Remembering The Old Songs:


by Bob Waltz
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, October 2002)

Minnesota is an underprivileged state. I don't mean our income, or our natural beauty, or any such thing. I mean our folksongs.

Some regions -- Virginia, North Carolina, the Ozarks-- have been scoured many times. I believe the song haul from the Ozarks approached a thousand items. But Minnesota -- to my knowledge, the only book of Minnesota folk songs is M. C. Dean's, and it's a private collection of one singer's repertoire. Someone, perhaps at the University of Minnesota, may have a collection, but if so, it needs to be edited.

So it was with real pleasure that I laid my hands on a copy of Franz Rickaby's Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy. Because, while it's not all Minnesota songs, it includes a substantial number. Including this one, which I have liked for years. In fact, Rickaby found two versions of Jack Haggerty in Minnesota -- one in Bayport and one in Bemidji. Unfortunately, both are in rather bad shape, and needed work to become really useful for performance. The text here is basically that of W. H. Underwood of Bayport, but I added the lines and stanzas in brackets, and made other changes, which I can't easily show, to correct other defects. All are based on traditional texts.

If I remember correctly, I learned this excellent tune from the singing of Roxanne Neat and David Stoeri, but I can't locate the cassette any more, so I don't know their source.

This is actually a (sort of) true story, with the names changed. Geraldine Chickering did a detailed research project and found historical records of Jack Haggerty, Anna Tucker ("the belle of Greenville" on the Flat River in Michigan in 1872), and George Mercier, her fiance.

The song was written by Dan McGinnis as a joke. Haggerty never had anything to do with Tucker. But Mercier obviously did -- and Mercier also was promoted to a job that McGinnis thought should have been his. McGinnis wrote this song to lampoon Mercier, then stuck Haggerty's name on it in a further spite. (One begins to see, perhaps, why he didn't get promoted.) Because it was a spoof, he used rather flowery language, and that resulted in a lot of misunderstandings (e.g. cubit for Cupid in the first stanza). Despite all this, the song proved very popular, and has been found from North Carolina to Texas to North Dakota to New England.

Joke or not, it's a great song, and I'm glad for once to be able to offer an actual Minnesota item.


Complete Lyrics:
I'm a heartbroken raftsman, from Greenville I came,
[I courted a lassie, a lass of great fame,
From the strong darts of Cupid I've suffered much grief,
My heart it's asunder, I can get no relief.

I will tell you my story without much delay,
Of a neat little lassie my heart stole away;
She's a blacksmith's fair daughter on the Flat River side
And I always intended to make her my bride.

My occupation is raftsman when the white waters roar;
My name is engraved on the rocks and the shores.
Through shops, bars, and households I'm very well known,
And they call me Jack Haggerty, the pride of the town.

I dressed her in jewels and the finest of lace,
The costliest muslins her form to embrace.
I gave her my wages all for to keep safe;
I deprived her of nothing I had on this earth.

[I worked on the river, and earned quite a stake;
I was steadfast and steady and ne'er played the rake.
But buoyant and happy on the whitewater stream,
My thoughts were on Anna, she haunted my dreams.]

[One day on the river I a letter received,
It was from her promise she would be relieved.
To wed with another she 'd no longer delay,
And the next time I'd see her she'd no more be a maid.]

On her mother Jane Tucker I lay all the blame,
For she caused her to leave and go back on my name.
She has cast off the rigging that God would soon tie,
And has left me to wander till the day that I die.

I'll bid adieu to Flat River, for me there's no rest,
I will shoulder my peavy and go to the west.
I'll go to Muskegon some comfort to find,
I'm leaving Flat River and sweet Anna behind.

So come all you bold raftsmen with hearts stout and true,
Don't depend on the women; you're beat if you do.
For when you do meet one with a dark chestnut curl,
Just remember Jack Haggerty and the Flat River girl.

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