"I lost my sight in the blacksmith's shop in the year of 'Fifty-six." The singer, with no other trade available, has had to become a wandering fiddler. Not even Doctor Lane of San Francisco could help him. He hopes his family is safe and well
Until this century, there was nothing resembing a social safety net for the victims of industrial accidents -- in particular, no workers' compensation, and little chance of compensation by the employer.
Pete Seeger dates this song from 1850, with no supporting documentation; as the first line reads "I lost my eyes in the blacksmith shop in the year of '56", this date is doubtful. It has the feel of the mid-19th century about it, but I've dated it only back to the field recording for safety's sake. - PJS
Joe Hickerson, who probably would know, implies that this is the earliest recording known to him, though the fact that there is also a version in Belden implies that it is older. He speculates that it is derived from the earlier "The Rebel Soldier"(primarily on the basis of the final line; "I am a (blind fiddler/rebel soldier) and far from my home." - RBW