Bear Away Yankee

This song was handed to me by David Littlefield in March of 2019 who tells me that it is a work song/rowing chantey associated with “shore whaling” and fishing. The history of the song is a bit murky, having been a long time strictly in the oral tradition, but it is associated with the singing of West Indies sailors (esp. Nevis, Tabago, and St-Vincent Islands) in the mid-20th century and at least one source believes that it may date as early as the 1830s.  It was collected by Alan Lomax as well as Roger D Abrahams who published it in his book “Deep The Water, Shallow The Shore” (1974.  Incidentally this is the other name for this chantey).  Like pretty much any chantey, the lyrics vary from singer to singer, especially with these fairly simple examples.

 

Oh deep the water and shallow the shore
.     Bear away Yankee, bear away boy!
Oh deep the water and shallow the shore
.     Bear away Yankee, bear away boy!

Deep the water and shallow the shore
Bear away and there she goes

Pull away all through the day
Bear away to Noble Bay

Oh what’ll we tell John Gould today?
What’ll we tell John Gould today?

Oh deep the water and shallow the shore
.     Bear away Yankee, bear away boy!
Oh deep the water and shallow the shore
.     Bear away Yankee, bear away boy!