“The Female Warrior (Pretty Polly)”


A girl boards ship to learn the sailor's craft. After some years in service, her ship encounters a pirate/raider. The captain is quickly slain, and the girl assumes command. She overcomes the enemy. In some texts she goes to London to be rewarded


The song "The Rainbow" collected by MacColl and Seeger from Nelson Ridley in 1974 has lyrics from this song, and their notes makes it clear they identify it with this piece. Ridley's text is hopelessly confused, with no plot and some repetition of lyrics; Paul Stamler notes that it "almost [sounds] like the 'maid' being referred to is actually the ship." - PJS, RBW

Yates, Musical Traditions site _Voice of the People suite_ "Notes - Volume 2" - 11.9.02: "Frank Kidson noted a Yorkshire set of this song and comments that as it concerns a sea battle between the English and the Spanish, it must be of some considerable age. (_Traditional Tunes_ 1891, pp. 99-100).... Kidson also notes the connection between the ship 'The Rainbow' and one of the same name that is to be found in the ballad of 'Captain Ward'...." [ Kidson's text ends "Good health unto this damsel who fought all on the main, And here's to the royal gallant ship called Rainbow by name."; Cyril Poacher's text for that on Voice02 is slightly different; Bob Hart's text on Voice08 names the ship "The Royal."] - BS

Apart from the pirate, incidentally, this song bears some resemblance to an actual happening -- though the song predates the event. In 1856, the clipper _Neptune's Car_ was to sail from New York to San Francisco under Captain Joshua Adams Patten -- but which endded up being navigated by his wife; for background, see the notes to "Bound Down to Newfoundland" [Laws D22].

The ending isn't very happy; Joshua Patten, who was barely 30, died in mid-1857, and Mary Ann Patten, not yet 25, had contracted his tuberculosis and died in 1861. But she *had* successfully brought the _Neptune's Car_ around Cape Horn. Possibly the story -- which was widely reported, and which brought Mary Ann Patten a thousand dollar reward from the company insuring the _Neptune's Car_ -- could have helped make this song popular. - RBW

Cross references


  • Bodleian, Harding B 16(93a), "Female Captain," unknown, n.d.; Bodleian, Firth c.13(255), "Down by the Spanish Shore", W. Harris (Birmingham), n.d.


  • Bob Hart, "A Broadside" (on Voice08)
  • Cyril Poacher, "A Broadside" (on Voice02)


  1. Laws N4, "The Female Warrior (Pretty Polly)"
  2. Eddy 47, "The Female Warrior" (1 text)
  3. Gardner/Chickering 85, "Pretty Polly" (1 text)
  4. Mackenzie 84, "As We Were A-Sailing" (1 text)
  5. Doerflinger, pp. 143-144, "The Female Warrior" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Ranson, pp. 124-125, "The Beauty of Baltimore" (1 text)
  7. MacSeegTrav 83, "The Rainbow" (1 text, 1 tune, perhaps this piece; see note)
  8. BBI, ZN1749, "Margaret my sweetest, Margaret I must go" (listed as Laws N4 though the description sounds more like N8)
  9. Roud #492
  10. BI, LN04


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1830
Found in: US(MW) Canada(Mar,Ont) Britain(England,Scotland) Ireland