Fire, Maringo

DESCRIPTION: Shanty. "Lift him up and carry him along, Fire maringo, fire away. Put him down where he belongs, Fire maringo, fire away"
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1846 (Erskine)
KEYWORDS: shanty worksong
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Hugill, p. 16. "Fire, Maringo" (1 text, quoting Nordhoff's _The Merchant Vessel_)
Erskine, pp. 297-298, "(Lift him up and carry him along)" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Charles Nordhoff, _The Merchant Vessel: A Sailor Boy's Voyages To See the World_ (Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstach, Keys & Co., 1856 ("Digitized by Internet Archive")), p. 42, "(Lift him up and carry him along)" (1 text)
Philip Henry Gosse, _Letters From Alabama_ (London: Morgan and Chase, 1859 ("Digitized by Google")), pp. 305-306, "(I think I hear the black cook say)" (1 text)

Fire, Marengo
NOTES: Some dispute on the origin; Hugill says that Doerflinger mentions this as being of Negro origin (but I couldn't find any mention of it in Shantymen and Shantyboys [nor could I - RBW]); however, Hugill himself thinks it is Irish, citing the use of the word "maringo" which he says is found is many Irish folk-songs. - SL
Both Nordhoff and Erskine heard this chantey in the 1840s from sailors acting as winter stevedores using cotton jack-screws to stow bales into waiting holds in New Orleans and Mobile.
Joe Stead writes that the "him" of the song probably refers to the bale of cotton being stored in the hold. Here are some of Erskine's verses, in addition to those in the description, that make Stead's case: "Ease him down and let him lay... Screw him, and there he'll stay," "Stow him in his hold below... Stay he must and then he'll go."
It's not clear when Gosse heard his version in Mobile since he hides the year of his letters, but the time was early winter. Gosse's response lines are "Fire the ringo, fire away!" which, if Gosse heard correctly, evades Hugill's need to find an Irish source for "maringo." Gosse's text also removes the bale as the subject and makes a Black -- or a stage "minstrel" -- source reasonable. His verses are "I think I hear the black cook say... They shot so hard, I could not stay," "So I spread my wings and flew away... All the way to Canaday."
Another theme shared by the Gosse and Erskine texts is the Battle of New Orleans: "In New Orleans they say... That General Jackson's gained the day."
For both of Gosse's themes, "Fire..." in the chorus would have to do with shooting.
While we haven't found the Doerflinger speculation on a Black origin for this chantey there is an argument that cotton-screwing chanteys originated with Black stevedores on the New Orleans and Mobile Bay docks.
One of Hugill's "Roll the Cotton Down" texts has "Was ye ever in Mobile Bay, Screwin' cotton by the day," "Oh, a black man's pay is rather low, To stow the cotton we must go" and "Oh, a white man's pay is rather high, Rock an' shake 'er is the cry" (Hugill, p. 124) is a witness to that.
However, the references by Erskine, Nordhoff, and Gosse, as well as by Whidden and Barra, are all about white screw-gangs in the 1840s and 1850s. Whidden writes, "In the winter months, all along the levees at New Orleans lay tiers of shipping of all nationalities, loading cotton for the northern ports of the United States, as well as the various ports of Europe.... The songs or 'Chanties' from hundreds of these gangs of cotton-screwers could be heard all along the river front, day after day, making the levees of New Orleans a lively spot. As the business of cotton-screwing was dull during the summer months, the majority of the gangs, all being good sailors, shipped on some vessel that was bound to some port in Europe to pass the heated term and escape the 'yellow Jack,' which was prevalent at that season. When they returned in the fall they could command high wages at cotton-screwing on shipboard. Some would go to northern ports, but generally the autumn found them all back, ready for their winter's work" (Whidden, pp. 96-98).
Nordhoff's crews are "mostly English and Irish sailors" (Nordhoff, p. 43), and Erskine's were "a good set of sailors, and nearly all Bostonians" (Erskine, p. 296). Barra has the "most of the sailors that sailed in the Liverpool packets during the summer months" preferring to winter on the New Orleans and Mobile cotton screw gangs (Barra p. 54). Blacks had been stevedores on American docks at least since about 1800 (Southern, p. 148); however, by the 1840s The Negro Seaman Acts in various Southern states made it illegal for free Blacks to work on the docks, and man-stealing made it dangerous where it was legal (Bolster, pp. 199-201, 206, 209). So, while the call-and-response form of cotton-screwing chanteys make a good argument for Black origin, Black stevedores and sailors are no longer on the job when the chanteys are recorded.
Finally, cotton screw gangs have been given credit for the first use of terms "chantey" and "chantey-man" (Schreffler-Reenvisioning, p. 9; Nordhoff, p. 40). See Schreffler's work for an argument for recognizing -- again now as in the 19th century -- the Black origin of the chantey form on the docks and deep-water (Schreffler-Choices, Schreffler-Reenvisioning). - BS
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File: Hugi016

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