“The Sailor Boy (I)”


A girl asks her father to build her a boat so that she may search for her lover. She describes the boy to a passing captain, who tells her he is drowned. She gives directions for her burial, then dies of grief or dashes her boat against the rocks


Paul Stamler suggests that "The Deep Blue Sea" is a worn-down version of this song. He may well be right (see the notes to that song), but I believe that the characteristic of Laws K12 is the girl's request of a boat. Since "Deep Blue Sea" lacks that feature, I tentatively separate the songs.

Art Thieme's "Pinery Boy" version of this song is localized thoroughly to Wisconsin, mentioning the Dells, the Wisconsin river, etc. It's interesting to note that there is a town in Wisconsin (on Lake Pepin) called Maiden Rock -- but the name seems to predate the local version of this song; the story is that an Indian girl committed suicide there after being separated from her lover. The town of Winona is said to be named after her. - RBW

Creighton-NovaScotia shows a collector misled by a source. The version is only a single verse, identical to broadside Bodleian, Firth c.12(227), "The Sailor Boy and his Faithful Mary" ("A sailor's life is a merry life"), J.Harkness (Preston), 1840-1866. The singer, in this case, thought this was a returned lover ballad -- from Creighton's title -- of the broken ring type.

Also collected and sung by David Hammond, "Early, Early All in the Spring" (on David Hammond, "I Am the Wee Falorie Man: Folk Songs of Ireland," Tradition TCD1052 CD (1997) reissue of Tradition LP TLP 1028 (1959)). Like Morton-Ulster 7, Hammond's version shares its tune with "The Croppy Boy (I)." - BS

The Dan Hornsby Trio recording is included by deduction; I have not heard it. - PJS

Cross references


  • Bodleian, Harding B 11(2298), "The Maid's Lament for her Sailor Boy," J. Catnach (London), 1813-1838; also Firth c.12(226), Harding B 11(3375), Harding B 25(1684), "Sailor Boy" ("Down by a chrystal river side"); Firth c.12(227), "The Sailor Boy and his Faithful Mary"


  • Anita Best and Pamela Morgan, "A Sailor's Trade is a Weary Life" (on NFABestPMorgan01)
  • Dock Boggs, "Papa, Build Me a Boat" (on Boggs2, BoggsCD1) (a complex version, with this plot but many floating verses, e.g. from "The Storms Are On the Ocean")
  • Rufus Crisp, "Fall, Fall, Build Me a Boat" (on Crisp01)
  • Dan Hornsby Trio, "A Sailor's Sweetheart" (Columbia 15771-D, 1932; rec. 1931)
  • Liz Jefferies, "Willie, the Bold Sailor Boy" (on Voice03)
  • Mikeen McCarthy, "Early in the Month of Spring" (on IRTravellers01)
  • Maggie Murphy, "Willie-O" (on IRHardySons)
  • Mrs. Otto Rindlisbacher, "The Pinery Boy" [instrumental] (AFS, 1941; on LC55)
  • Phoebe Smith, "Sweet William" (on Voice11)
  • Art Thieme, "The Pinery Boy" (on Thieme04)


  1. Laws K12, "The Sailor Boy I"
  2. Belden, pp. 186-191, "The Sailor Boy" (6 texts, 1 tune)
  3. Randolph 68, "The Sailor's Sweetheart" (3 text plus 2 fragments, 4 tunes)
  4. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 68-70, "The Sailor's Sweetheart" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 68C)
  5. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 318-320, "Oh, Captain, Captain, Tell Me True" (1 text; tune on pp. 441-442)
  6. Brewster 54, "Sweet William (The Sailor Boy)" (1 text)
  7. Eddy 33, "Sweet William" (6 texts, 3 tunes)
  8. Gardner/Chickering 25, "The Sailor Boy" (1 short text; the first 6 lines are "The Sailor Boy"; the last twelve are perhaps "The Butcher Boy")
  9. Rickaby 18, "The Pinery Boy" (1 text, 1 tune; also a fragment in the notes)
  10. Leach, pp. 736-737, "The Sailor Boy" (1 text)
  11. Leach-Labrador 9, "The Sailor Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  12. Karpeles-Newfoundland 43, "Sweet William" (1 text, 1 tune)
  13. Creighton-NovaScotia 27, "Broken Ring Song fragment" (1 single-stanza fragment, 1 tune); 44, "My Sailor Lad, "Sailor Bold" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  14. Warner 53, "I'll Sit Down and Write a Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
  15. SharpAp 106, "Sweet William" (12 texts, 12 tunes)
  16. Sharp-100E 72, "Sweet William" (1 text, 1 tune)
  17. Sharp/Karpeles-80E 35, "Sweet William" (1 text, 1 tune -- a composite version)
  18. Vaughan Williams/Lloyd, p. 94, "A Sailor's Life" (1 text, 1 tune)
  19. JHCox 110, "Sweet William (The Sailor Boy)" (3 texts plus mention of 6 more)
  20. BrownII 104, "The Sailor Boy" (5 texts, mostly short, plus excerpts from 4 more and mention of 2 more and 1 very short fragment; several texts, notably "C," are mixed with "The Butcher Boy"; "E" is a mix with something unidentifiable as only part of the song is printed; "H" is apparently a mix of floating material, only partly printed; "J" is mostly from some unidentified ballad; "L" appears to mix this with "The Apprentice Boy" [Laws M12])
  21. MHenry-Appalachians, pp. 177-178, "The Soldier Boy" (1 text)
  22. Scott-BoA, pp. 39-40, "Sweet William" (1 text, 1 tune, a composite version)
  23. Lomax-FSNA 55, "The Pinery Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  24. Huntington-Whalemen, pp. 272-273, "A Sailor's Trade Is a Roving Life" (1 text, with the manuscript damaged by water)
  25. Morton-Ulster 7, "My Boy Willie" (1 text, 1 tune)
  26. OLochlainn 56, "My Boy Willie" (1 text, 1 tune)
  27. Hammond-Belfast, p. 34, "My Fine Sailor Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  28. MacSeegTrav 25, "Sweet William" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  29. Darling-NAS, pp. 97-98, "Sweet Soldier Boy" (1 text)
  31. Roud #273
  32. BI, LK12


Alternate titles: “The Pinery Boy”; “Papa, Papa, Build Me a Boat”; “A Shantyman's Life”; “I Have No One to Love Me”; “Captain Tell Me True”; “The Sailor Boy and his Faithful Mary”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1839 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 11(2298))
Found in: Britain(England(Lond,South,West),Scotland) US(Ap,MW,NE,SE,So) Ireland Canada(Mar,Newf,Queb)