“Hard Times in the Mill (I)”


Complaints of life in the mills (e.g. "Worked in a cotton mill all my life, Ain't got nothin' but a barlow knife"). The wages are poor, the bosses hard, and the conditions brutal. Chorus: "Hard times in (this old mill), Hard times (everywhere)."


This is obviously very similar to "Hard Times in the Mill (II)" -- but since the versions I've seen have different metrical patterns, and have no words in common except "hard times in," I tentatively classify them separately.

This version is recognized by longer lines in the verse (see sample above) and the non-repeating chorus. - RBW

I'm not sure I'd split these two songs. The verses tend to be floaters (e.g., the "Barlow knife" one, which shows up in fiddle tunes), and the metrical differences aren't that big. I guess I'd want to see all the verses. There's a 1962 recording by Hedy West with the Barlow knife verse in it. - PJS

It's the usual problem of the ordinary versus the extreme versions. Sigh. - RBW

Cross references


  • Pete Seeger, "Hard Times in the Mill" (on PeteSeeger13)


  1. Scott-BoA, pp. 274-275, "Hard Times in the Mill" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. BI, SBoA274


Alternate titles: “Hard Times in This Old Mill”; “Cotton Mill Blues”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1956 (recording, Pete Seeger)
Found in: US