocent tale;
    I'll go to the grave where my parents both lie,
    And death shall befriend the poor Wandering Boy.

But there were also versions circulating with two additional verses at the end that hadn't been part of White's original (Johnson Ballads 2961, ca. 1824):

    I'll lay my self down I'm denumbed with could [sic!],
    My cry is no hard [sic!] by the yound [sic!] nor the old,
    All the days of my life have been clouded from joy,
    There's nether friends nor a home for the wandering boy.

    The door which he lay at belonged to a squire,
    Whose house might have sheltered his limbs by the fire,
    But when the door open'd they beheld with their eyes,
    Lying lifeless and pale, the poor wandering boy.

Here the poor boy is suffering the same fate as Mary and is found dead the next morning. Another related song is "The Soldier's Boy" (Roud # 258) that describes a similar scene (Catnach, ca. 1828/29?, Harding B 17(291a) and more often):

    The snow was fast descending,
    and loud the wind did roar,
    When a little boy friendless,
    came up to a Lady's door.
    as the Lady sat at the window,
    He raised his eyes with joy,
    Lady gay, take pity pray,
    Cried the poor soldier's boy.


    Now the snow is fast descending
    and night is coming on,
    Unless you are befriending,
    I'll perish before morn.
    Then how it will grieve your heart,
    And your peace of mind destroy,
    To find me dead at your door in the morn.
    The poor Soldier's Boy

But in this case the poor boy is saved:

    The lady rushed from her window,
    and opened her mansion door,
    Come in she cried misfortune's child
    You shall never wander more.
    For my only son in battle fel
    Who was my only joy.
    And while I live I'll shelter give to a poor
    Soldier's Boy.

A similar story about an orphan wandering through the "dreary moor", also with a positive ending, can be found in The "Farmer's Boy" (Roud # 408), a song printed by Catnach in some of his Long song-sheets like Cupid's Bower and The Jessamine and reprinted throughout the century, here quoted from Harding B 11(1152):

    The sun went down beyond your hill
    Across your dreary moor,
    Wary and lame, a boy there came,
    Up to a farmer's door
    One favour I have to ask
    Will shelter me till break of day,
    From this cold winter's blast

Another song touching this topic is "Poor Little Sailor Boy", also very popular at that time (for example with "Poor Mary Of The Moor" on Harding B 17 (243b) by Pitts). "The Robin's Petition", the song that may have furnished "Mary" with its melody may have been an inspiration too, it belongs to the same family (Johnson Ballads 260, all BBO).

"Mary Of The Moor" is for the most part a combination of motives and ideas from songs about the "wandering girl" and the "wandering boy". Nearly all elements of "Mary" can be found in the lyrics quoted and the writer surely was aware of them. Even songs with different topics may have offered some inspiration. The St. James's Looking Glass also includes "The Blue-Eyed Stranger" - the first print of this one is from the early 20s (Harding B28 (58)) - that opens with a similar scenery and also uses the image of the father with "frantic" hair gazing upon a girl:

    One night the north wind loud did blow,
    The rain was fast descending,
    The bitter of heartfelt woe,
    The darken'd sky was rending
    My father stood with frantic air [sic!],
    And gazed upon the maiden,
    Whose heart was broke in sad despair,
    And mind with sorrow laden

The author of "Mary Of The Moor" only needed to grab into the big bag of motives available at that time to create another song about a topic popular at that time.


V. How To Write An "Old" Song

Though most likely derived from contemporary popular songs the style is different. The lyrics read like a pastiche of older ballads like "Barbara Allen" with some additional melodramatic effects. "Mary" has all ingredients of a "fabricated Folk-Song". This is not meant as a pejorative value judgment but as a description of style. The language sounds stilted and is approaching fairy-tale style, the rural scenery is stylized and artificial like a setting on a stage. The melody used by the writer had originally been created for a children's poem, "The Robin's Petition".  The narrative is constructed like an historical legend, opening with the classic introductory formula:

    'Twas [...] when [...]

and ending with the villagers pointing out the old cottage that "to ruin" has gone:

    And noone they say has liv'd there 'till this day

Only the willow "over the door" remains as a memento of that drama and indicates the place where Mary had died.

Maybe the writer  had "Barbara Allen" - a song still or again very popular at that time - in mind when he conceived "Mary Of the Moor". Both songs share the tragic ending with the father "pining away in grief" after finding Mary in the morning just like Barbara Allen died of sorrow after her young man's death. Also the refrain lines are constructed similarly and the real culprits, Barbara Allen respectively the "winds that blew 'cross the wild moor", are placed at the end of the verses. Comparing these two songs makes me wonder if "Mary" was originally intended as some kind of parody of an "old" Folk ballad.

It should be noted that it was - in the context of European romanticism - the time of the very first "Folk Revival", the blueprint for all later revivals. Since the 18th century urban intellectuals in Europe had "turned their attention as never before to the vernacular culture of their country's peasants, farmers and craftspeople [...] Once scorned as ignorant and illiterate, ordinary people began to be glorified as the creators of cultural expression with a richness and depth lacking in elite creations" (Filene, p. 9). The fascination with the "Folk" and with a rural past more imagined than real was in Britain as important as in all other European countries and a lot of writers - from antiquarians to poets - were busy researching and recreating ballads and songs from the olden times.

7. Thomas Percy, Reliques Of Ancient English Poetry, 1765These ideas have tremendous reverberations until today. There is first and foremost the fascination with anything that's "old", especially if it seems to have rural origins. The search for "authenticity" also "implies the existence of its opposite, the fake [...] identifying some cultural expressions or artifacts as authentic, genuine, trustworthy, or legitimate simultaneously implies that other manifestations are fake, spurious, and even illegitimate" (Bendix, p. 9). Since that time we also have a class of mostly urban intellectuals that claims to know much better than the "Folk" how to define this term and what is supposed to be "old" and "authentic". A didactic element has also been a part of this ideology: the desire to refresh and revitalize the whole culture or at least one's own work with the help of the products of the authentic "Folk". And not at least the idea of creating the "old" anew started in this era with the heavy-handed editing of sources by antiquarians and folklorists and with poets writing in the "old" style.

The idea of the special value of something that is "old" and of rural origin quickly found its way to the common folks, both the "Folk" on the countryside and the "rabble on the streets" in the towns, the latter watched by ideologists with suspicion and disgust. Old and new "old" songs were part of the popular music scene of that day. For example Allan Ramsay's songs had been "warbled, to raptorous applause, by the favourite vocalists at the London 'gardens', and other places of popular resort. Familiar with the old popular songs of both countries [England and Scotland] he utilized them for his own purposes [...] His manner was exactly that which the masses could thoroughly appreciate [...]" (Henderson 1910, p. 404) and they were still reprinted and performed in the 1820s.

There was a market for "old traditional songs" and rural nostalgia, not at least because the Britons were experiencing massive economic and social changes while the country was developing from a basically rural, agrarian society to an urbanized and industrialized state. Performers and printers revived "real old songs" and classics like "Barbara Allen" (see f. ex. Johnson Ballads 266) or "The Gipsy Laddie" (see f. ex. Harding B25(731), at BBO) were reprinted on broadsides and performed for "Folk" of all kind. Professional songwriters were able to fulfill these demands, too. Rural songs were written in town and old ballads were created anew.

"Mary Of The Moor" is a product of these times, it was in no way originally a "Folksong" or a song from the countryside imported to London. Most likely it was the work of a London writer, a seasoned professional who knew what he wanted and what the people wished to hear and I doubt if it has ever seen any rural part of England before it was printed. Bob Dylan in his "Bob Dylan's Blues" (1963) mocked about "all the folk songs [...] written these days, up in Tin Pan Alley". It seems that "Mary Of The Wild Moor" is a Folksong written in 1820s London's "Tin Pan Alley".


VI. From Popular Song To Nostalgia Favourite

I have no idea what the intention of the author was when he wrote this song. Maybe it was originally a parody on "old Folk ballads", maybe he simply tried to cash in on the fad for old time music with a melodramatic tearjerker disguised as a folksong. It may have even been conceived as an ironic pastiche of moralizing fables á la "Winter's Evening". But the "folk" in the towns and on the countryside obviously loved it and I presume they didn't regard it as a "mawkish popular song" (Carl Sandburg).

"Mary Of The (Wild) Moor" remained popular for the several decades and was regularly reprinted. We know for example editions published in London by Pitts' successor Hodges (between 1844 and 1855, MB 05-3700), by H. Such  (after 1848, Harding B 11(2364) at BBO), Fortey (between 1855 and 1885, MB 06-3985) and Disley (between 1860 and 1883, Firth b.25(147) at BBO). Provincial printers also offered the song to their customers. Some examples:  Sefton in Worcester (Firth b.34(229), BBO) and Fordyce in Newcastle (MB 08-5425), both during the '30s; John Ross, also in Newcastle, in the late '30 or early '40s (MB 08-5663); Harkness in Preston (between 1835 and 1860, Harding B 11(4232), BBO); Barr in Leeds in the 1840s (Harding B 11(3), BBO, also Kidson Broadside Collection, FK/10/94/3 at The Full English). This broadside was also available in Ireland (see MB 12-8393, by the Bairds, Cork; Harding B 26(600), BBO, by Moore Belfast) and Scotland (2806 c.14(78), at BBO, McIntosh, Glasgow). By all accounts the song was in circulation on broadsides at least until the 1870s or even 1880s.  But it is important to note that the British versions were never published with a tune, neither as sheet music or in a songbook. "Mary" remained confined to the "lower" stratum of popular music.

Like many other British songs "Mary Of The Wild Moor" migrated to North America where it became even more popular. In fact it was apparently one of the most popular songs of the second half of the 19th century. It is not possible to reconstruct the exact path of transmission. Country music historian Bill Malone notes that the song "came to America with professional British entertainers who toured the United States" (Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers, p. 23). This is not an unreasonable assumption but I found no evidence for this claim. By all accounts it appeared first - with a slightly modified text - on a songsheet published in Boston in the 1830s (quoted from the catalog of the American Antiquarian Association):

  • Mary, of the wild moor,: and the Waterman. Sold, wholesale and retail, by L. Deming, no. 62, Hanover St. Boston, and at Middlebury, Vt.[Mary of the wild moor; first line: One night the wind it blew cold. The Waterman, "as sung by Mr. Walton, at the Boston Theatre; " first line: Bound 'prentice to a waterman, I learn'd a bit to row.]

Mr. Deming was busy as a printer from 1829 until 1840 but published from this address only between 1832 and 1837 (see also Goldstein Collection, Broadside Publishers, [not available at the moment]). Interestingly here "Mary" was once again combined with "The Waterman" as on the above-mentioned broadside published by Catnach in London during the previous decade (see Copac) but it was not a reprint as can be seen from the modified opening line. The reference to "Mr. Walton" is intriguing but may lead on a false path. Thomas Walton was an English singer who came to Boston in 1827 where he sang at the Boston Theatre for some years before he moved on to Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York (see Wemyss, pp. 149-50, at Google Books). But it is clear from the text on the songsheet that he was only associated with "The Waterman" and there is no evidence that he was the one who introduced "Mary Of The Wild Moor" to American audiences. In fact the source for this modified text is not known. Was it derived from the performance of a singer? Who has edited the text? But it is not possible to answer these questions. The only thing we know is that during the 1830s the first American variant of the song became available.

