Female Rambling Sailor
DESCRIPTION: "Come all you people far and near And listen to my ditty" of a girl who disguises herself and goes to sea after her impressed lover is drowned. She proves a brave sailor, but at last is killed and her sex discovered. The singer wishes her well in death
EARLIEST DATE: before 1900 (Broadside NLScotland L.C.Fol.70(147))
KEYWORDS: love separation pressgang death sailor cross-dressing
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Huntington-TheGam-MoreSongsWhalemenSang, pp. 176-178, "The Female Sailor" (1 text, 2 tunes)
Murray, Mu23-y4:042, "Female Rambling Sailor," unknown, 19C
NLScotland, L.C.Fol.70(147), "Female Rambling Sailor," unknown, c. 1870
NOTES [190 words]: For notes on legitimate historical examples of women serving in the military in disguise, see the notes to "The Soldier Maid."
Although there are many instances of women serving in the military before the twentieth century, it was generally illegal, and the songs about them fictional. This one is not.
According to David Cordingly, Women Sailors and Sailors' Women, Random House, 2001 (I use the undated, but later, paperback edition), p. 63, "The sex of a female sailor named Rebecca Young was revealed in a tragic accident that arose because she was too confident of her ability to go aloft." She spent two years working on a boat in the Thames, using the name Billy Bridle. In June 1833, she apparently challenged a male sailor to a race up the rigging. Both made it to the top, but when she came down, she hurried, tried to slide down a halyard, burned her hands, let go -- and fell to the deck and died. The inquest at Gravesend declared it an accident.
Cordingly quotes Bell's Weekly Messenger, #1941, June 16, 1833 as the source of this information.
Ironic that this song, although true, is very rare outside of broadsides. - RBW
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