Parson Brown's Sheep
DESCRIPTION: A boy sings truly that his father killed the minister's wether. The minister hears the song and offers a reward to sing the song in church. The boy sings that he saw the minister in bed with his mother. The minister runs away. The family eats the wether.
EARLIEST DATE: before 1879 (broadside, LOCSinging sb30381a) [but notice that the earliest date on the sequel (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 11(82) is before 1867]
LONG DESCRIPTION: A family had nothing to eat for Christmas and followed the son's plan to lure and kill the minister's fat wether. Alone in the wood the boy sang about the deed. The minister heard the song and offered the poor boy a reward to sing that song in church. At Christmas service the minister promised the full congregation that a boy would come and sing a true song. The boy sang that he saw the minister in bed with his mother [Are we to assume that the minister's objective had been to eliminate the father's competition by having him hanged?]. (In other versions, the minister is in bed with "Molly" or some other girl.) The minister ran away with the boy running after claiming his reward [but, though he sang a true song, it was not the song contracted; we do not hear that he collected]. The family ate the wether.
KEYWORDS: adultery accusation promise theft trick food hardtimes humorous sheep family clergy recitation
FOUND IN: Britain(England(North),Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (4 citations):
GreigDuncan2 309, "The Minister's Wedder" (4 texts, 3 tunes)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #1725, p. 116, "Old Parson Brown" (1 reference)
ADDITIONAL: Katherine Briggs, _A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language_, Part A: Folk Narratives, 1970 (I use the 1971 Routledge paperback that combines volumes A.1 and A.2), volume A.2, pp. 173-174, "The Man That Stole the Parson's Sheep" (1 text)
Katherine Briggs, _British Folktales_ (originally published in 1970 as _A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales_), revised 1977 (I use the 1977 Pantheon paperback edition), pp. 58-59, "The Man That Stole the Parson's Sheep" (1 text, the same as the preceding); see also p. 344, 'The Wee Boy an the Minister Grey" (1 text)
Bodleian, Harding B 11(2955), "Parson Brown's Sheep" ("Not long ago in our town"), H. Such (London), 1863-1885; also Harding B 11(2952), "Parson Browns' Sheep"; Johnson Ballads 2743, "Parson Brown"
LOCSinging, sb30381a, "Old Parson Brown," H. De Marsan (New York), 1864-1878
The Minister and His Wether
The Parson's Fat Wedder
NOTES [307 words]: The LOCSinging and Bodleian broadsides tell the story, alternating verse and prose, with many more details but sharing no lines with GreigDuncan2 texts. In these the boy explains that the father is old and out of work; the parson sets the dog on the boy when he asks for help; the part about the parson overhearing the first song agrees well enough; the parson pledges to the congregation the truth of what is about to be heard ("it's of a most notorious and outrageous crime as ever was committed, and ought to be severely punished, and every word that he says is as true as the gospel I am now preaching"); the new song is not about the parson and mother but rather about the parson "Romping Molly on the hay." The GreigDuncan2 texts seem to be a badly remembered retelling of "Parson Brown's Sheep," which seems to me a stage piece.
There is a sequel broadside as well for "Parson Brown's Sheep." See Bodleian, Harding B 11(82), "Encore Verses" or "The Answer to Parson Brown's Sheep" ("My thanks accept kind friends"), J. Harkness (Preston), 1840-1866; also Bodleian, 2806 c.16(241), "Encore Verses" or "The Answer to Parson Brown's Sheep"; Bodleian, Johnson Ballads 678, "Second edition of Parson Brown's Sheep" [Parson Brown arranges that the boy marry Molly, upon whom the Parson has bestowed a dowery of three hundred golden sovreigns. They live happily ever after. Like the original, this piece alternates recitation and verse.]
H. De Marsan dating per Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song by Paul Charosh in American Music, Winter 1997, Vol 15.4, Table 1, available at FindArticles site. - BS
The Briggs version also differs somewhat from GreigDuncan and the others while clearly being the same general story. I suspect that, as a combination of song and story, it was unusually easy for the text of this item to evolve. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.5
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.