Much more important for the subsequent history of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" was a piano arrangement by composer Joseph W. Turner that was brought out by Keith's Music Publishing House in Boston in 1845 (available at the Levy 8. Joseph W. Turner, The Minstrel's Gift, 1852Sheet Music collection). This was the first time the song was published with music and thus aimed at a more "sophisticated" audience.  Turner was a very popular and very busy American songwriter and arranger and just like his British colleague John Whitaker he is more or less forgotten today. I couldn't even find any biographical details about him. But more than 50 of his compositions since the mid-40s can be found in the sheet music collections of the Library Of Congress. In 1852 he published a book called The Minstrel's Gift, Containing Songs And Ballads; Also, Melodies For The Flute Or Violin including a collection of some his works and a list of the songs and instrumental pieces he had published so far (p. 120, available at Google Books). During the Civil War he seems to have been a supporter of Lincoln and the Union and in 1865 he wrote for example "A Nation Weeps: On The Death Of Abraham Lincoln" (available at Stern Collection, American Memory, LOC).

The lyrics of this version leave the storyline intact. There are only some minor variations that don't look like improvements but make it sound even more stilted than the original British text:

    One night when the wind it blew cold,
    Blew bitter across the wild moor;
    Young Mary she came with her child, 9. Sheet Music Cover "Mary Of The Wild Moor", Boston 1845
    Wand'ring home to her own father's door;
    Crying father, O pray let me in,
    Take pity on me I implore,
    Or the child at my bosom will die,
    From the winds that blow 'cross the wild moor.

    0, why did I leave this fair cot,
    Where once I was happy and free;
    Doom'd to roam without friends or a home,
    0, father, take pity on me.
    But her father was deaf to her cries,
    Not a voice or a sound reach'd the door;
    But the watch-dogs did bark, and the winds
    Blew bitter across the wild moor.

    0, how must her father have felt,
    When he came to the door in the morn;
    There he found Mary dead, and the child
    Fondly clasped in its dead mother's arms.
    While in frenzy he tore his gray hairs,
    As on Mary he gazed at the door;
    For that night she had perished and died,
    From the winds that blew 'cross the wild moor.

    The father in grief pined away,
    The child to the grave was soon borne;
    And no one lives there to this day,
    For the cottage to ruin has gone.
    The villagers point out the spot
    Where a willow droops over the door;
    Saying, there Mary perished and died,
    From the winds that blew 'cross the wild moor.

There is a note on the cover of the sheet music that explains why Mary had to return home and even reinstates the motif of the cruel father who doesn't let her into the house:

    "This song depicts the fate of a beautiful girl who was wooed by a young man who did not however suit the fancy of her parents. The lover besought her to leave her father's dwelling and unite with him in marriage. After being wedded about a year, he became a dissipated wretch, and she was driven by poverty and [cold?] back to the home of her childhood. But her father refusing her admittance she perished beside the cottage door"

Maybe Turner or his publisher made it up themselves because the song was lacking any information about what had happened to the girl before she tried to make it back to her father and their "fair cot" and Turner had even deleted the line where Mary was described as the former "village pride".

Turner is only credited as the arranger of this version of "Mary Of The Wild Moor". According to Helen K. Johnson in Our Familiar Songs (1889, p. 303) he had combined the lyrics with another melody that "had never been linked" to this song until he "united them, added a few lines, and adapted them with a piano arrangement". But in fact his tune it is not so different from the one Whitaker had written for "The Robin's Petition". Here is the melody used by Turner. The original key is Eb and I have transposed it to D: 
A: The melody of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" as published by J. Turner in 1845, original key Eb, here transposed to D.

Another look at the Whitaker's melody shows that Turner has retained some parts of  the original, especially the simple but effective melodic motif in the fifth bar:

B:  The melody of "The Robin's Petition" by John Whitaker 1814, from Davidson's Universal Melodist, 1856, p. 276 (original key G, transposed to D)

It's easy to see that Turner's melody is only a variant of Whitaker's. He must have seen a performance of the British version of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" because that song had up to that point never been published with music but only on broadsides. It would be interesting to know  if Turner himself was responsible for the variations or if he had heard it that way.

Turner's arrangement was apparently immensely popular during the next decades. An interesting version for guitar players was included in a book called Guitar Without A Master (pp. 52-3, Ditson, Boston, n. d., ca. 1851 according the the catalog of the LOC). "Mary Of The Wild Moor" with guitar accompaniment was also published as sheet music by Ditson in 1858 (see 10. Ad in Dwight's Journal of Music, 14.8.1858Dwight's Journal of Music, 14.8.1858, p. 160, at Google Books) but I can't say if it was the piece from that book. The text can also be found in songsters, cheap,11. The Shilling Song Book , 1860 pocket-sized books with only the lyrics but not the music of popular and traditional songs well known among the people. One example is  The Shilling Song Book. A Collection Of 175 Of The Most Favorite National, Patriotic, Sentimental, And Comic Ballads Of The Day (W. E. Tunis, Niagara Falls 1860, p. 41, at Google Books). Turner's version was even exported back to Britain and published as sheet music in Leeds in 1872 (see Copac). This was in fact the very first time the song was available with music in England and thus brought to the attention of more educated music lovers.

Another American variant  with a different set of revisions was published first on a couple of songsheets in the 1850s. It's not Turner's text and I don't think it was derived from his version. This adaption seems to be based on an original British broadside. It is not known which melody was used for this variant nor who the reviser was. Maybe it was an editor at the publisher's office or a performer who used to sing it on stage. One gets the impression that the reviser tried to modernize the lyrics a little bit and  repair some inconsistencies of the original. Mary is now described as a former "gay village bride" and the tolling of the village bells may be a nod to the death bells in "Barbara Allen".

    It was on one cold winters night,
    As the wind blew across the wild moor,
    When Mary came wandering home with her babe,
    'Till she came to her own father's door;
    "Oh father, dear father" she cried,
    "Come down and open the door,
    Or the child in my arms will perish and die,
    By the wind that blows across the wild moor.

    Oh why did I leave this dear spot,
    Where once I was happy and free,
    But now doomed to roam without friends or home,
    And no one to take pity on me."
    The old man was deaf to her cries,
    Not a sound of her voice reached his ear,
    But the watch dog did howl and the village bell toll'd,
    And the wind blew across the wild moor.

    But how must the old man have felt,
    When he came to the door in the morn,--
    Poor Mary was dead but the child was alive,
    Closely pressed in its dead mother's arms;
    Half frantic he tore his gray hair,
    And the tears down his cheeks they did pour;
    Saying "this cold winters night, she perished and died
    By the wind that blew across the wild moor.

    The old man in grief pined away,
    And the child to its mother went soon,
    And no one, they say, has lived there to this day,
    And the cottage to ruin has gone;
    The villagers point out the spot,
    Where the willow droops over the door,
    Saying there Mary died, once a gay village bride,
    'By the winds that blew across the wild moor.

12. Song sheet "Mary Of the Wild Moor", New York ca 1860sThis is from a songsheet published in New York by "Andrews', Printer, 38 Chatham St." (available at the Goldstein Collection, 000090-BROAD). John Andrews worked at this address between 1853 and 1858 (see  Charosh, p. 469). We can find this text also on a broadside printed by A. W. Auner from Philadelphia in 1853/4 (see the catalog of the New York Historical Society). I don't know who was the first to publish this set of lyrics but it is safe to assume that it was available at least since the first half of the 1850s. This variant was also regularly reprinted and remained on the market for considerable time. For example New York publisher Beadle included the lyrics to "Mary" four times in his popular songsters, more often than a lot of other songs (see Johannsen). They could be found in the Dime Songbook No. 2 (1859, p. 28), the Songbook For The People (1865), the Pocket Songster No. 4 (1866) and in the Half Dime Singer's Library No. 3 (1878).

Other broadside printers also didn't hesitate to recycle this popular piece. J. H. Johnson in Philadelphia published a couple of editions since the late '50s (see f. ex. Levy Collection). The copy in the library of the American Antiquarian Society even has an additional note: "By sending Johnson 35 cts., he will send you the music for this song." (see Catalog, AAS). Unfortunately it is not known which tune he offered here to his customers. Other copies of the text were for example printed by Horace Partridge in Boston "between 1860 and 1870", see the entry in the catalog of New York Historical Society), Thomas G. Doyle in Baltimore (see America Singing, LOC) and de Marsan - Andrews' successor - in New York (see America Singing, LOC, between 1861 and 1864, see Charosh, p. 469).

These song sheets were sold in great numbers in shops and on the streets all over the country. The fact that this 13. A girl selling song sheets on the street, ca. 1870version of "Mary" was available from printers in different towns is a sign for the song's consistent popularity. F. G. Fairfield, researching popular songs in New York in 1870, found "Mary Of The Wild Moor" still among the sheets offered by sellers on the streets :

    "The vendor is often a ragged urchin, but sometimes we find a young girl patiently displaying and offering her wares. Scan the titles closely, and you will meet here and there the face of an old acquaintance-" Mary of the Wild Moor," perhaps, or Watson's pathetic little ballad, "And she sent as she went Sunshine to and fro." If you happen to be familiar with London -street and concert-hall ballads, you will stumble over many a scrap you have heard before-for not less than one-third of the whole collection is of transatlantic origin" (quoted from Fairfield, Appleton's Journal 3, 1870, pp. 68-70, available at Making of America, Journal Articles & The Internet Archive).

At this point "Mary Of The Wild Moor" was a song popular from the parlors to the streets and it was known all over North America, both in urban and rural areas. There are even a couple of interesting sources available where we can learn a little bit about the performance context. For example Adolphus Gaetz from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia reports in his diary about a concert on January 1st, 1856 with 350 people in attendance where "Mary" was part of the program (Ferguson 1965, pp. 22-3, online available at  Simon Fraser University Library, Digital Collections):

Tuesday, 1st, - This year commenced with a mild day. This evening the Concert, got up for Miss Jane Bolman (the blind Girl), went off exceedingly well. Doors were open at 7 O'clock, but long before that time the Street leading to the 'Temperance Hall", was thronged with people; it became necessary therefore to open the doors before the time appointed. Upwards of 350 persons were  congregated in the Hall [...] The performers were, -

W. B. Lawson, bass singer.
Jasper Metzler, do.
Wm. Townshind, Clarionett.
A. Gaetz, do.
James Dowling, Bass Viol.
Wm. Smith, do., & bass singer
Miss Jane Bolman, piano Forte, & Guitar
Miss Cossman, piano Forte.

The following pieces were performed: -

1. Anthem from luke 2 chap. There were shepherds, etc
2. He doeth all things well. Solo by Miss Bolman.
3. Sanctus, by Fallon.
4. Mortals Awake, (christmas piece)
5. The little Sghroud. Solo by Miss Bolman.
6. Haec Dies, by Webbe.
7. Great is the lord.

Part 2nd.

