Willie urges Polly to go riding with him "some pleasure [to] see" before they get married. Although she is "afraid of [his] ways," she comes, only to find her new-dug grave awaiting her. Willie kills and buries her and heads home (or out to sea)
This much-shortened form of "The Gosport Tragedy" has now taken on a life of its own. Although no clear line between the two can be drawn, I tend to call the piece "The Gosport Tragedy" if it includes the ghost and "Pretty Polly" if it omits.
One of Cox's texts (the C text, which also has a tune) was called by the informant "Young Beeham." There is no basis for this in the text of the song. One has to think this the result of some sort of confusion with "Young Beacham." - RBW
Many if not most American versions are probably traceable back to B. F. Shelton's recording, which was enormously (and deservedly) popular.
According to J. M. Jarrell of Wayne Co., WV, cited by J. B. Cox in "Traditional Ballads Mainly From West Virginia," in the early 19th century one Polly Aldridge was murdered by William Chapman, who was convicted and executed in Martin Co., KY, and this ballad was being sung about the killing c. 1850. - PJS