“Polly Williams”


The singer calls the listeners to hear Polly's tragedy. Her lover grows tired of her, and takes her off to the mountains to murder her. A great manhunt finds him. The singer expects him to be condemned, and warns young women against false lovers


Bayard, who collected this song, reports that it is based on an actual murder committed in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, in 1810, in which the young man threw the girl's body over a cliff. Despite the song, the man is reported to have been acquitted, presumably due to the lack of direct evidence that he was the guilty party.

The girl's name was not Polly Williams; Bayard thought that the name was chosen as conventional; Dick Greenhaus suggests that it was for metrical reasons.

Burt had another take on the matter: She claims the existence of a genuine Polly Williams who was living alone with a minor boy (presumably her son) in 1790. This Polly Williams was sufficiently well-off to have taken over a 400 acre property in 1794. But Burt cannot link the two beyond that.

This song is item dF39 in Laws's Appendix II. - RBW


  1. Lomax-ABFS, pp. 159-162, "Polly Williams" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Burt, p. 35-36, "(Polly Williams)" (1 text, slightly shortened)
  4. Roud #4111
  5. BI, LoA159


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1934 (Lomax)
Found in: US(MA)