1. Home, sweet Home, with Variations, piano solo by Miss Bolman.
2. The mountain Maid's Invitation.
3. Billy Grimes, Guitar accompaniment by Miss Bolman
4. Lilly Bell
5. The welcome me again, by Miss Bolman.
6. Mary Of The Wild Moor.
7. Give me a cot. Solo by Miss Bolman.

8. The Grave of Napoleon.
9. The little Maid. Guitar accompaniment by Miss Bolman.
10. God save the Queen.

This looks like a typical local concert with mostly amateur performers. The first part of the program consisted of religious pieces while the second part offered  popular songs of that time. Unfortunately it is not known which version of "Mary" was performed here: the English original or one of the American variants.

According to A. N. Somers' History of Lancaster, New Hampshire - published in 1899 - "Mary Of The Wild Moor" was amongst the songs performed at corn huskings "half a century ago" (pp. 358f):

[...] singing was always in order . There were well-known and popular singers in each community whose presence was much sought on these occasions, and who prided themselves upon their accomplishments and their popularity [...] A strong voice and a collection of popular songs were the chief requisites [...] a favorite was the ballad of 'Mary of the Wild Moor'" (pp. 359, 362).

The same was reported from Massachusetts (see Butterworth 1895, p. 235). The song can also be found in the so-called Steven-Douglass Manuscript from Western New York. The pieces collected here were mostly part of the repertoire of a local singer by the name of Artemas Stevens and according to the editor they "were used in social gatherings from 1840-1860 or later" (see Thompson 1958, pp. ix-x & 184-6). Stuart Frank (2010, pp. 236-7) found the the text of "Mary" -  "evidently copied from printed sources" - in two notebooks of American sailors from the late 1860s. In all these cases the lyrics quoted are clearly derived from Turner's sheet music and not from the later songsheet version.

Both American variants of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" remained on the popular music 14. Sheet music cover, "Mary Of The Wild Moor", New York, 1882market until the turn of the century and beyond. The text from the songsheet was reprinted for example by Schmidt in Baltimore (see Goldstein Collection, 002278-BROAD) and Wehman in New York (dto, 001940-BROAD) during the '80s.It also appeared in songsters like Song And Joke Book No. 3 by the Wehman Bros. (ca. 1900, [p. 7], available at the Internet Archive). Turner's "Mary" was even published in a new edition by Ditson in Boston in 1882 (available at Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, LOC), this time with much more vivid illustrations on the cover. Strangely the original piano arrangement of the original version was replaced by a new one although I can't say if it was really written by Mr. Turner. At least he is still credited on the cover. Additionally a new chorus for a vocal quartet has been included. Interestingly the copyright for this piece was renewed in 1910 (see Catalog of Copyright Entries, 1910, 17742 (17), p. 1016) and as late as 1913 it was still listed in Ditson's Catalog of Vocal Music (p. 113). In the introduction the publisher notes that this catalog "includes only the issues of earlier years that have stood the test of time and proved their permanence" (p. 3).

But during these years "Mary Of The Wild Moor" also mutated into something different. It was not only a simple popular song but became an "old ballad". Already in 1874 this designation was used when the text from Turner's version was reprinted - together with a romantic illustration by one John N. Davies - in The Aldine, an ambitious art journal for sophisticated readers (Vol. 7, Nr. 12, p. 234, available at jstor & The Internet Archive).


In 1889 Helen K. Johnson included Turner's "Mary" in her influential Our Familiar Songs (p. 303). Here she used the original piano arrangement from the original edition of the sheet music. She even claimed that words and music were "very old", something that surely would have pleased and amused the anonymous writer from circa 65 years ago. 15. Helen K. Johnson, Our Familiar Songs, 1889Interestingly she also noted that the "song is so poor as poetry, that it has depended for its popularity solely upon the plaintive beauty of" the melody. I have some doubts about that and I don't think only Turner's music was important. This judgment seems to be more a reflection of her highbrow tastes. Ms. Johnson's book deserves special note as it was an impressive compendium, nearly a canon of the most popular songs of the 19th century of British origin, "Three Hundred Standard Songs of The English Speaking Race, Arranged With Piano Accompaniment, And Preceded By Sketches Of The Writers And The Histories Of The Songs". She had caught them at a moment when they were in the process of being transformed from current popular songs to old favorites of nostalgic value: "They need no introduction; they come with a latch-string assurance of old and valued friends [...] They are not popular songs merely, nor old songs exclusively, but well-known songs, of various times [...] " (p. v).

We can also find "Mary Of The Wild Moor" in similar collections of older popular songs aimed at nostalgic music fans, for example the Franklin Square Song Collection. Two Hundred Favorite Songs and Hymns for Schools and Homes, Nursery and Fireside (Vol. 7, 1891, p. 98). This was a simple-looking publication. Much more impressive was H. R. Reddall's Songs That Never Die (1894, p. 393), a very tasteful huge tome that offered its readers - according to the subtitle - 16. Songs That Never Die, 1894"The Most Famous Words And Melodies Enriched With Valuable Historical & Biographical Sketches of Renowned Authors & Composers". It seems that especially at the end of the century there was a kind of fad for so-called "old songs" because they represented the good old days of a bygone era. Turner's publisher Ditson in Boston also brought out two volumes  with the title The Good Old Songs We Used To Sing (1887 & 1895, available at Sibley Music Library). "Mary" was included in Vol. 2 (p. 82) but of course here they used the piano arrangement from the recently published new edition of the sheet music.

At this point "Mary Of The Wild Moor" was still part of the commercial song market. But it clearly fell out of fashion with mainstream music listeners. One may assume that it already sounded a little bit old-fashioned for the younger generation.  In Britain this had already happened during the 1880s while in North America it had longer staying power. "Mary" had become an "old song", a piece of nostalgia. Interestingly there were for example no recordings made of this piece in the 1890s when the recording business started. But it survived for some time in the memory of the older generation who had learned the song in their youth and still sang it at home. But in the 20th century it would be restored to public favor with a new genre that became important for the resurgence of 19th century popular music in a new shape with new credentials: the works of the collectors and publishers of so-called "folk songs".


VII. Ballad Hunters And Folk Song Collectors

In England "Mary Of The Wild Moor" first appeared in relevant publications in 1891, both in Frank Kidson's Traditional Tunes (p. 77) and in William A. Barrett's English Folk-Songs (No. 44,  pp. 77-8). Kidson, a freelancing musicologist and writer who was one of the most respected authorities on old English songs at that time (for more about him see f. ex.  Gregory 2010, pp. 197-236 & 432-459) claimed to be on a rescue mission:

"The compiler's wish has been to at least temporarily rescue from oblivion some few of the old airs, which, passing from mouth to mouth for generations, are fast disappearing before the modern effusions of the music hall and concert room [...] many of the airs here noted down [...] have a peculiar quaintness, a sweetness, and a tenderness of expression, absent in the music of the present day [...] the old traditional songs are fast dying out, never to be recalled. They are now seldom or never sung, but rather remembered [in italics], by old people" (pp. v & xii).

He got his version from Benjamin Holgate from Leeds, one of his informants who was really something like a co-collector (see Gregory 2011, pp. 212 & 208). The text of this version is identical to Catnach's broadsides while the melody is clearly derived from "Robin's Petition". Kidson noted that "the song is known in the North and East Ridings to the same tune" (p. 77):

C: "Mary Across The Wild Moor", from Frank Kidson, Traditional Tunes. A Collection Of Ballad Airs, Oxford 1891, pp. 77-8

William Barrett, another pioneering collector, was known as musicologist, researcher, journalist, arranger, editor - of the Musical Times - and singer (see Gregory 2010, pp. 2075-285 & Greig 2011, at tradsong.org). He was also responsible for some editions in Novello's series Albums of Old English Song, for example those about Arne, Loder, Dibdin, Bishop and Hook (see Copac). It seems that had been collecting "folk songs" for some time and this book was his first attempt to bring them back into the public conscience:

"The songs contained in the present book are only a portion of a large collection gathered from various sources during many years. The majority of them have been noted down from the lips of the singers in London streets, roadside inns, harvest homes, festivals on the occasion of sheep shearing, at Christmas time, at ploughing matches, rural entertainments of several kinds, and at 'unbending' after choir suppers in country districts. A few of them are still sung, some have completely disappeared from among the people by whom they were once favored [...] The quaint and simple beauties of many of the tunes will commend them to those for whom an artless air has many charms. They will also serve as a link in the chain of evidence of the love of music among unsophisticated English folk, especially when it is considered that the melodies probably originated among the people themselves [...] If the few specimens here given become as popular in the new sphere into which they are now qualified to enter [...]" (Preface).

Interestingly he was among the first to use the term "folk song" (see Gregory 2010, p. 3-4) but his collection was of course not intended as an academic work but as a music book for those who wished to play these "artless airs" supposedly created by "unsophisticated English folk". Therefore he included simple piano arrangements. The words of his version are also identical to the the broadsides. The melody is a little bit different from the original tune of "The Robin's Petition" but I tend to think that it is also derived from that one. Barrett noted that the song was "popular throughout the country". He had taken it down from the "singing of a labourer at a tavern in Slinfold", West Sussex (p.77):

D: "Mary Of The Moor", from William A. Barrett, English Folk-Songs, Collected, Arranged, And Provided With Symphonies And Accompaniments For The Pianoforte, London & New York [1891], No. 44, pp. 77-8

Unfortunately Mr. Barrett died the same year and the rest of his collection seems to be lost (see Greig 2011). But this book remained on the market for quite a long time. As late as 1908 it was still advertised - together some of his other publications - in the Musical Times (see f. ex. June 1, 1908, p. 422, available at British Periodicals).

Interestingly there is no version of this song in the other important collection from this era, Sabine Baring-Gould's Songs And Ballads Of The West (1891). It can't even be found in his manuscripts. One may assume that Baring-Gould hasn't bothered to collect this song because he knew very well that it was derived from commercial broadsides. In fact he was a little more strict and doctrinaire than both Kidson and Barrett. But over the next 25 years some more variants of "Mary Of The Moor" were written down by song collectors, perhaps not as much as one would have expected but at least enough to see that "Mary" was well known all over the country. None of these were published at that time except one but thankfully they are now all easily available to researchers in The Full English Digital Archive (EFDSS).

Lucy Broadwood secured a text from Henry Burstow ca. 1894. Burstow was a shoemaker from Horsham, Sussex who had a great repertoire of songs. He served as an informant not only for Ms. Broadwood but also for other collectors (see Wikipedia). His version of "Mary" was called "O Bitter And Cold Was The Night"(LEB/2/15/3 at The Full English) and is very close to the broadsides:

O bitter and cold was the night
When Mary came over the moor
With her child at her bosom and cried
As she stood at her own fathers door.

In her collection we can also find a tune taken down by Percy Merrick in Sussex in 1901 (LEB/5/308/2, dto.) that is clearly derived from "The Robin's Petition". This is also the case with the melodies collected by Gardiner & Gamblin in Hampshire 1906 (GG/1/10/604, dto.) and Anne Geddes Gilchrist in Sussex 1906/07 (AGG/3/6/3c, dto.) as well as a complete version "found" by Clive Carey in Sussex in 1911 (CC/1/53, dto.). These variants strongly suggest that Whitaker's tune was in fact the one originally used with "Mary Of The Wild Moor".

