“Black-Eyed Susan (Dark-Eyed Susan)”


Susan boards a ship to seek William. He hears her voice and greets her on the deck, promising to be true wherever he goes. Susan bids a sad farewell as the ship prepares to leave


Written by John Gay, and fairly common in printed sources (Laws lists several broadsides, and it is item CLXVI in Palgrave's _Golden Treasury_). The only collections in oral tradition listed by Laws, however, are Nova Scotia versions found in Creighton; I am surprised to see that Laws regards it as a genuine traditional song. - RBW

Lehr/Best has a note on the transmission of this ballad.

Best collected the song from her mother who had also passed it to a friend who "wrote it down in her song scribbler." In the book's intoduction Best notes that "we encountered women who had compiled their own songbooks, usually two or three scribblers bound together 'so as not to be always forgetting the words.' These books are treasured and carefully kept clear of the children." [Of] "Dark-eyed Susan," Best goes on to note "Great was my surprise to find out, much later, that John Gay of Beggar's Opera fame had composed it in 1760, and that our version matched his almost word for word."

Almost word for word, in fact. In comparing Lehr/Best 28 to Harding B 1(6) no line is dropped or added or substantially changed. "The" may be replaced by "with" and "black-ey'd Susan" becomes "dark-eyed Susan," for example, but the most substantial change is that "In every port a mistress finds" becomes "In every port a sweetheart find": likely intentional censorship. Transmission then seems likely to have been from broadside through two hundred years of "scribblers" - BS

Same tune

  • Black-eyed Susan (broadside Bodleian Harding B 1(7))
  • Black-ey'd Susan (broadside Bodleian Harding B 1(6))


  • Bodleian, Harding B 1(7), "William and Susan," W. and C. Dicey (London), 1736-1763; also Harding B 1(12), Harding B 1(8), Firth c.12(3), Harding B 1(11), Harding B 1(6), Harding B 1(9), "William and Susan"; Harding B 11(304), Harding B 11(2498), Firth b.26(37), Harding B 11(307), "Black Eyed Susan"; 2806 c.16.(122), Harding B 11(306), "Black-Ey'd Susan"; Harding B 11(2206), Firth b.25(241), Harding B 11(527), Harding B 28(74), Harding B 28(74), 2806 b.10(120), Harding B 18(42), "Black-Eyed Susan"
  • NLScotland, L.C.1270(002), "Black-Eyed Susan," unknown, c.1840-1850


  1. Laws O28, "Black-Eyed Susan (Dark-Eyed Susan)"
  2. Creighton/Senior, pp. 131-132, "Black-Eyed Susan" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  3. Creighton-Maritime, pp. 90-91, "Black-Eyed Susan" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Lehr/Best 28, "Dark-eyed Susan" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. DT 672, BLKEYSUS
  6. Roud #560
  7. BI, LO28


Author: words: John Gay / music: Richard Leveridge
Earliest date: 1730
Keywords: ship separation love
Found in: Canada(Mar,Newf)