“Blow, Boys, Blow (I)”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1874
Keywords: shanty sailor ship slavery Black(s) moniker
Found in: US(MA,NE) Australia Canada(Mar)


Shanty. Characteristic line: "Blow, boys, blow... Blow, my bully bows, blow!" Often liberally sprinkled with floating verses, the basic version seems to be about a shining Yankee clipper on her way to China. It describes several members of the crew


Doerflinger reports that "[The] captain was sometimes said to be 'Bully Hayes ["Haines," in Bone's text], the Down East bucko,' who was lost in 1848 with the clipper ship _Rainbow_ (not to be confused with the later South Seas blackbirder)." - RBW

Other versions of the song are about a slave-ship taking contraband slaves past the embargo (after slaving was outlawed). - PJS

An example of this is Shay's text, and Bone had heard such verses though they aren't part of his main version.

The importation of slaves into the United States was forbidden as early as 1808, with stronger enforcement passed in 1819. This wasn't entirely a moral act, however; legislators from northern slave states supported it because it let them breed slaves for the deep South. (Which is one reason why the Confederacy, after breaking off from the Union, maintained its own ban.)

The side effect of that was, of course, smuggling -- and a worsening of conditions aboard slavers. Native-born slaves had to be fed and housed as they grew up, making them expensive. Imported slaves were less useful, but the only expense was the importing. Even at prices far below American-born slaves, they brought high profits.

And, because even a sick slave brought some money, and there was no one regulating them, there was no incentive at all for the slaver to treat them decently. "Wastage," they called it, and treated it as part of the job. Somehow the words "wilful murder" never entered their vocabulary. - RBW

Cross references



  1. Doerflinger, pp. 25-29, "Blow, Boys, Blow" (4 texts, 2 tunes)
  2. Bone, pp. 57-58, "Blow, Boys, Blow" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Linscott, pp. 126-127 "Blow, Boys, Blow" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Shay-SeaSongs, pp. 59-60, "Blow, Bullies, Blow" (1 text plus a verse of another, 1 tune)
  5. Botkin-NEFolklr, pp. 558-560, "Blow, Boys, Blow" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Meredith/Covell/Brown, pp. 91-92, "Blow Bullies Blow" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Mackenzie 100, "Blow, Boys, Blow" (1 text)
  8. Colcord, pp. 50-51, "Blow, Boys, Blow" (1 text plus 3 fragments, 1 tune)
  9. Harlow, pp. 66-67, "Blow Boys Blow" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Hugill, pp. 224-231, "Blow, Boys, Blow'" (4 texts, 2 tunes; the 4th text is a Norwegian version taken from Sternvall's _Sang under Segal_) [AbrEd, pp. 172-175]
  11. Sharp-EFC, L, p. 55, "Blow, Boys, Come Blow Together" (1 text, 1 tune)
  13. ADDITIONAL: Captain John Robinson, "Songs of the Chantey Man," a series published July-August 1917 in the periodical _The Bellman_ (Minneapolis, MN, 1906-1919). "Blow, Boys, Blow" is in Part 1, 7/14/1917.
  14. Roud #703
  15. BI, Doe025