Only Cecil Sharp managed to collect two version with different tunes. One was noted in 1904 in Langport, Somerset (CJS2/10/240, dto.) His source was Mrs. Overd who also turned one verse into a refrain (text: CJS2/9/332, dto):

E: "Mary On The Well [sic!] Moor", as sung by Mrs. Overd, Langport, Somerset 1904, collected by Cecil Sharp, text: CJS2/9/332, tune: CJS2/10/240, available at the Full English Digital Collection (EFDSS, Vaughn Williams Memorial Library)

1. It's of a cold winter's night
When the wind it blew bitter and cold
Poor Mary she came a-wandering home
With a child to her own father's door.

What made me leave my sweet cot
Where once I was happy and free
I am doomed for to roam without friend or home
Dear father take pity on me.

2. Dear father take pity on me
Come down and open your door
With my child to my bosom we'll perish and die
With the wind blowing across the wild moor.

[three more verses]

6. It's of a cot by the moor
Where the willow droops over the door
Where once Mary lived she was the village pride
And the wind blowed across the wild moor.

The tune used for this variant is slow and sad and sounds more appropriate for this tragic than Whitaker's melody. Of course we don't know if she - or her source - had changed the tune on purpose or if she simply didn't know the original music and had to create a new one. Perhaps she had only learned the words from a broadside. Another different tune was supplied to him in London in 1909 by one John Allen (CJS2/10/2072, dto) and in this case we also don't know why it was used instead of the original melody.

One last variant - this time only a text - was collected by Alfred Williams in Gloucestershire between 1913 and 1916 (AW/2/62, dto, see also there the very informative biographical sketch). Here a refrain was made up from the last two lines of the verses:

[Verse 1]

‘Twas one cold winter's night,
And the wind blew bitter across the wild moor;
‘Twas then Mary went with her child,
Wandering home to her own father's door,
Crying, ‘Father, I pray let me in,
Oh come down and open the door,
Or the child at my bosom will die,
With the wind that blows across the wild moor.'


With the wind that blows across the wild moor,
With the wind that blows across the wild moor,
Or the child at my bosom will die,
With the wind that blows across the wild moor.


Williams noted that he had "heard the piece in many villages [...] Its quality is above that of the common ballad rhyme, a merit that never fails to be appreciated by the rustics whenever the song is heard which is but rarely at this time". This version was published in 1923 in his book Folk Songs of the Upper Thames (pp. 213-214).

Since the turn of the century the Folklorists in the USA also began to discover and collect "Folk ballads", for example in the Appalachians. They regarded them not as love-lorn ditties of nostalgic value but as important cultural relics from the British Isles. The background of this first American "Folk Revival" was quite complex. But one of the main aims was the search for the Anglo-Saxon and rural roots of American culture at a time of ongoing urbanization and industrialization and the arrival of so many immigrants with a non-Anglo-Saxon cultural background. Authenticity was located "in the rural past. Idealizing mountain culture enabled them to challenge or at least sidestep the contemporary trends toward an urban, machine-driven industrial economy and a mass commercial culture" (Filene, p. 24).

Francis Child's massive and magnificent English And Scottish Popular Ballads (1882 - 1898) had already defined the genre and now American collectors were busy researching the American tradition and feeding them back into oral tradition. Professor Child used to bemoan the corruption of "traditional" balladry since the invention of print and wouldn't have even touched a song like "Mary Of The Wild Moor", a "vulgar ballad" that was only as old as he himself. The massive broadside collections available were for him "veritable dunghills, in which, only after a great deal of sickening grubbing, one finds a very moderate jewel" (quoted in Shepard, p. 2)

17. Preface to Louise Pound, American Songs And Ballads, 1922American Folk song collectors - academic and non-academic - in Child's footsteps widened the perspective but rarely escaped his ballads' "lengthened shadow [...] they received more emphasis; and other ballads and songs were separated and judged by the standards of the older ballads" (Wilgus, p. 144/5). Though still very selective and with a critical - not to say elitist - bias against anything from older and current commercial popular music they tended to accept "all sorts of material, particularly broadside verse" - the "vulgar balladry" - and 19th century parlor songs (dto. p. 146/50/51). Louise Pound noted in her American Ballads And Songs (1922, p. vii) that she intended to "display the typical songs and ballads liked by the people and lingering among them" and she even included "In The Baggage Coach Ahead". But generally collectors had serious misgivings about their informants taste (see Malone, p. 44) and were not always pleased with the results of their expeditions.

The people weren't as discriminating as the Folklorists. They had learned their favorite songs from all possible sources and they gave the collectors what they thought they were looking for - old ballads - and for them "Mary" fit into this context and could sit easily besides "Barbara Allen" and similar "real old" songs. Or maybe they had read Helen Johnson's Our Familiar Songs where this song had been described as being "very old".

"Mary Of The Wild Moor" is included in most North American "Folk-song" - collections. Among the earliest collected versions is one found by Goldy Hamilton - a protegé of Folklorist Henry Belden - in 1910 in Missouri. This one seems to have been the first "Mary" printed in folkloristic context - here besides older ballads like "Barbara Allen" and "Cambric Shirt" - but with a quite limited distribution as it was in a High School yearbook. In the introductory remarks some of the reasons for this era's ballad hunting are discussed:

    "The purposes of the [Folklore] societies are multifold - to collect and put into permanent literature the songs of the Civil War, those in negro dialect and all other pieces containing ballad characteristics, to obtain old manuscripts of these and the air if possible, either by having them written down or reproduced on phonograph records, thus saving the old ballad tunes permanently. New ways and means are furnished by which ballads may be collected most successfully. And as the work is becoming more general ballads can be obtained from anyone who might have them, for the asking. In a short time people will be saving them for the fascinated school children or others who may happen to take an active part in this work. [...] The interest has reached its climax in bringing to light many old manuscripts from the closets and shelves of the forgotten past. Also numerous airs were obtained and learned by the Seniors. [...] Many of those we visited would sit and sing the different ballads they knew over and over, then go from fragment to fragment, only in the end to say they had hardly realized their value before; that at one time they knew many more but had forgotten them".

Other early versions from the collections of academic or non-academic Folklorists were published in 1919 in Henry W. Shoemaker's North Pennsylvania Minstrelsy (p. 96) and in Songs From The Hills Of Vermont (p. 36 - 39) by Edith B. Sturgis and Robert Hughes, then in 1922 in Louise Pound's important American Ballads And Songs (p. 81, a text from Nebraska) and by Albert H. Tolman and Mary O. Eddy in the Journal of American Folklore (Vol. 35, No. 138, p. 389/90, two melodies from Ohio ). John Harrington Cox' important Songs Of The South (1925, p. 437) includes the text of one complete variant from West Virginia:

'T was all on a cold winter's night,
When the winds blew across the wild moor,
That Mary came wandering along with her child,
Till she came to her own father's door.

"0 why did I leave this dear spot,
Where once I was happy and free?
And now doomed to roam without friends or a home,
And none to take pity on me?

"0 father, dear father," she cried,
"Do come downstairs and open the door!
For the child in my arms will perish and die
From the winds that blow 'cross the wild moor."

But the old man was deaf to her cries,
Not a sound of her voice did he hear,
But the watchdog did howl and the village bell toll
And the winds blew across the wild moor.

0 how must the old man have felt,
When he came to the door the next morn'
And found Mary dead, but the child was alive,
Closely clasped in its dead mother's arms.

With anguish he tore his gray hair,
While the tears down his cheeks they did roll,
Saying, "There Mary died, once the gay village bride,
From the winds that blew 'cross the wild moor." '

The old man with grief pined away,
And the child to its mother went soon;
There's no one, they say, has lived there to this day,
And the cottage to ruin has gone.

The villagers point out the spot,
Where the willow droop over the door,
Saying,"There Mary died, once the gay village bride,
From the winds that blew 'cross the wild moor".

Frank C. Brown found the song in North Carolina in 1920 but a text and a melody were only published in 1952 respectively 1957 (Brown, Vol. 2, p. 265/6, Vol. 4, p. 152/3).

18. Carl Sandburg, American Songbag, 1927Often the context of these variants is not clear. Was "Mary Of The Wild Moor" really performed by the people or was it only a song remembered? Often enough the informants simply seem to recall their Ma or Grandma singing a popular song of their youth. The sources of most Folklore versions were nearly exclusively women of the older generation who had grown up when "Mary" was still a current Pop song. Carl Sandburg (p. 466) got his extremely fragmented version - only one verse - from  Professor Senour at Indiana University whose mother had sung it "often":

    It was on a cold winter's night,
    When poor Mary came wandering home.
    And the watchdog did howl,
    And the village bell did toll,
    And the wind blew across the wild moor.

And maybe only Sandburg was able to sell this extremely mutilated relict of a "mawkish popular song" as the real thing, a "wisp of a melody [...], five brief lines as implicative as a Chinese poem".

The version in Louise Pound's American Ballads And Songs is a "text transcribed by Mrs. Nellie B. Pickup of Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1914, from the singing of her mother who learned it in her childhood in New York" (p. 247). This seems to delineate the way the song had been traveling through America: from the urban centers to the Midwest & South. In fact Mrs. Pickup's mother may have even bought a copy of the song sheet from a New York street vendor like those described by Fairfield in 1870. Her text is virtually identical to the lyrics on the song sheet with only very few variations and includes all of that version's revisions like the tolling of the village bells, the tears pouring down the father's cheek and the "gay village bride".

Also for example the variants collected by Cox (p. 437) in Roane County, West Virginia in 1917 - from Mrs. Bishop who had learned it in Charleston "about 1880" - and Brown in North Carolina in 1920 (Vol. 2, p. 265/6) as well as those found by Vance Randolph (No. 72, var. A, p. 311/12) in 1928 in Missouri and Paul Brewster (p. 246/7) in 1935 in Indiana  are based on the song sheet version. Even Sandburg's fragment belongs to the same tradition as it still retains the tolling of the village bells, one of the major textual hooks of that version. Ms. Hamilton's 1910 Missouri text is part of this family, too, there is only one addition: the informant had placed the story into the year 1824 (or it's the number of hairs the father tore from his head):

    Half frantic he tore his gray hair
    One thousand eight hundred and twenty-four,
    And the tears down his cheeks they did pour

All these versions collected by Folklorists surely demonstrate how popular the songsheet version had been and that it was known throughout the USA. But later variants - like those recorded by Max Hunter in Missouri 1958 and Arkansas 1976 or by John Quincy Wolf in Arkansas 1953 - may have easily been influenced by books, radio performances or commercial recordings.

Turner's version was also well known. It may have reached the informants either directly with the original sheet music or via Ms. Johnson's Our Familiar Songs - both aimed at the more educated middle-class -, maybe with one of the widespread songsters or of course by listening to performances .

