“The Butcher Boy”


The butcher boy has "courted [the girl's] life away," but now has left her (for a richer girl?). She writes a letter expressing her grief, then hangs herself. Her father finds her body and the note asking that her grave show that she died for love


Most scholars hold that this song is a combination of two others (Randolph follows Cox in claiming *four*). The primary evidence is the shift in narrative style: The first part of the ballad is in first person, the rest (affiliated with "There is an Alehouse in Yonder Town/Tavern in the Town") is in the third person. Leach, on the other hand, considers it to be a single song of American origin. Given the extreme variations in the form of this ballad (e.g. a significant number of versions omit the fact that the butcher boy left to marry a richer girl; some of the most poignant imply that the butcher boy rather than the father found her body) and the amount of floating material it contains, any theories of dependence must be examined carefully.

The two songs, "My Blue-Eyed Boy" and "Must I Go Bound," are clearly related (probably decayed offshoots of this song), now so damaged as to force separate listing. But there are, as so often, intermediate versions; one should check the references for those songs.

"Died for Love (I)" is perhaps a worn-down fragment of this piece, consisting of the lament without the suicide. Similarly the Brown collection's piece "My Little Dear, So Fare You Well."

MacColl and Seeger have classified related texts under fully seven heads:

* "Deep in Love," corresponding roughly to "Must I Go Bound" in the Ballad Index. Generally lyric.

* The Butcher Boy. Characterized by the story of betrayal and eventual suicide (informal translation: If the girl kills herself, file the song here no matter *what* the rest of it looks like. If she dies but doesn't kill herself, it's something else, perhaps "Died for Love (I)"). If there is a core to this family, this is it.

* Love Has Brought Me To Despair. (Laws P25). This shares lyrics with this family, notably those concerning the girl's burial, but has a slighly distinct plot.

* Waly Waly/The Water Is Wide. Related primarily by theme, it seems to me.

* The Tavern in the Town. Shares lyrics, but a distinct song (or at least recension) by our standards.

* Careless Love. Clearly distinct.

* Died for Love (I). This shares the stanzas of lamentation with "The Butcher Boy," but is distinct in that the girl is certainly pregnant (the girl in "The Butcher Boy" may be, but not all versions show this), she laments her folly, but she does *not* kill herself. It's much more lyric than "The Butcher Boy." - RBW

Broadside Bodleian Harding B 18(72): H. De Marsan dating per _Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song_ by Paul Charosh in American Music, Winter 1997, Vol 15.4, Table 1, available at FindArticles site. - BS

Cross references


  • Bodleian, Harding B 18(72), "The Butcher Boy" ("In Jersey city where I did dwell"), H. De Marsan (New York), 1861-1864; also Harding B 18(71), "The Butcher Boy"


  • Blue Sky Boys, "The Butcher's Boy" (Montgomery Ward 8668, c. 1937)
  • Vernon Dalhart, "The Butcher's Boy" (Perfect 12330, 1927)
  • Kelly Harrell, "Butcher's Boy" (Victor 19563, 1925; on KHarrell01) (Victor 20242, 1926; on KHarrell01)
  • Buell Kazee, "The Butcher's Boy" (Brunswick 213A, 1928; Brunswick 437, 1930; on AAFM1, KMM); "Butcher Boy" (on Kazee01)
  • Jean Ritchie & Doc Watson, "Go Dig My Grave (Railroad Boy)" (on RitchieWatson1, RitchieWatsonCD1)
  • Henry Whitter, "The Butcher Boy" (OKeh 40375, 1925)
  • Ephraim Woodie & the Henpecked Husbands, "The Fatal Courtship" [uses tune of "Banks of the Ohio"] (Columbia 15564-D, 1930; rec. 1929; on LostProv1)


