“High Barbaree”


(Two) ships meet a pirate man-o-war. In the ensuing battle, the pirate is sunk, disabled, or taken.


Scholars continue to debate the relationship between Child's text "The George Aloe..." and the better-known "High Barbaree." Laws considers them separate, as does Roud (listing "The George Aloe" as #6739 and "Barbaree" as #134, which will give you some idea of their relative popularity); Coffin, in Flanders-Ancient4, reports that "High Barbary" retains "little of [its] model beyond the plot outline and the Barbary refrain."

I, obviously, think them the same. (Or, more correctly, regard them as separate recensions, but see no point in separating two songs so often filed together, particularly given the rarity of "The George Aloe.") Bronson doesn't even note the difference.

Frank Shay and Coffin, among others, reports that "High Barbaree" was written by Charles Dibdin (1745-1814), who wrote a number of songs for the Royal Navy (including "Blow High Blow Low"). If so, it seems likely that he was inspired by "The George Aloe..."; I do not consider this by itself reason to separate the two (again, most especially since certain publications do not distinguish them).

The first known text of "The George Aloe..." is found in the Shakespeare/Fletcher play "The Two Noble Kinsmen" (perhaps written c. 1611; printed 1634), Act III.v.59-66 (a section generally attributed to Fletcher):

The _George Alow_ came from the south,

From the coast of Barbary-a;

And there he met with brave gallants of war,

By one, by two, by three-a.

Well hail'd, well hail'd, you jolly gallants!

And whither now are you bound-a?

O let me have your company

Till [I] come to the sound-a." [The word "I" is missing in the quarto print; conjectured by Tonson.]

Child can find no historical records of a voyage of these ships, particularly in the vicinity of Barbaree. But it is noteworthy that, in the 1540s, Henry VIII had a ship called the _Sweepstake_. According to N. A. M. Rodger, _The Safeguard of the Sea_, p. 181, this ship and three others were set to patrolling Scotland in 1543 (?). And the enemy ship in "The George Aloe" was French, and the English squadron kept a French fleet from joining with the Scots.

We also find a ship called the _Sweepstake_ in commission in the 1580s, commanded by Captain Diggory Piper; she was a privateer who took at least a couple of Spanish ships. This is interesting because Piper seemed to inspire music; there is a "Captain Diggory Piper's Galliard" mentioned on p. 343 of Rodger.

I won't say that either event inspired this song, but it might have influenced the name of the ship. - RBW


  • Almanac Singers, "The Coast of High Barbary" (General 5017B, 1941; on Almanac02, Almanac03, AlmanacCD1)
  • Bob Roberts, "High Barbaree" (on LastDays)


  1. Child 285, "The George Aloe and the Sweepstake" (1 text)
  2. Bronson 285, "The George Aloe and the Sweepstake" (15 versions)
  3. Laws K33, "High Barbaree"
  4. Shay-SeaSongs, pp. 91-92, "The High Barbaree" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Colcord, p. 153, "High Barbaree" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Harlow, pp. 161-162, "High Barbaree" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Hugill, pp. 419-4212, "High Barbaree" (3 texts, 3 tunes) [AbEd, pp. 320-321]
  8. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 413-418, "High Barbary" (1 text plus 2 songster and 1 broadside version)
  9. BrownII 118, "High Barbaree" (1 short text)
  10. Chappell-FSRA 25, "The Queen of Russia and the Prince of Wales" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #14}
  11. Flanders/Brown, pp. 229, "New Barbary" (1 fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #8}
  12. Flanders-Ancient4, pp. 176-187, "The Coast of Barbary" (4 texts plus 3 fragments, 5 tunes) {F=Bronson's #8}
  13. Leach, pp. 665-667, "The George Aloe and the Sweepstake"; pp. 777-778, "High Barbaree" (2 texts)
  14. Friedman, p. 399, "The George Aloe and the Sweepstake"; p. 407, "High Barbaree" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  15. OBB 131, "The 'George-Aloe'" (1 text)
  16. Warner 142, "Barbaree" (1 text, 1 tune)
  17. PBB 79, "The Salcombe Seaman's Flaunt to the Proud Pirate" (1 text)
  18. Sharp-100E 12, "The Coasts of High Barbary" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
  19. Darling-NAS, pp. 100-101, "High Barbaree" (1 text)
  20. Silber-FSWB, p. 91, "High Barbaree" (1 text)
  21. BBI, ZN953, "The George-Aloe and the Sweep-stake too"
  23. Roud #134
  24. BI, C285


Author: unknown (the "High Barbaree" recension is by Charles Dibdin)
Earliest date: 1670 (the title is mentioned 1611; a fragment is found in 1634)
Keywords: battle navy ship pirate
Found in: Britain(England(South,West),Scotland(Aber)) Ireland US(MA,NE,NW,SE)