Mellinger E. Henry quotes in his Folk Songs From The Southern Highlands (p. 372 ) a variant "obtained from Mrs. Ewart Wilson, Pensacola, North Carolina, August 1930" that is still recognizable as Turner's text, but condensed down to half of its original size:

    One night when the wind it blew cold,
    Blew so bitter across the wild moor,
    Young Mary, she came with her child,
    Wandering home to her own father's door.

    Crying, "Father, oh, pray let me in;
    Oh, take pity on me, I implore,
    For the child at my bosom will die
    From the wind that blows o'er the wild moor."

    But her father was deaf to her cries;
    Not a word or a sound reached the door.
    But the watch dog did howl and the wind blew
    So bitter across the wild moor.

    Oh, how must her father have felt,
    When he came to the door in the morn!
    There he found Mary dead and the child
    Fondly clasped in its dead mother's arms.

Earl Stout's Folklore From Iowa (1936, version A, p. 28-9) includes a near perfect rendition of Turner's original words recorded in 1931. The informant knew the song from his aunts. Stout's version B (p. 29/30) is a fragment of only two verses "as sung by Oren Beck [...] who learned the song from his mother about 1870 when he was a boy". Vance Randolph  has collected a complete version (C, p. 313/4) from "Mr. J. A. Dethrow, Springfield, Mo., who says it was popular about 1880" - in 1882 the new edition of the sheet music was published! - as well as one with five verses in 1941 in Arkansas (B, p. 312/3). His informant told him that the song "used to be too long, but I kind of shortened it up without losin' any of the story."

In 1946 Helene Stratman-Thomas recorded in Monroe, Wisconsin a performance by Mr.


Charles Dietz (Wisconsin, 1946)
database entry (pdf)
Recording (Real Audio File)
from the :
Wisconsin Folk Song Collection 1937 - 1946 (WiscFolkSong.000758.bib)

Mrs. Guthrie (Texas, 1952)
Lyrics & recording
from the John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection

Letys Murrin (Toronto 1950s)
available on:
Folk Songs Of Ontario, Folkways FW 04005 (1956), recorded, produced and annotated by Edith Fowke (now also available at the Internet Archive)


Dietz (75) who had "learned this song from his English mother, who came to Wisconsin from New York State" (WiscFolkSong.000758.bib). The lyrics are derived from Turner's version. The same can be said for a performance by Mrs. Guthrie from San Antonio, Texas - she had learned the song in Arkansas -, recorded in 1952 by John Quincy Wolf.

The most interesting field recording is by Letys Murrin from Toronto, recorded in the 1950s by Edith Fowke and released on Folk Songs of Ontario (Folkways FW 04005, 1956). Ms. Murrin had learned her version from her grandfather (1859 - 1948; liner notes, p. 9).  Whoever put this variant together has added two introductory verses that sound suspiciously close to the note the sheet music cover respectively Helen Johnson's resume in her Our Familiar Songs:

    By the moor resides an old man
    Whom of all but one child was bereft,
    And she 'gainst his will at the spring
    Her fond loving parents had left.

    But the villain forsook his fair bride,
    When scarcely a year had flown by,
    Said she, "I'll return with my child
    To the cot by the moor, there to die."

The rest of the text adheres strictly to Turner's version except for the second part of the penultimate verse that is nearly completely changed:

    In frenzy he tore his gray hair
    As he gathered her up in her arms,
    And he called out her name in despair
    As he gazed on her fast fading charms.

All the Folklore variants I know can easily be traced back to one of the two printed American versions, either the song sheet or Turner's. The two traditions existed side by side. For example Stout's version C from Iowa (p. 30) is a fragment of three verses derived from the song sheet  and Vance Randolph (No. 72, pp. 311-14, ) also has found both types in Missouri. Only very occasionally these two basic texts  have been mixed up.

 There are rarely noteworthy variations in these versions from oral tradition compared to the printed sources. "Since it's frequently printed, the texts recorded from tradition do not differ greatly" (Brown, Vol. 2, p. 265).  Differences can be explained more by lapses of memory  than by creativity and often there are one, two or more verses missing and the collectors only found f19. The melody of "Mary Of The Wild Moor", a version from Ohio (JAF 1922, p.  390, version b)ragments.

It seems that the melodies of the variants using Turner's words were mostly very close to the original. This is for example the case with the one from Vermont published by Sturgis and Walton (p. 36 ), the version b from Ohio as printed in the Journal of American Folklore in 1922 (p. 390), Randolph's version B (p. 312) and Charles Dietz's recording from Wisonsin 1946. Here the first eight bars ar20. The melody of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" as recorded by Ch. Dietz in Wisconsin 1956 (c/o Wisconsin Folk Song Collection)e virtually identical to the sheet music. Interestingly  these four variants also have a second melody line for measures 9 - 16 and they all look very similar to each other. But this alternate melody can't be found in the sheet music and it's not unreasonable to assume that it was common for professional performances of this song.

The melodies of the variants based on the song sheet sound more or less different from those derived directly from Turner. For example the version collected by Frank C. Brown (Vol. 4, p. 153 ) in North Carolina in 1920 doesn't look like an offspring of Turner's tune and shares with it only the characteristic melodic pattern of the fifth bar that – as we know by now - can be traced back to John Whitaker's "The Robins Petition":

F: The melody of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" as collected by Frank C. Brown in North Carolina 1920 (original key F, transposed to D)

It seems that the songsheet published first in the 1850s offered not only a new revision of the British text. I think this version also had an own melody that had not been derived from the tune in Turner's sheet music but once again from Whitaker's original. This means that "Mary From The Wild Moor" has migrated two times from Britain  to the USA, first in 1830s with the version that was then arranged and published by Turner in 1845  and then 15 years later with this anonymous edition.

Brown's tune (Vol. 4, p. 152/3) as well as the one published by Sandburg in his American Songbag (p. 466) may be descendants of the second version even though its music was never printed and could only be learned by listening to performances. But exactly for this reason the melodies of this group show much more variations and those collected by Randolph in Missouri in 1928 (No. 72 A, p. 311) and Dorothy Scarborough (p. 448) in Virginia in the 30s bear no resemblance to the others. They look more like completely new tunes made up by singers who had only a text of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" - from a songster or from a song sheet - but didn't know the melody: 

G: The melody of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" as collected by Dorothy Scarborough in Virginia in the 30s (original key G, here transposed to D)

The regular appearance of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" in American Folklore collections proves how popular it had once been and how far it had spread throughout the USA. There is no special regional distribution detectable except that the song seems to have traveled westwards with the people. Even the fact that most versions have been unearthed in rural regions doesn't mean that much. The collectors rarely went to the big towns. I don't doubt they would have found enough "Mary"s among the older generation in the urban centers.

21. The Wint'ry Winds, Canada 1950s"Mary Of The Wild Moor" is only one of the many songs that have found their way from 19th century London stages and broadsides into 20th century North American Folklore collections, either directly with the immigrants from Britain or with the help of popular prints and performances in the USA and Canada. Edith Fowke - to take only one example - counted more than 100 songs of broadside ancestry among those she had recorded in Canada (Folk Songs of Ontario,Folkways FW 04005, 1956, liner notes, p. 2)).  This record also includes a variant of another British song quoted above as a possible precursor of "Mary Of The Wild Moor"": "The Wint'ry Winds" is a version of "Winter's Evening, or: The Deploring Damsel", Roud #175)

"Soldier's Boy" and "Farmer's Boy", two other songs quoted here by me as related to "Mary" have


Farmer's Boy":

Song sheets Baltimore/New York, 1860s?
Sheet music Boston 1847

Field-recorded versions from the
Cowell Collection, California 1937 (LOC)
Wolf Collection, Arkansas 1952

made similar journeys. Louise Pound for example received her variant of the latter song "from Miss Frances Francis of Cheyenne, Wyoming, who had it from her father, who described it as 'brought from Newcastle, England, as early as 22. The Poor Little  Soldiers Boy, USA ca 1860s1870" (p. 246). But for both "Soldier's Boy" (at America Singing, LOC) and "Farmer's Boy" there are also American prints available in the archives.

The way these songs were transmitted was the same as for the older or "real old" ballads like for example "Barbara Allen". This song - one of those revived during the very first British Folk Revival - was widely printed and reprinted - on broadsides (at the allegro Collection) and in books, - performed and parodied in 18th and 19th century Britain. It could be found in the cheapest songbooks and in the most distinguished folklorist tomes. One of many examples is a broadside from Glasgow's Poet's Box (1855) where the version from Ramsay's Tea Table Miscellany is placed side by side with a "comic version [...] as sung by Messrs. Lloyd, Cowell, &c [...] now drawing crowded audiences at all the different theaters and concerts in the kingdom".

"Barbara Allen" had migrated quickly to the USA and there it became even more popular than in Britain23. Bonny Barbara Allan USA, [n. d.]. "During the antebellum era, traditional ballads, including those brought to America from the British Isles continued to sound around American hearths and workplaces, [people] crooned 'the old time songs our mothers had sung, such as 'Barbara Allen' […] as they worked the factory looms'" (Tawa, p. 271/2). Horace Greeley - recalling his childhood in the 1820 - noted that "when neighbors and neighbors' wives drew together at the house of one of their number for an evening visit, they were often interspersed with 'Cruel Barbara Allen', and other love-lorn ditties then in vogue" (Tawa, p. 162).

A lot of commercial prints and performances of kept the song alive (see Coffin, p. 87f), the lyrics were available as song sheets and sheet music, in songsters, magazines (here from Harper's Magazine 1888),  and books (not at least from 1889 on in Our Familiar Songs). In the 20th century Folklore collections, performances, songbooks as well as commercial recordings were surely more important than any oral tradition. There must have been times when it was actually impossible to avoid this song. Without print it wouldn't have survived that long and in the course of time "Barbara Allen" took over roles as love-lorn ditty, popular song, nostalgia favorite, "ancient ballad" and more. The ways of transmission were the same, no matter if it was an older ballad or a more recent popular song.


VIII. Old Familiar Tunes And Authentic Kentucky Mountain Girls

Country music distributed via radio and records since the 1920s was responsible for the reanimation of many old songs from the 19th century and so-called Folk songs including a lot of  those already promoted in Folklorist collections. At first this genre used to be called "Old Hill Tunes" or "Old Familiar Tunes" and it was instantly frowned upon both by hip urban music fans - their fascination with this kind of music only 24. Old southern Tunes, Brunswick 1920sstarted a generation later - and by most academic and non-academic Folklorists. The Folklore scholars disliked anything "commercial" and they feared contamination of what was left of pure oral tradition.

In this respect they were of course right: records and radio did in fact massively influence the Folklorists' collections. This was surely true for Bradley Kincaid, "The Kentucky Mountain Boy". He used to perform "Barbara Allen" and other "old ballads" regularly on the popular National Barn Dance radio show on WLS and published a dozen songbooks that reportedly were sold in the 100000s. Kincaid may have been more responsible for the survival of "Barbara Allen" than all fFolklorists' efforts. Vernon Dalhart's "Prisoner's Song" was sold in great amounts and found itself immediately in oral tradition.

