Sunday 22 July 2012

Lily of the South

Lyrics by Marion Parsons © 2003, music traditional

True story of an interracial couple who eloped to Canada on the Underground Railroad in 1856.  The first song in the Underground Railroad Trilogy (see below for notes).

In eighteen hundred fifty six, a man named Johnny Hall
Set out to gain his liberty and let his irons fall
In flight from one Mr. Dunlap, who last held him in thrall
And sent by Mary Weaver, the lily of the south.

Now Johnny was to bondage born, his mother’s master’s son
To Richmond he was sold away when he was still quite young
In lonesome years of bitter toil, he found that he had won
The heart of Mary Weaver, the lily of the south.

This Irish girl was not annoyed by kinks in Johnny’s hair
Nor paid she mind the coloured blood to which he was an heir
She only saw a Christian soul both steadfast, bold, and fair
That faithful Mary Weaver, the lily of the south.

In Mary’s dear Virginia home, they could not married be
But she would sure forsake it all to see her Johnny free
She helped him slip away by night, and raised his passage fee
So true was Mary Weaver, the lily of the south.

So Johnny rode a schooner north, according to their plan
While Mary made for Canada quick as the traincoach ran
When next they met in Hamilton, he stood his own free man
And wedded Mary Weaver, the lily of the south.

This is the first song I wrote based on stories from “The Underground Railroad”, an 1878 book by
William Still.  This book can be viewed online here; the story of John Hall and Mary Weaver starts on page 250 under the title “An Irish Girl’s Devotion to Freedom”.  The other songs of mine which are based on this book are Lear Green’s Hope Chest and Isaac Forman’s Regrets.

I am conscious that there are racist ideas and words in this song that are jarring to the modern ear.   I hope that readers/listeners will understand that I am attempting to tell this story in the spirit and vocabulary of its own era, and in faithfulness to my source material.

The melody is an Irish song, “Lily of the West”, which may also be recognized as “Lakes of Ponchetrain”.

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