“The White Pilgrim”


"I came to the tomb where the white pilgrim lay And pensively stood by his tomb, And in a low whisper I heard someone say How peaceful he sleeps there alone." The pilgrim's farewell to his family after his call, and his courage in death, are recalled


It's not absolutely clear whether this was originally called "The White Pilgrim" or "The Lone Pilgrim"; Randolph's notes imply the latter, but the notes in Brown and Hudson seem to imply the reverse. The best argument is perhaps the text in Brewster, which is exremely full (seemingly a basic text and a sequel), which was learned probably around 1870 by O. F. Kirk; in that, it's called the "White Pilgrim."

At least two authors are listed: The Reverend Ellis (elsewhere called Elder John Ellis), mentioned above, fl. 1789; he is said to have set it to the tune Lily Dale; he's also listed as writing it in 1838. But the Sacred Harp (in which it's listed as "The Lone Pilgrim") credits it to B. F. White in 1850.

A reasonable supposition is that Ellis wrote the words and White set a new tune, but that's not proof of anything.

Randolph also mentions a clergyman called "The White Pilgrim" (after his clothing, not his skin color) who lived before the Civil War. Paul Stamler found a reference to a "White Pilgrim" named Joseph Thomas who lived around 1835.

For complete arguments, see D. K. Wilgus's article "The White Pilgrim: Song, Fact, and Legend" -- an item I, unfortunately, have not seen. - RBW

It's clear that "The White Pilgrim" and "The Lone Pilgrim" are essentially the same song, although one is told in third person while the other is in first. - PJS

Cross references

  • cf. "The Braes of Balquidder" (most common tune)
  • cf. "Lily Dale" (alternate tune)


  • Aunt Molly Jackson, "The Lone Pilgrim" (AAFS 2580 B, 1939)
  • Buell Kazee, "The White Pilgrim" [fragment] (on Kazee01)
  • Bascom Lamar Lunsford, "The Lone Pilgrim" (AAFS 1826 A3, 1935)
  • Doc Watson & Gaither Carlton, "The Lone Pilgrim" (on Watson01)


  1. BrownIII 542, "The Lone Pilgrim" (1 text plus a fragment)
  2. Hudson 81, p. 209, "The White Pilgrim" (1 text)
  3. Randolph 619, "The White Pilgrim" (2 short texts plus 2 excerpts, 1 tune)
  4. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 433-434, "The White Pilgrim" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 619)
  5. Brewster 97, "The White Pilgrim" (1 text in two parts, the second tells the sorrows of the widow)
  6. ADDITIONAL: Fred W. Allsopp, Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, Volume II (1931), p. 205, "(The White Pilgrim)" (1 fragment)
  7. Roud #2841
  8. BI, R619


Author: Rev. Jonathan Ellis?
Earliest date: 1850 (Sacred Harp)
Found in: US(MW,SE,So)