But there were also a lot of touching points between Country music & Folklorists. For example Bradley Kincaid - an immensely popular singer - preferred not to be called an "hillbilly" (Larkin, p. 230), He was an educated man who regarded himself more as a Folklorist and a keeper of the tradition. Buell Kazee, a learned minister and a tenor trained by a professional singer had started his career giving Folk music concerts - including lectures about the songs - in tails and ties, accompanied by a pianist (Larkin, p. 223).  Even some academic revivalists smuggled themselves into the studios. The first ever recording of "Black Jack Davy" was made by Professor I. G. Greer from North Carolina in 1929 (Paramount 3195 A). 

25. Bradley Kincaid songbookThe sources for the "old" ballads and songs were the same: the older generation, especially the women. Bradley Kincaid's mother used to sing "old English ballads. I learned a lot of ballads from her [...]" (Wolfe, p. 125). Charlie and Ira Loudermilk in Alabama - later the Louvin Brothers - "grew up hearing [...] their mother's ancient ballads like 'The Knoxville Girl' and 'Mary Of The Wild Moor'" as well as parlor songs and sentimental ballads from the 1880s (Wolfe, Classic Country, p. 217; Wolfe, Close Harmony, p. 6/7). And A. P. Carter of course knew where to get new old songs: "his methods, too, resembled those of the folklorist: whenever the trio arrived in a new town for a show, A. P. would seek out the old people in the neighborhood from whom to collect new material" (Cantwell, p. 54). But his aims were in no way antiquarian or didactic, he simply wanted to broaden his repertoire and to record what the people wanted to hear.

Also the printed sources behind both Folklore collections and commercial  recordings of "old familiar tunes" were often identical. Besides songsters and other popular song collections as well as song sheets also the songbooks for shape-note singing like the Sacred Harp  were of prime importance: "The shape-note writers and publishers contributed mightily to the" southern rural music repertoire (Malone, p. 29ff). Another song related to "Mary Of The Wild Moor" belongs into this context. "The Orphan Girl" (Roud # 457) was collected regularly by Folklorists, at first by Henry Belden in 1906 and later for example by Randolph, Dorothy Scarborough, Lomax, M. E. Henry, Wolf and Hunter (see The Traditional Ballad Index). Sandburg included it in his "American Songbag" (p. 316 - 319). But it was also very popular among Country-music performers and audiences. In the 20s  Buell Kazee, Fiddlin' John Carson, Riley Pucket and Ernest Stoneman where among those who recorded this song and of course strengthened their listeners familiarity with the "Orphan Girl".

"The Orphan Girl" was written by Elder C.G. Keith in 1905 for the Cooper Edition of the Sacred Harp songbook (quoted from Mudcat Discussion Board):

    "No home, no home," plead a little girl,
    At the door of a princely hall,
    As she trembling stood on the polished step
    And leaned on the marble wall.

    "My father, alas! I never knew,"
    And a tear dim'd her eyes so bright;
    "My mother sleeps in a new-made grave,
    'Tis an orphan begs tonight."

    Her clothes were thin and her feet were bare,
    But the snow had covered her head;
    "O! give me a home," she feebly said:
    "A home and a bit of bread."

    The night was dark and the snow fell fast,
    But the rich man closed his door,
    And his proud face frowned, as he scornfully said:
    "No home, no bread for the poor."

    The morning dawned, and the orphan girl
    Still lay at the rich man's door;
    But her soul had fled to a home above,
    Where there's room and bread for the poor.

Here the author was grabbing deep into the bag of Anglo-Saxon song tradition and his methods were not that different from a 19th century London popular song writer or a 20th century "old familiar tune" composer, not to mention all kinds of Folk Revivalist songwriters. Bill Malone (p. 31) notes that the works of shape-note writers were "allied closely in style, mood and often in theme with the popular music of the day". The melody was taken from the Scottish air "The Braes o' Balquidder" - not Tannahill's song but another one - and is the same that had been used for the well known "The White [later 'Lone'] Pilgrim" (1833, and included in the first edition of the Sacred Harp by B. F. White and E.J. King, 1844) and before that by Robert Burns for his "Bonnie Peggy Alison" (1780).

The lyrics could have easily been derived from "Mary Of The Wild Moor" and related songs from the circle about the "wandering boy" and "wandering girl". The basic scenery is similar: the poor girl freezes in a cold winter night and is found dead in the morning. The language is old-fashioned, the "princely hall" is an anachronism that made this song sound much older than it actually was. The song could have been written for a London stage in the 1820s and it fit perfectly into both Folklore collections and  the "old familiar tune"-repertoire.

There was a market for "old familiar songs" and "old hill tunes", "[...] a demand for recorded music capable of evoking sentimental recollections of a preindustrial era" (Kenney, p. 148). This nostalgia for songs of the rural good old days was an integral part of the popular culture of these years when the South was getting urbanized and industrialized and a lot of southerners were transplanted into towns. The record labels were able to answer these demands.

On the one hand they "attempted [...] to purge the music of the very archaisms valued by scholars" - a-capella ballads were rarely recorded -, on the other hand they tried to "appeal - through carefully shaped images of rusticity - to the nostalgic longings of a public caught in the midst of the rapid social transformations of the late 1920s" (Whisnant, p. 184). It was the time when all these artificial images were created that are a part of Country music until today: the clean "Kentucky Mountain Boy" á la Bradley Kincaid, the "Hillbilly", the "Cowboy" and more. Not the folklorists' authenticity was important but the authenticity of style.

In this context any fondly remembered old song could do and the southerners remembered a lot of old songs and didn't care much for folklorist fundamentalism. In fact the records and radio performances of Country artists were much nearer to the tastes and the interests of the people than the more museal perspective of folklorist scholars. The WLS National Barn Dance from Chicago offered not only "traditional country dance tunes" but also "heart songs and sweet ballads popular within the memory of most listeners" (quoted in Petersen, p. 100) and "in the 1930s, when the Louvin's were hearing their mother sing, both the old parlor songs and the old British ballads [...] both types were old, sad, lonesome songs [...]"(Wolfe, Close Harmony, p. 7).

But any more recent or new song was appropriate, too, as long as it sounded "old" and authentic. This concept is reflected for example in advertisements in the Talking Machine World (1924/25) promoting "mountain star" Henry Whitter, one of the pioneers of that genre:

    "Throughout his native hills he is acclaimed the most novel entertainer for he plays a harmonica and a guitar at the same time and never misses a note and in between accompanies himself when he sings those quaint, "Old Time Pieces [...] the old-time tunes of the Hill country, many of them his own composition [...]. The craze for this 'Hill Country Music' has spread to thousands of communities" (Graczyk, p. 374)

A. P. Carter and Jimmie Rodgers were experts in that field, "either they dredged up old, half forgotten relics of the past, or they composed original songs that sounded like the old ones" (Porterfield, p. 99). But the anonymous writer of "Mary Of The Moor"" had surely known a hundred years before Ralph Peer "that old-timey music need not actually be old" (Filene, p. 37) and he had conceived his song the same way and under similar circumstances as Peer's clients and other "Hillbilly"-artists a century later.  He had been part of the same tradition: writing "old" songs for a nostalgia-driven audience, a concept that is well known until today and  helped "Mary Of The Wild Moor" to survive. 

"Mary" turned up in the repertoire of Country-music performers surprisingly late. I haven't yet found any evidence that it was performed in the 20s. A duo called The Kentucky Mountain Boys - Lester McFarland & Robert A. Gardner -  recorded the song in 1929 for Brunswick but it wasn't released (Laird, p. 669) and I have no idea if this recording still exists. 

 26. Linda Parker, from www.hillbilly-music.comIt seems the first one to sing "Mary Of The Wild Moor" over the radio was Linda Parker  on the WLS National Barn Dance show in the early 30s.  She was a member of the Cumberland Ridge Runners, an influential and very popular group including for example Carl Davis and Harty Taylor as well as a young Red Foley. 

    "On WLS Chicago's National Barn Dance, Linda Parker seemed to be the image of tradition embodied. She was born in Kentucky and, like many in her audience, had migrated to the industrial areas around Chicago. But Linda was special: her knowledge of old Southern ballads from Kentucky and "the plaintive note, so typical of mountain music," as WLS's 1934 Family Album noted, seemed to be tradition in all its glory. She had learned to sing "just as her mother and her grandmother sang, artlessly, but from the heart, " and her repertoire included traditional old ballads and tunes". (McCusker, p. 3)

In fact sh27. 100 WLS Barn Dance Favorites, 1935e was an artificial character created by manager and promoter John Lair, who had had turned Jeanne Muenich,  a young professional night-club singer from Indiana, into the "Kentucky Sun-Bonnet Girl" wearing  checked gingham dresses and singing "old-time folk songs with guitar accompaniment" (cont. promotion, Petersen, p. 115). She died  in 1935 and never recorded "Mary Of The Wild Moor", but she may have been the first to give the song the credentials as an "old southern mountain ballad".

Her version was included -  with a piano arrangement -  in the popular songbook 100 WLS Barn Dance Favorites  (p. 38), edited by John Lair and published in Chicago 1935:

    'Twas on one cold wint'ry night,
    And the wind blew across the wild moor,
    As poor Mary came wandering home with her child.
    'Till she came to her own father's door.
    "Oh Father, dear Father," she cried,
    "Come down and open the door,
    Or the child in my arms it will perish and die,
    By the winds that blows across the wild moor.

    Oh why did I leave this fair spot,
    Where once I was happy and free?
    I am now doomed to roam without friends or a home,
    And no one to take pity on me."
    But her father was deaf to her cries,
    Not a sound of her voice did he hear,
    So the watch dog did howl and the village bells toll,
    And the wind blew across the wild moor.

    Oh how the old man must  have felt,
    When he came to the door the next morn,
    And found Mary dead but the child still alive,
    Closely clasped in its dead mother's arms;
    In anguish he tore his gray hair,
    While  the tears down his cheeks they did pour;
    When he saw how that night  she had perished and died
    From the winds that blew across the wild moor.

    The old man with grief  pined away,
    And the child to its mother went soon,
    And no one, they say, has lived there till this day,
    And the cottage to ruin has gone;
    But the villagers point out the spot,
    Where the willow droops over the door,
    Saying,  there Mary died, once the gay village bride,
    From the winds that blew across the wild moor".

Here the song  is credited to J. W. Turner and apart from that there is no further information except the note: "Introduced by Linda Parker". The text is clearly one of those derived from the song sheet. But there is a little variation in the fifth line of the third verse -  " anguish" instead of "half frantic" - that is otherwise  only known from the version from West Virginia published by John H. Cox in 1925 in his Folk-Songs From The South (p. 437).  The melody shares some traits with Turner's original, especially  the melodic motif in the fifth bar:

H: The melody of "Mary From The Wild Moor" as  published in John Lair (ed.), 100 WLS Barn Dance Favorites, Chicago 1935

But otherwise it is suspiciously similar to the one used by Carl Sandburg for his version in The American Songbag (1927, p. 466 ):

I: The melody of "When Poor Mary Came Wandering Home" from Carl Sandburg, American Songbag, 1927, p. 466 (original key F, here transposed to D)

Of course it is possible that this tune is a local variant from Indiana. Both Linda Parker and Sandburg's informant were from this state. But I think someone simply has taken Sandburg's melody, combined it with the text from Cox' Folk-Songs The South - both books were easily available at that time -  and then edited both the tune and the lyrics with the help of a copy of Turner's original version. Maybe it was Linda Parker herself  or someone else from whom she had learned the song. It could also have been John Lair, who had  "gained a reputation as an authority on folk music" and was the owner of "a large sheet music collection"(Guide to John Lair Papers at Hutchins Library).

