DESCRIPTION: The singer overhears a young woman lamenting her lover "gone over Chowan River." Her father had hired a captain to take her love away. The captain murdered her lover. Her father told her to take comfort and wait, but she drowns herself
EARLIEST DATE: 1952 (Brown)
KEYWORDS: love separation betrayal homicide father money children suicide ship drowning
FOUND IN: US(SE)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
BrownII 74, "Chowan River" (1 text)
cf. "Nancy of Yarmouth (Jemmy and Nancy; The Barbadoes Lady)" [Laws M38] (plot)
cf. "I Never Will Marry" [Laws K17] (theme)
NOTES: The editors of Brown compare this to "Nancy of Yarmouth," but note that it is not the same song. In many ways it is better; it doesn't twist and turn as much.
The Chowan River has its headwaters in southern Virginia and flows into the North Carolina, meeting the sea in Albemarle Sound. But there is no localization beyond the mention of the river; one suspects British origin for the song (since it sounds like it involves a press gang).
Alternately, perhaps, the event dates from the American Civil War, when there was a conflict of sorts by the Chowan. Walter Clark, Editor, Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-1865, volume II, (State of North Carolina)/Nash Brothers, N.D., p. 793fff., describes the action:
In January 1863, Companies B, E, F of the 42nd North Carolina, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J. E. Brown, were sent to the area "to rid the country of the 'Buffaloes.' This organization was composed of thieves and cut-throats who claimed to be Union men and under the protection of Federal gunboats, had established a fortified camp on the Dillard Farm. From this point they pillaged the
country, and carried their booty to the entrenched block-house. Several attempts had been made to wipe out these Buffaloes, but each one had proven futile. General D. H. Hill had ordered that their fortifications be destroyed without fail, and this Colonel Brown determined to do at all hazards.
" Colonel Brown started with 150 men in small row-boats to surprise the enemy at daybreak. The distance (about twenty miles), however, proved too great, and at dawn his weary soldiers were not in striking distance, but too near to retreat. Calling a council of his officers, it was decided to conceal the men in the woods and watch the enemy's movements until night, when an attack would be made.
"The Buffaloes spent the day -- Sunday -- in target-shooting and general carousal.... However, one fellow spied the pickets, dashed back to the block-house, and gave the alarm.... In a few moments the gunboat began dropping shells around Colonel Brown's men, and they set out for camp, crossing the Chowan before day.
"Though foiled. Colonel Brown was by no means discouraged, and planned another expedition."
The account of this is quite confusing, but it produced casualties on both sides and ended up with Colonel Brown and some of the troops he led having to be rescued by their own men. The three companies seem to have spent enough time in the area, though, that they could have formed real relationships with the locals. - RBW
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