James Drown

Winner of the 2022 Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival Song Contest.

This song was inspired by a “calendar stick” on display at the Essex Peabody Museum in Salem Mass. The stick was found on a remote island in the South Atlantic, and it had been made by a man named James Drown of Providence Rhode Island. The Stick was collected and brought to the EPM museum in 1804 (When it was then the “East India Marine Society”).  Years later James Drown returned to his family. If he told anyone about his journeys, they never wrote it down; how he got off the island and what he did after is all a mystery to us. To many, this would be the end of the tale; I found this to be a perfect breeding ground for a tall tale, one told in the structure of a chantey.  For further reading, look at the link below

Michael Hotkowski


Where’d you last see old James Drown?
Where’s Drown? Old James Drown!
Since he sailed from Providence Town.
Where’s Drown? Old James Drown!

Saw him race beneath the horn      Where’s Drown…
Sailed so fast he beat the morn       Where’s Drown…

Saw him swim that Bengal bay
Chasing all those whales away

Saw him on those arctic nights
When he made them northern lights

Off the coast of Italy
He bounced the moon upon his knee

Saw him steal that southern star
Pawned it off in Zanzibar

Saw him once in Montreal
Bed a girl three stories tall

The finest girls are in the north
There you’ll get your money’s worth

The sweetest girls are in the south
Honeybees swarm around their mouth

Wildest girls are in the east
Ride you like some savage beast

The toughest girls are from the west
Go so long I get no rest

That’s the tale of Old James Drown
Born and raised in Providence Town