The Blue Sky Boys - two brothers from North Carolina singing old gospel hymns and mountain ballads - were responsible for the first released recording of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" in 1940  for Bluebird. Their version is nearly identical to Linda Parker's and they must have learned it either from the songbook or from a radio performance. The Louvin Brothers recorded the song  in 1956 (available at The Internet Archive).  They may have learned it originally from their mother (see Wolfe, Classic Country, p. 217) but they also sing the variant from the songbook. It has become the standard version of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" and to my knowledge all later attempts are based on these two recordings with only slight changes in lyrics and melody.

During the last 50 years Country music artists like Doc Williams, Mac Wiseman (1975), Dolly Parton (1994), Johnny Cash (2000), Sara Evans for the "Songcatcher" soundtrack CD (2001) and  Porter Waggoner (2006) have recorded the song.  I must admit that I'm not that impressed by most modern versions, they don't have the simple beauty of the Blue Sky Boys' recording. Johnny Cash - who knew this song since he was a child (see Urbanski, p. 159) and whose classic "Give My Love To Rose" is distantly related to "Mary" - treats it with too much seriousness. He sounds like grandpa telling a story he doesn't believe in to his grandkids who don't believe in it neither. David Pajo's eerie and dark adaption gives the impression of someone looking for "roots"-credentials by reciting the Grimm's fairy tales.


IX. Last Words

Thus "Mary Of The Wild Moor" - formerly a "mawkish popular song" (Sandburg) from the "veritable dunghills" (Child) of broadside literature - was reborn as an "old folk ballad". On the long trip from London  in the 1820s to to modern day recording studios it has acquired new credentials with the help of for example:

  • Helen K. Johnson, a high-brow canonizer of 19th century popular songs;
  • old ladies remembering a pop song of their youth for ballad hunting folk song collectors;
  • the publications of Folk song collectors, both academic (John H. Cox) and non-academic (Carl Sandburg)
  • an authentic "Kentucky Mountain Girl" from Indiana singing "old folk songs" on the radio;
  • vocal-harmony duet groups from North Carolina and Alabama.

So ultimately the anonymous writer has won over folklorist fundamentalism. The song at first only was supposed to sound "old" but now  it has turned into a "real old song".  But that is a process that  a lot of songs went through during the last two centuries: at first it's written in an urban center and part of the popular music scene of the day; after some time it falls out of favor with its original audiences but survives outside of town as a fondly remembered old song; then it is brought back to town as a "folk song" with different credentials. Lingering behind this process are some ideas that have been consistent for more than 200 years :

  • a song can be ennobled by the hands of the so-called "Folk" - but of course not all "Folk"  - and turn into something special;
  • an old song with allegedly "rural" origins is somehow more worth than mundane popular music;
  • any artist performing this song can acquire at least some of its "authenticity" and receive some "roots"-credentials.

Not surprisingly contemporary artists indeed try to acquire "roots"-credentials by performing a song like "Mary Of The Wild Moor". This was the case for example for Mac Wiseman, who recorded it for New Traditions, Vol. 2 when "he went back to his roots" (allmusic.com). Dolly Parton included it on Heartsongs: Live From Home, "a smörgåsbord of her country hits, the stories behind them, some new songs, and a rather large amount of classic old-timey standards", when she tried  regain some of her "credibility as an authentic country singer" (allmusic.com).

This may also true for Sara Evans - not exactly a "roots-music"-artist - and her version on the "Songcatcher"-soundtrack. But this soundtrack CD was criticized for being too "commercial" and for not including the real old time singers. Ironically her performance may come closer to the song's real roots than any field-recording because here it is sung by a popular - "commercial" - singer of the day just like ca. A.D. 1829 when "Mary Of The Moor" may have been performed the very first time on a stage in London by a professional entertainer of that era.


Credits, Sources &  Literature

A. Credits

Many thanks to Stewart Grant, Glasgow for support & for helping out with some missing information (and for deciphering the note on Turner's 1845 sheet music cover).
Also thanks to Stefan Flach for reminding me of Bürger's ballad.

B. List of illustrations & images

All images are for illustrative purposes only. If I have used an image that hurts any copyright please let me know & I will delete it. Special thanks to the Library Of Congress for allowing the use of their digitized images without having to ask for permission.

  1. Seller of broadside sheets in London 1840s/50s, from Henry Mayhew, London Labour And The London Poor Vol. 1, London 1861, after p. 222, source: The Internet Archive
  2. From: Maria Edgeworth, Early Lessons, with illustrations by F.A. Fraser, London 18??, p. 35, source: The Internet Archive
  3. Review of  John Whitaker's "The Robin's Petition" in: The Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures, 2nd Ser., Vol. 1, No. 1, London 1816, p. 114 , source: The Internet Archive
  4. "Robin's Petition" from Davidson's Universal Melodist, 1853, p. 276, source. pdf file downloaded from Google Books
  5. A part of a playbill for the Royal English Opera House in September 1823, from: The Theatrical Observer and, Daily Bills of the play, 1823, Vol. 2 No. 500-655, July 1, 1823 - Dec 31, 1823, London, n.d, source: The Internet Archive
  6. "Pirate Of The Isles", Song sheet, New York [n.d.], ca. 1860s, source: Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division. America Singing: 19th Century Song Sheets
  7. Thomas Percy, Reliques Of Ancient English Poetry, 1775, source: The Internet Archive
  8. Joseph W. Turner, The Minstrel's Gift, 1852, source. pdf-file downloaded from Google Books
  9. Cover of sheet music for J. W. Turner, "Mary Of The Wild Moor", Boston 1845,  The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection
  10. Ad in Dwight's Journal of Music, 14.8.1858, source: pdf-file downloaded from Google Books
  11. The shilling song book; a collection of 175 of the most favorite national, patriotic, sentimental, and comic ballads of the day, W.E. Tunis, Niagara Falls 1860, source: pdf-file downloaded from Google Books
  12. "Mary Of The Wild Moor", song sheet, New York [n.d.], ca. 1860s, Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets.
  13. A girl selling song sheets on the street, from: F. G. Fairfield, An Hour with Street Ballads, in: Appleton's Journal: A Magazine Of General Literature, Vol. 3, Issue 42, Jan 15, 1870, p. 68-70, source: The Making Of America Journal Articles
  14. Cover of sheet music for J. W. Turner, "Mary Of The Wild Moor", New York 1882,  Library of Congress, Music Division. Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music
  15. From: Helen Kendrick Johnson, Our Familiar Songs And Those Who Made Them, New York 1889, source: The Internet Archive
  16. From: Henry F. Reddall & Dudley Buck, Songs That Never Die. Being A Collection Of The Most Famous Words And Melodies, New York, ca. 1894, source: The Internet Archive
  17. From: Louise Pound, American Ballads And Songs, New York, Chikago & Boston, 1922, source: The Internet Archive.
  18. From: Carl Sandburg, The American Songbag, New York 1927, source: The Internet Archive
  19. The melody of "Mary Of The Wild Moor", a version from Ohio collected by Mary O. Eddy, from: Journal of American Folklore 1922, p.  390, version b), source: The Internet Archive
  20. The melody of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" as recorded by Ch. Dietz in Wisconsin 1956, source:  Wisconsin Folk Song Collection, WiscFolkSong.000758.bib)
  21. From: Edith Fowke, Liner notes to: Folk Songs of Ontario, Folkways 04005, 1956, online available at Smithsonian Folkways
  22. "The Poor Little Soldier's Boy", song sheet, New York [n.d.], ca. 1860s, Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets.
  23. "Wife, Children And Friends, Together With Bonny Barbara Allan", song sheet, Boston [n.d.], ca. 1860s, Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets.
  24. Part of "Old Southern Tunes", Brunswick Records, 1920s
  25. Cover of songbook: Bradley Kincaid, Mountain Ballads And Old Time Songs, ca. 1920s/30s
  26. Linda Parker, photographer & date unknown (ca. 1933-35), source: www.hillbilly-music.com (thanks to David Sichak for making it available and allowing me to use it)
  27. Cover of: John Lair (ed.), 100 WLS National Barn Dance Favorites, Chicago 1935

C. Musical Examples

    The midifiles and the music sheets were created with the MC Musiceditor, a very useful program that can be found on www.mcmusiceditor.com

  • A: The melody of  "Mary Of The Wild Moor" as published by J. Turner in 1845, (original key Eb, here transposed to D)
  • B:  The melody of "The Robin's Petition" by John Whitaker 1814, from Davidson's Universal Melodist, 1856, p. 276 (original key G, transposed to D)
  • C: "Mary Across The Wild Moor", from Frank Kidson, Traditional Tunes. A Collection Of Ballad Airs, Oxford 1891, pp. 77-8 (available at the Internet Archive)
  • D: "Mary Of The Moor", from William A. Barrett, English Folk-Songs, Collected, Arranged, And Provided With Symphonies And Accompaniments For The Pianoforte, London & New York [1891], No. 44,  pp. 77-8 (available at the Internet Archive)
  • E: "Mary On The Well [sic!] Moor", as sung by Mrs. Overd,  Langport, Somerset 1904, collected by Cecil Sharp, text: CJS2/9/332, tune: CJS2/10/240, available at the Full English Digital Collection (EFDSS, Vaughn Williams Memorial Library)
  • F:  The melody of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" as collected by Frank C. Brown in North Carolina 1920, published in. The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore, Volume 4: The Music of the Ballads,ed. by Jan Philip Schinhan, Durham 1957, p.153 (original key F, transposed to D)
  • G:  The melody of "Mary Of The Wild Moor" as collected by Dorothy Scarborough in Virginia in the 30s, published in: Dorothy Scarborough, A Song Catcher in the Southern Mountains, New York 1937, p. 448 (original key G, here transposed to D)
  • H:   The melody of "Mary From The Wild Moor" as  published in John Lair (ed.), 100 WLS Barn Dance Favorites, Chicago 1935 (original key D)
  • I: The melody of "Mary of The Wild Moor" from Carl Sandburg, American Songbag, 1927, p. 466 (original key F, here transposed to D)

