Persian's Crew, The [Laws D4]
DESCRIPTION: The Persian sets out [from Chicago] and disappears on Lake Huron. Since nothing is known of the wreck, the singer can only wonder at and lament the fate of the lost crew. The mate, Daniel Sullivan, may be specially praised
EARLIEST DATE: 1877 (published as a poem in the Buffalo Express, according to Walton/Grimm/Murdock; the first traditional version appears to have been Dean's)
KEYWORDS: ship storm death
FOUND IN: US(MW) Canada(Ont)
REFERENCES (10 citations):
Laws D4, "The Persian's Crew"
Colcord, pp. 203-204, "The Persia's Crew" (1 text, 1 tune)
Rickaby 46, "The Persian's Crew" (1 text plus a fragment, 2 tunes)
Dean, pp. 29-30, "The Persian's Crew" (1 text)
Walton/Grimm/Murdock, pp. 191-194, "Lake Huron's Rockbound Shore (The Ill-Fated Persian)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Peters, "The Persia's Crew" (1 text, 1 tune)
Beck 86, "Lake Huron's Rock-Bound Shore" (1 text)
DT 677, PERSIACR
ADDITIONAL: Patrick Fennell ("Shandy Maguire"), _Recitations, Epics, Epistles, Lyrics and Poems, Humorous and Pathetic_ (self-published, Oswego, NY, 1886), pp. 145-147, "Loss of the Schooner 'Persian,' on Lake Huron" (1 text) (available on Archive.org)
Sing Out_ magazine, Volume 33, #1 (1987), pp, 46-47, "Persia's Crew" (1 text, 1 tune, apparently the Stanley Baby version)
Stanley Baby, "The 'Persian's Crew" (on GreatLakes1)
John W. Green, "The Ill-Gated Persian" (1959; on WaltonSailors -- not the same as the text in Walton/Grimm/Murdock; it sounds as if two recordings have been combined due to Green's memory troubles)
cf. "The Maggie Hunter" (subject, tune)
NOTES: According to Beck, possibly composed by the daughter of Dan Sullivan, the Persian's first mate. - PJS
I suspect something rather more complicated, given the handful of melodies for this piece. Laws lists four melodies, two in Rickaby and one in Colcord. Rickaby's first, from Dean, is approximately "Tramps and Hawkers." His second, from Art C. Milloy, has a somewhat similar shape but but is mixolydian and not necessarily related. And Colcord has yet another tune with similar shape but distinct tonal differences.
Perhaps some of the variations are due to the fact that so little is known about what actually happened, which might have inspired rewrites. According to William Ratigan, Great Lakes Shipwrecks & Survivals, revised edition, Eerdmans, 1977, p. 98, "the schooner Persia went down with all hands" in November 1869 (a memorable storm which also destroyed the Volunteer and other ships), and inspired a song" (presumably this).
And yet, Bruce D. Berman's Encyclopedia of American Shipwrecks, Mariner's Press, 1972, p. 257, does not even list the Persia as a Great Lakes shipwreck. He does note the screw steamer Persian (note the presence of the n at the end; the ship wrecked in 1869 was Persia, not Persian). The Persian burned near Long Point, Ontario, in August 1875. Long Point is in Lake Erie, not Lake Huron, but might it have contributed to some confusion?
Norm Cohen's research (which I would imagine exceeds that of all the others listed here) says that the song was by Patrick Fennell, and that the ships involved were the Persian and the E. B. Allen. He wrote an article on the subject for the December 1969 New York Folklore Quarterly
Fennell, who apparently appeared publicly as "Shandy Maguire," published a text in his book Recitations, Epics, Epistles, Lyrics and Poems, Humorous and Pathetic; this is, I believe, why Cohen cites him as the author. The book contains no background on the song, but it does seem to be an intact text; if it is not the original, it is very close. It is surprising to see the song go into tradition; Fennell wrote mostly about railroads, and frankly I wasn't very impressed by the other pieces of his in his book. Nor were publishers, apparently, since he had to self-publish.
I did find an item in The Railroad Trainmen's Journal, Volume VII, January to December 1890 (available on Google Books) about Fennell:
"Almost every reader of labor publications has read something from the pen of 'Shandy Maguire,' who, for many years past has furnished delightful entertainment for those who appreciate the music of words. But probably not all of them know that 'Shandy Maguire' is Patrick Fennell, a practical railroad man employed on the D. L. & W., and something about this railroad poet and his productions will be interesting and instructive to our readers. Mr. Fennell was born in Ireland in 1841, and became a resident of Oswego, N. Y., in 1849. In 1864 he began railroad life as a fireman on the Oswego & Syracuse and in due course of time became an engineer. After seven years' service at the throttle he was made Engine Dispatcher, which position he still holds. For the past nine years he has been Commissioner of the Common Schools of Oswego, and has served three terms as President of the Board of Education. Seventeen years ago Mr. Fennell appeared as a regular contributor to the Engineers' Journal, and as the advent of a real poet is a very unusual occurrence he at once attracted wide attention. In 1886 the demand for his productions justified the publication of a volume of four hundred pages, which was well received and has, we believe, reached its third edition."
Walton/Grimm/Murdock generally agrees with Cohen, saying that there was a "persistent rumor" that the Allen had had a collision, possibly with the Persian (the name it uses) in 1869. The crew of eight, including captain and owner John Long, came from Oswego, New York. According to them, Patrick Fennell wrote the poem under the pen name Shandy Maguire, but later published it under his own name.
Solomon Foster, who contacted me to point out the Fennell book, notes that the wreck of the Persian that (presumably) collided with the Allen was found in 1991. An underwater image of the wreck shows what appears to be the mark of a collision between the two visible masts. - RBW
Northern Shipwrecks Database shows two Lake Huron shipwrecks outbound from Chicago. In November 1869 the Persia foundered in a storm. The comments are "See Persian 1868.09?" so the evidence is apparently questionable. The other entry, in September 1868 is for the Persian, bound for Oswego, a total loss and sunk after a collision. - BS
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