  1. Laws P24, "The Butcher Boy"
  2. Belden, pp. 201-207, "The Butcher Boy" (3 texts plus excerpts from 2 more and references to 3 more, 3 tunes); see also pp. 478-480, "The Blue-Eyed Boy" (4 texts, though "D" is a fragment, probably of "Tavern in the Town" or "The Butcher Boy" or some such)
  3. Randolph 45, "The Butcher Boy" (4 texts plus 4 excerpts, 2 tunes)
  4. Eddy 41, "The Butcher Boy" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  5. Gardner/Chickering 37, "The Butcher Boy" (1 text plus 2 excerpts and mention of 4 more, 2 tunes); also 25, "The Sailor Boy" (1 short text; the first 6 lines are "The Sailor Boy" [Laws K12]; the last twelve are perhaps "The Butcher Boy")
  6. Flanders/Brown, pp. 115-116, "The Butcher Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Linscott, pp. 179-181, "The Butcher Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Leach, pp. 737-738, "The Butcher Boy" (1 text)
  9. BrownII 81, "The Butcher Boy" (6 texts plus 5 excerpts and mention of 3 others)
  10. BrownIII 254, "Little Sparrow" (4 texts plus 1 excerpt and 1 fragment; the "F" text, however, is primarily "The Butcher Boy" or an "I Wish I Wish" piece of some sort)
  11. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 282-288, "The Butcher Boy" (8 texts, with local titles "The Butcher Boy" (a single stanza), "Butcher Boy," "The Butcher Boy," "Jersey City," (E has no title and is a single-sentence fragment about Polly Perkins), "In Johnson City" (this short might be "Tavern in the Town" or similar), "Butcher's Boy," "The Girl Who Died For Love" (this version too might be a simple "Died for Love" piece); 3 tunes on pp. 431-433)
  12. MHenry-Appalachians, pp. 173-174, "I Am A Rambling Rowdy Boy" (1 text, which opens with a stanza from some sort of rambling man song but then becomes a standard, if short, "Butcher Boy" version)
  13. Brewster 34, "The Butcher's Boy" (3 texts plus mention of 6 more)
  14. SharpAp 101, "The Brisk Young Lover" (4 texts, 4 tunes)
  15. Friedman, p. 110, "The Butcher Boy" (1 text)
  16. Hudson 45, pp. 160-161, "The Butcher's Boy" (1 text plus mention of 11 more)
  17. Warner 86, "A Rude and Rambling Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  18. Shellans, p. 28, "The Farmer's Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  19. Meredith/Anderson, pp. 267-268, "The Maiden's Prayer" (1 text, 1 tune, with an unusual introduction in which the false lover is a soldier)
  20. Sandburg, p. 324, "Go Bring Me Back My Blue-Eyed Boy" and "London City" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  21. Copper-SoBreeze, pp. 230-231, "In Sheffield Park" (1 text, 1 tune)
  22. Asch/Dunson/Raim, p. 28 "The Butcher's Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  23. Kennedy 160, "In Sheffield Park" (1 text plus a second in the notes, 1 tune)
  24. Cohen/Seeger/Wood, pp. 60-62, "Snow Dove" (1 text, 1 tune)
  25. Spaeth-WeepMore, pp. 128-129, "In Jersey City" (1 text, 1 tune)
  26. JHJohnson, p. 77, "The Butcher Boy" (1 text)
  27. LPound-ABS, 24, pp.60-62, "The Butcher's Boy" (1 text; the "B" text is "Tavern in the Town")
  28. JHCox 145, "The Butcher Boy" (2 texts plus mention of 1 more, 1 tune)
  29. MacSeegTrav 73, "The Butcher Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  30. Peacock, pp. 707-708, "The Butcher Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  31. Creighton-NovaScotia 16, "Butcher Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  32. Mackenzie 59, "The Butcher Boy" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  33. Darling-NAS, pp. 139-140, "The Butcher Boy" (1 text); also pp. 141-142, "Morning Fair" (a complex text, with all sorts of floating elements, but with the final stanzas of this song)
  34. Silber-FSWB, p. 178, "The Butcher's Boy" (1 text)
  35. DT 320, BUTCHBOY*
  36. ADDITIONAL: Fred W. Allsopp, Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, Volume II (1931), p. 207, "(The Butcher's Boy)" (1 fragment)
  37. Roud #409
  38. BI, LP24


Alternate titles: “Jersey City”; “The Wild Goose Grasses”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1865 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 18(72))
Found in: Britain(England(South)) US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,Ro,SE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf) Australia