D. Online collections & databases used

E. Literature

  • Anon., Art. VII-Street Ballads, in: The National Review, 1861, pp. 397-419 (available at British Periodicals Online)
  • William A. Barrett, English Folk-Songs, Collected, Arranged, And Provided With Symphonies And Accompaniments For The Pianoforte, London & New York [1891] (available at IMSLP & The Internet Archive)
  • Henry M. Belden (ed.), Ballads And Songs Collected by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society (University of Missouri Studies, Vol. XV, No. 1), Columbia 1940 (Reprint 1965)
  • Regina Bendix, In Search Of Authenticity. The Formation Of Folklore Studies, Madison & London 1997
  • Paul Brewster, Ballads And Songs Of Indiana, Bloomington, 1940 (online at traditionalmusic.co.uk)
  • British Lady's Magazine & Monthly Miscellany, Vol. 2, No. 11, November 1815 (available at British Periodicals Online)
  • The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore, Volume 2: Folk Ballads From North Carolina, ed. by H. M. Belden & A. P. Hudson, Durham 1952 (available at The Internet Archive)
  • The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore, Volume 4: The Music of the Ballads,ed. by Jan Philip Schinhan, Durham 1957 (available at The Internet Archive)
  • James D. Brown & Stephen S.Stratton, British Musical Biography. A Dictionary of Musical Artists, Authors and Composers Born in Britain and Its Colonies, Birmingham 1897 (available at the Internet Archive)
  • Roly Brown, Glimpses Into The 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade. No. 4: More Merry Ballad Making, online at www.mustrad.org  [see also all his other excellent articles on broadside ballads on this site: http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles.htm]
  • Ray B. Browne, The Alabama Folk Lyric. A Study In Origins And Media Of Dissemination, Madison 1979 (partly available at Google Books)
  • Hezekiah Butterworth, In Old New England. The Romance Of A Colonial Fireside, New York 1895 (available at the Internet Archive)
  • Robert Cantwell, Bluegrass Breakdown. The Making Of The Old Southern Sound, New York 1992 (1984)
  • J. E. Carpenter (ed.), The Book Of Modern Songs, London 1858 (available at Google Books)
  • Paul Charosh, Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song, in: American Music, Vol. 15, 1997, pp. 459-492
  • John Harrington Cox, Folk-Songs Of The South, Gretna 1998 (first published 1925, available at the Internet Archive)
  • Tristram P. Coffin, The British Traditional Ballad In America, Philadelphia 1950 (available at The Internet Archive)
  • George H. Davidson, Davidson's Universal Melodist, London 1853 (available at Google Books)
  • Mary O. Eddy, Ballads and Songs from Ohio, Hatboro 1964 (Reprint of original edition published first in 1939)
  • Maria Edgeworth, Early Lessons. With Seventy-Two Illustrations by F. A Fraser, London 18?? (available at The Internet Archive)
  • Pierce Egan, The Real Life In London, Volumes I. and II. or: The Rambles and Adventures of Bob Tallyo, Esq., and his Cousin, the Hon. Tom Dashall [...], by an Amateur, London 1821 (reprint 1905 available at Gutenberg.org)
  • Wayne Erbsen, Rural Roots Of Bluegrass. Songs, Stories & History, Asheville, NC 2003
  • F. G. Fairfield, An Hour with Street Ballads, in: Appleton's Journal: A Magazine Of General Literature, Vol. 3, Issue 42, Jan 15, 1870, p. 68-70 online at Making Of America Journal Articles & The Internet Archive
  • Charles Bruce Ferguson (ed.), The Diary of Adolphus Gaetz, Halifax 1965 (online available at Simon Fraser University Library, Digital Collections)
  • Benjamin Filene, Romancing The Folk. Public Memory & American Roots Music, Chapel Hill & London 2000
  • Edith Fowke, Liner notes to: Folk Songs of Ontario, Folkways 04005, 1956 (online available at Smithsonian Folkways)
  • Stuart M. Frank, Jolly Sailors Bold: Ballads and Songs of the American Sailor excavated from whalemen's shipboard manuscripts in the Kendall Collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, East Windsor, NJ 2010
  • Kenneth S. Goldstein, The Broadside Ballad, in: Keystone Folklore Quarterly, Vol. 9, 1964, pp. 39-67 (available at Google Books)
  • Tim Graczyk & Frank Hoffmann, Popular American Recording Pioneers 1895 - 1925, New York, London & Oxford 2000
  • E. David Gregory, Victorian Songhunters. The Recovery and Editing of English Vernacular Ballads and Folk Lyrics, 1820 - 1883, Lanham, Toronto & Plymouth 2006
  • E. David Gregory. The Late Victorian Folksong Revival. The Persistence of English Melody, 1878-1903, Lanham, Toronto & Plymouth 2010
  • Ruairidh Greig, William Barrett Alexander Barrett - A Neglected Pioneer, 2011, available at tradsong.org
  • T. F. Henderson, Scottish Vernacular Literature. A Succinct History, Edinburgh 1910 (online at: The Internet Archive)
  • James Hepburn, A Book Of Scattered Leaves. Poetry of Poverty in Broadside Ballads of Nineteenth-Century England. Study And Anthology,  Volume 1, Cranberry & London 2000
  • Charles Hindley, The Life And Times Of James Catnach, (Late Of Seven Dials), Ballad Monger, London 1878 (available at the Internet Archive)
  • Charles Hindley, The History of the Catnach Press, London 1886 (available at The Internet Archive)
  • Albert Johannsen, The House Of Beadle And Adams And Its Dime And Nickel Novels. The Story Of A Vanished Literature, Norman 1950, online at:  Northern Illinois University Libraries 
  • Helen Kendrick Johnson, Our Familiar Songs And those Who Made Them, New York 1889 (online at: The Internet Archive)
  • Michael Joy, The Everyday Uses of Nineteenth Century Broadside Ballads and the Writings of John Clare [n.d.], online at: http://www.jrc.sophia.ac.jp/kiyou/ki22/mjoy.pdf
  • William Howland Kenney, Recorded Music In American Life. The Phonograph And Popular Memory 1890 - 1945
  • Frank Kidson, Traditional Tunes. A Collection Of Ballad Airs, London 1891 ( available at the Internet Archive)
  • Frank Kidson, British Music Publishers, Printers And Engravers: London, Provincial, Scottish And Irish, London 1900 (available at The Internet Archive)
  • John Lair (ed.), 100 WLS National Barn Dance Favorites, Chicago 1935
  • Colin Larkin, The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Country Music, London 1998
  • Roy W. Mackenzie, Ballads And Sea Songs From Nova Scotia, Cambridge 1928 (reprint Hatboro, PA 1963)
  • [MB=]The Madden Ballads. Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Songs and Ballads from the Cambridge University Library, 12 Volumes, Woodbridge, CT 1987 (Microfilm)
  • Bill Malone, Singing Cowboys And Musical Mountaneers. Southern Culture And The Roots Of Country Music, Athens & London 1993.
  • Henry Mayhew, London Labour And The London Poor, Vol. 1, London 1861 (first publ. 1851, online available at:  The Internet Archive
  • Kristine McCusker, "Bury Me Beneath The Willow". Linda Parker And Definitions Of Tradition On The National Barn Dance, 1932 - 1935, in: Southern Folklore, Vol. 56, 1999; repr. in: Kristine M. McCusker & Diane Pecknold (ed.), A Boy Named Sue. Gender And Country Music, Jackson 2004, p. 3 - 23 [an excellent article about Linda Parker!]
  • Mellinger E. Henry, Folk Songs From The Southern Highlands,New York 1938 (online at traditionalmusic.co.uk)
  • Charles Neely, Tales and Songs of Southern Illinois, Menasha 1938 (new edition Carbondale 1998)
  • Katherine D. Newman, Never Without The Song: The Years And Songs Of Jennie Devlin, 1865 - 1952, Urbana & Chicago 1995
  • Tony Palmer, Birmingham Ballad Printers Part Three: R - T (online at mustrad.org)
  • Richard A. Petersen, Creating Country Music. Fabricating Authenticity, Chicago & London 1997
  • Nolan Porterfield, Jimmie Rodgers. The Life And Times Of America's Blue Yodeler, Urbana & Chicago 1992 (1979)
  • Louise Pound, American Ballads And Songs, New York, Chikago & Boston, 1922 (online at The Internet Archive
  • Louise Pound, Nebraska Folklore, Lincoln & London 1989 (1959)
  • Vance Randolph, Ozark Folksongs, Vol. 1: British  Ballads And Songs, Columbia 1980 (first published 1946) 
  • Henry F. Reddall & Dudley Buck, Songs That Never Die. Being A Collection Of The Most Famous Words And Melodies, New York, ca. 1894 (available at  The Internet Archive)
  • Carl Sandburg, The American Songbag, New York 1927 (online at The Internet Archive)
  • Dorothy Scarborough, A Song Catcher in the Southern Mountains, New York 1937
  • Leslie Shepard, The Broadside Ballad. A Study in Origins And Meaning, London 1962
  • Leslie Shepard, John Pitts. Ballad Printer of Seven Dials, London, 1765-1844, London 1969
  • Leslie Shepard, The History of Street Literature, Newton Abbot 1973
  • Henry W. Shoemaker, North Pennsylvania Minstrelsy As sung in the Backwood Settlements, Hunting Cabins and Lumber Camps in Northern Pennsylvania, Altoona 1919  (available at The Internet Archive)
  • A. N. Somers, History of Lancaster, New Hampshire, Concord 1899 (available at the Internet Archive)
  • Earl J. Stout, Folklore From Iowa (American  Folklore Society. Memoirs, Vol. 29), New York 1936 ( online available at University of Michigan, Digital General Collection)
  • Edith B. Sturgis & Robert Hughes, Songs From The Hills Of Vermont, New York 1919 (available at The Internet Archive)
  • Nicholas Tawa, High-Minded And Low-Down. Music In The Lives Of Americans, 1800 - 1861, Boston 2000.
  • The Theatrical Observer and, Daily Bills of the play, 1823, Vol. 2 No. 500-655, July 1, 1823 - Dec 31, 1823, London, n.d. (available at The Internet Archive)
  • Harold W. Thompson (ed.), A Pioneer Songster: Texts From The Stevens-Douglass Manuscript Of Western New York 1841 - 1856, Ithaca 1958
  • Albert H. Tolman and Mary O. Eddy, Traditional Texts And Tunes, in: Journal of American Folklore 35, 1922, p. 335 - 432  (available at The Internet Archive)
  • Joseph W. Turner, The Minstrel's Gift. Containing Songs And Ballads, Also Melodies For The Flute Or Violin, Boston 1852 (available at Google Books)
  • Dave Urbanski, The Man Comes Around. The Spiritual Journey Of Johnny Cash, Lake Mary 2003
  • Wemyss' Chronology Of The American Stage, From 1752 To 1852, New York 1852 (available at Google Books)
  • David Whisnant, All That is Native And Fine. The Politics Of Culture in An American Region, Chapel Hill & London 1983
  • D. K. Wilgus, Anglo-American Folk Song Scholarship Since 1898, Chapel Hill 1959
  • Charles K. Wolfe, Classic Country. Legends Of Country Music, Routledge, New York & London 2001
  • Charles K. Wolfe, In Close Harmony: The Story Of The Louvin Brothers, Jackson, 1996
  • The Zizzer, published by the Senior Class of West Plains High School, Vol. IV, 1911, online at the website of the Missouri Folkore Society

  • [the first version of this text was originally posted on my
     former website morerootsofbob.com in February 2007]

    First posted on JustanotherTune.com in November 2010, revised September 2013
    Comments: Send a mail to info[at]justanothertune.com or check out my new Twitter account


© Jürgen Kloss

[Home] [Articles] [Links] [Library] [About]