“The Swapping Boy”


The Swapping Boy (sets out for London to get a wife. He swaps wife, or the wheelbarrow he took her home in, for a) horse, which he swaps for a cow, and so forth, for a cheaper animal each time, until he ends with a mole which "went straight to its hole"

Supplemental text

Swapping Boy, The
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

The Swapping Song

From Mary O. Eddy, Ballads and Songs from Ohio, #93, pp. 215-216.
From Mrs. Weldon Bradshaw, Canton, Ohio.

 1. When I was a little boy, and lived by myself,
    And all the bread and cheese I got I laid them on the shelf,

      Come a whing whang waddle, come a jack frog saddle,
      Come a John fair faddle, coma a long ways home.

 2. When the rats and mice they led me such a life,
    I had to go to London to get me a wife.

 3. When the streets were so wide and the lanes were so narrow,
    I had to bring her home in an old wheel barrel.

 4. My foot it slipped and I got me a fall,
    And down came wheel barrel, wife and all.

 5. When I swapped my wheel barrel and got me a horse,
    And then I rode from cross to cross.

 6. When I swapped my horse and got me a mare,
    And then I rode from fair to fair.

 7. And I swapped my mare and got me a mule,
    And then I rode like a doggoned fool.

 8. When I swapped my mule and got me a cow,
    And in that trade I just learned how.

 9. And I swapped my cow and got me a calf,
    And in that trade I lost just half.

10. When I swapped my calf and got me a sheep,
    And then I rode till I went to sleep.

11. When I swapped my sheep and got me a hen,
    And oh, what a pretty thing I had then.

12. When I swapped my hen and got me a rat,
    And set it on the haystack with two little cats.

13. When I swapped my rat and got me a mole,
    And the doggoned thing went straight to its hole.

          *** B ***

From _Gammer Gurton's Garland_, 1784 as printed in William S.
Baring-Gould and Ceil Baring-Gould, _The Annotated Mother Goose_,
p. 96, item #115.

My father he died, but I can't tell you how,
He left me six horses to drive my plough:
  With my wing wang waddle oh,
  Jack sing saddle oh,
  Blowsey boys bubble oh,
  Under the broom.

I sold my six horses and I bought me a cow,
I'd fain made a fortune, but did not know how.
  With my wing wang waddle oh,
  Jack sing saddle oh,
  Blowsey boys bubble oh,
  Under the broom.

(3 additional stanzas)


Eddy writes of this song, "Most texts are like the above in blending two separate songs, 'When I Was a Little Boy' and 'Swapping Song.' The first story, based, in all likelihood, upon Wat Tyler's Rebellion of 1381 in England, continues through four stanzas."

That two songs are combined here is very likely; Kennedy's version and others (including versions back to Gammer Gurton's Garland) omit the trip to London to fetch a wife, while we find a youth setting out for London to find a wife as a separate item in _Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book_, Volume II, of c. 1744. But whether this should be tied to the Kentish rebellion of 1381 can be questioned. - RBW

Perhaps "The Swapping Boy" should be split between the Opie-Oxford2 71/Eddy/BrownIII 131 ("When I was a little boy I lived by myself") songs and the Opie-Oxford2 156/Henry H732("My father he died, but I can't tell you how") songs. The description for "My Father Died" might be: Singer inherits his grandfather's horses. He sells the horses to buy a cow and sells and buys the cow, a calf, a pig, a dog, and a cat that runs off after a rat. "My grandfather left me all he did own, And I don't know how it is, but I'm here by my lone." The end of Opie-Oxford2 156 is more disastrous: "I sold my cat and bought me a mouse, But she fired her tail and burnt down my house." - BS

In the light of the above, I suppose I should separate these two songs -- but the result would be an even worse mess than lumping them, because the combination clearly exists as a song in its own right. Since it is possible that it's one song that split, and not two that coalesced, I'm keeping them together until we can find some clearer evidence of the history. With full acknowledgement that there are two highly independent parts. - RBW

Cross references


  • Anne, Judy & Zeke Canova, "The Poor Little Thing Cried Mammy" (Oriole 8044/Perfect 12685/Regal 10299, 1931); as the "Three Georgia Crackers," "Poor Little Thing Cried Mammy" (Columbia 15653-D, 1931; rec. 1930; on CrowTold01)
  • Harry Greening & chorus of Dorsetshire Mummers, "The Foolish Boy" (on FSB10)
  • Bradley Kincaid, "The Swapping Song" (Champion 15466 [as Dan Hughey]/Silvertone 5188/Supertone 9209, 1928)


  1. Eddy 93, "The Swapping Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Randolph 256, "Went to the River" (1 text, 1 tune, a much degraded form with a different chorus and some floating verses)
  3. BrownII 196, "Swapping Songs" (4 text plus 2 excerpts, but "E" and "F" are "Hush Little Baby"; the "C" excerpt is unidentifiable from the description)
  4. BrownIII 131, "When I Was a Little Boy" (1 text plus mention of 2 more, with only the first verses about fetching the wife from London)
  5. JHCoxIIB, #19A-B, pp. 166-169, "The Foolish Boy," "Johnny Bobeens" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  6. Kennedy 312, "Wim-Wam-Waddles" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Wyman-Brockway II, p. 10, "The Swapping Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Cambiaire, pp. 78-79, "The Swapping Song" (1 text)
  9. SharpAp 217, "The Foolish Boy" (3 texts, 3 tunes)
  10. Sharp/Karpeles-80E 72, "The Swapping Song (The Foolish Boy)" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. Ritchie-Southern, p. 1, "The Swapping Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
  12. Creighton/Senior, pp. 243, "Down by the Brook" (1 text, 1 tune)
  13. Chase, pp. 174-175, "The Swapping Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
  14. Gilbert, pp. 44-45, "Wing Wang Waddle" (1 text)
  15. Abrahams/Foss, pp. 70-71, "Foolish Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  16. SHenry H732, p. 57, "My Grandfather Died" (1 text, 1 tune)
  17. Opie-Oxford2 71, "When I was a little boy I lived by myself" (2 texts); 156, "My father he died, but I can't tell you how" (1 text)
  18. Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #7, pp. 29-30, "(When I was a little boy)"; #115, p. 96, "(My father he died, but I can't tell you how)"
  19. Montgomerie-ScottishNR 23, "(His father died)" (1 short text); 163, "O, when I was a wee thing" (1 short text, with only the verses about "When I was a wee thing" and the fetching home of a wife in a wheelbarrow)
  20. ST E093 (Full)
  21. Roud #469
  22. BI, E093


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1784 (Gammer Gurton's Garland)
Found in: US(Ap,MW,SE,So) Britain(England) Ireland Canada(Mar)