“Nell Cropsey (III -- Swift Flowing River)”


"Oh, swift flowing river, A secret you hold, Way down in the depths Of the water so cold." The singer begs the river to tell its secret. A "fair girl" is missing, "stolen away in the night." "The secret, Oh River, You surely must know."

Supplemental text

Nell Cropsey (III -- Swift Flowing River)
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

Nell Cropsey, II

From Louis W. Chappell, _Folk-Songs of Roanoke and the Albemarle_,
#62, pp. 110-111. Collected in 1934 from Mrs. L. A. Spencer of
Edenton, NC.

Oh, swift flowing river,
A secret you hold,
Way down in the depths --
Of the water so cold.

Won't you stop for a while,
AS onward you flow,
And tell us, Oh River,
The secret you know?

The fair girl whose story
So sad has been told,
Stole away in the night
Like a lamb from the fold.

The treacherous hand dealt
The villaineous blow (sic)
That secret, Oh River,
You surely must know.

(Stanzas 1, 2, 5, 6 of 10)


Although Chappell lists this as a Nell Cropsey song, and the details (such few as the song contains) fit that case, Cropsey is not mentioned in the text; it might be about another murder.

Roud lumps this with all the other Nell Cropsey songs, but it is clearly distinct. The real question is, Is it traditional? The only collection is Chappell's, from a printed source, allegedly based on a poem (song?) taken down around the time of the murder. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1901 - Murder of Ella Maude "Nellie" Cropsey, presumably by her former lover Jim Wilcox

Cross references


  1. Chappell-FSRA 62, "Nell Cropsey, II" (1 text)
  2. ST ChFRA062 (Partial)
  3. Roud #4117
  4. BI, ChFRA062


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1934 (Elizabeth City _Daily Advance_); reportedly collected 1902
Keywords: homicide river
Found in: US(SE)