The first time I was conscious of someone performing this song was Rick doing a marvelous job that still will pop up as a brain worm for me from time to time. He recently pulled it out at my request on a recent Monday performance and I was asked for the lyrics during the following break.
The famed Daniel Decatur Emmett composed this song in 1843 for a minstrel show and it quickly became quite popular. It is written in the fashion to mimic the speech of the regular, less educated men of the time (as it were) and reflects the wild and fun-loving boatmen on the Ohio River. There are many versions circulating in the folk music world today but the following is the original set of lyrics.
De boatman dance, de boatman sing, de boatman up to eb’rything.
And when de boatman get on shore, he spends his cash and works for more.
Dance, de boatman dance! O dance, de boatman dance.
O dance all night till broad daylight
And go home wid de gals in de morning.
|: Hi ho de boatman row, Floatin’ down de ribber on de Ohio! :|
De boatman is athrifty man
Da is none can do as de boatman can ;
I neber see a pretty girl in all my life
But dat she be some boatman’s wife.
De oyster boat should keep to de shore,
De fishin’ smack should venture more.
De schooner sails before de wind,
De steamboat leaves a streak behind.
I went on board de odder day
To see what de boatman had to say;
An dar I let my passion loose
An’ dey cram me in de calaboose.
I’ve come dis time, I’ll come no more,
Let me loose, I’ll go ashore;
For dey whole hoss, an’ dey a bully crew
Wid a hoosier mate an’ a captain too.
When you go to de boatman’s ball,
Dance wid my wife or not at all;
Sky-blue jacket an’ tarpaulin hat,
Look out, my boys, for de nine tail cat.
When de boatman blows his horn,
Look out, old man, your hog is gone;
He steal my sheep, he cotch my shoat,
Den put ’em in bag and tote ’em to boat.