“Rock-A-Bye Baby”


The nursery rhyme: "Rock-a-bye baby on the tree top, When the wind blows, the cradle will rock...." Folk versions often add more verses (or make changes to the first), e.g. about the farmer who goes hunting to feed the baby

Supplemental text

Rock-A-Bye Baby
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

Rocky By Baby By-O

From Anne Warner, Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne &
Frank Warner Collection, #190 p. 431. From Rebecca King Jones,
North Carolina, 1940.

Rocky by baby, the old tree top,
And when the tree falls the cradle shall rock,
Rocky by baby, by-o.

Father will come to pick up his gun,
Into the woods, he will bring some meat home,
Rocky by baby, by-o.

(1 additional stanza)


The first reported printing of the words to this piece is from about 1765, in "Mother Goose's Melody." It does not seem to have become a song -- or at least to have adopted its current melody -- until 1872, when Effie I. Crockett (1857-1940) allegedly sang it to an infant she was babysitting. The result was published in 1884, with Crockett adopting the pseudonym "Effie I. Canning."

In the Sam Henry text, the song starts with the singer recalling being "airy and handsome" and going out partying; but "noo I am auld... fittin' for nae thin' but rockin' the cradle. Rockin' the cradle is nae work, ava," then breaks into the standard lyrics. It's probably a composite, but with only six lines of the original, most of which are similar to floating material, the other half is probably beyond identification; there are points of contact with "Rocking the Cradle (and the Child Not His Own)."

The Montgomeries (Montgomerie-ScottishNR #134) have a piece which looks vaguely related, beginning, "Hoolie, the bed'll fall! Who'll fall with it? Two eyes, two hands, And two bonnie feet."

According to folklore (or at least Katherine Elwes Thomas), this originally referred to the Old Pretender, James III son of James II of England, and the whole stanza refers to James II's deposition as a result of having a Catholic heir. Uh-huh. - RBW

There are examples on the Library of Congress American Memory site of other melodies for the song and other texts incorporating the tree top verse:

LOCSheet, sm1881 16221, "Lullaby Baby Upon the Tree Top," White, Smith & Co. (Chicago), 1881; also sm1881 14963, "Lullaby Baby Upon the Tree Top" (tune)

LOCSinging, sb10078a, "Dig, Dig, Dig" or "Hush-a-bye Baby," unknown, n.d.; also as102980, "Dig, Dig, Dig" or "Hush-a-bye Baby" - BS

Cross references


  1. Warner 190, "Rocky By Baby, By-O" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. SHenry H591a, p. 6, "Heezh Ba" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. BrownIII 113, "Rock-a-Bye Baby in the Tree-Top" (1 text with variants)
  4. Creighton-SNewBrunswick 86, "Rockaby Baby" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Opie-Oxford2 22, "Hush-a-bye, baby, on the tree top" (2 texts)
  6. Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #550, p. 224, "(Hush a by Baby)"
  7. Silber-FSWB, p. 408, "Rock-A-Bye, Baby" (1 text)
  8. Fuld-WFM, pp. 468-469+, "Rock-a-Bye Baby"
  9. ST Wa190 (Partial)
  10. Roud #2768
  11. BI, Wa190


Author: unknown
Earliest date: text: 1784 (Gammar Gurton's Garland, according to Opie-Oxford2); tune: 1884 (see notes)
Keywords: lullaby
Found in: US(SE) Ireland Canada(Mar)