Flying Cloud, The [Laws K28]
DESCRIPTION: Singer Edward (Hollohan) abandons the cooper's trade to be a sailor. At length he falls in with Captain Moore, a brutal slaver. Moore later turns pirate. When his ship is finally taken, the remaining sailors are sentenced to death
EARLIEST DATE: 1894 (Wehman)
KEYWORDS: sailor slavery pirate execution gallows-confession
FOUND IN: US(MA,MW,NE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf,Ont) Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (31 citations):
Laws K28, "The Flying Cloud"
Gray, pp. 116-123, "The Flying Cloud" (2 texts)
Greig #118, p. 1, "William Hollander" (1 text)
GreigDuncan1 44, "William Hollander" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Belden, pp. 128-131, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Doerflinger, pp. 135-139, "The Flying Cloud" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Greenleaf/Mansfield 173, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton/Senior, pp. 223-225, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text plus 1 fragment)
Creighton-NovaScotia 62, "Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Peacock, pp. 842-845, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 2 tunes)
Leach-Labrador 58, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Mackenzie 111, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text)
Ives-DullCare, pp. 223-226,245, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Beck-Maine, pp. 247-251, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Colcord, pp. 145-147, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hugill, p. 586, "The Flying Cloud" (1 tune, included in Hugill's entry on "Dixie Brown"; he states that it has been used for several forebitters, "Arthur Hollander" [i.e. "The Flying Cloud"], "Girls of Cape Horn" ["Rounding the Horn"], "The Sailor's Way," and "Go To Sea Once More" ["Dixie Brown"])
Rickaby 41, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Dean, pp. 1-2, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text)
Leach, pp. 778-781, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text)
Leach-Heritage, pp. 154-158, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 411, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Warner 2, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
FSCatskills 115, "The 'Flying Cloud'" (1 text, 1 tune)
ThompsonNewYork, pp. 39-41, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text)
Fowke/MacMillan 9, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Shay-SeaSongs, pp. 183-186, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Finger, pp. 84-87, "The 'Flying Cloud'" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-ABFS, pp. 504-507, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Botkin-AmFolklr, pp. 845-847, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, pp. 98-100, "The Flying Cloud" (1 text)
DT 409, FLYCLOUD*
Warde Ford, "The Flying cloud" [fragment] (AFS 4202 B1, 1938; tr.; in AMMEM/Cowell)
Mrs. Mary Ann Galpin, "The Flying Cloud" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]
Clifford Wedge, "The Flying Cloud" (on MREIves01)
cf. "Charles Gibbs" (plot and piracy theme)
NOTES: Doerflinger notes that there is no pirate ship known to have carried the name "The Flying Cloud." He suggests that the story is based on the book The Dying Declaration of Nicholas Fernandez, based loosely on the life of one of Benito de Soto's pirate crew (Fernandez was executed in 1829). Doerflinger shows the title page of the book on p. 336.
Laws and others, though, note that most of these elements are commonplace.
Belden lists various other ships called by the name, but they were all legitimate vessels, including the clipper mentioned below that set the record, anchor to anchor, sailing from New York to San Francisco.
Beck-Maine, who thinks the song might be a combination of a song about piracy with one about slavery, notes on pp. 246-247 that guild records from Waterford do no reveal a cooper with the name William Brown in the years after 1812 (the only years for which records survive).
I wonder if the pirate's name "Moore" might have been inspired by the Moors, since the Barbary pirates were sometimes called (not very correctly) Moors.
The song feels fairly old, but the impression may be false. Most of the earliest references seem to be from about 1890, as if the song were composed in the 1880s or so.
Jonathan Lighter speculated, "My impression is that the song very possibly originated in the 1880s or a bit earlier, perhaps in a dime novel as no early broadside has ever been discovered. The evocative name 'Flying Cloud' may have been chosen because the fame of the real ship had long been forgotten by the general public."
If so, then the ship name was inspired by the clipper Flying Cloud, built 1851 (Howe/Matthews, p. 190), which twice set records for the New York-to-San Francisco run in the 1850s (Howe/Matthews, p. 192, notes that the record set on her fourth voyage still stood [as of 1926], and she also had a record on the Hong Kong crossing). Though to call a slaver by that name hardly seems a fitting tribute.
(Horace Beck explains this by positing that the slaving verses are not integral to the piece; he speculates that the whole thing is a composite of two songs. I agree that many versions include some verses, such as the description of the ship, which are somewhat odd and interfere with the thrust of the song. But this doesn't help much, because we're still left wit the Flying Cloud as a pirate.)
There is another possibility, though. Chapellen devotes a long chapter to slavers and privateers (combining the two because they had similar characteristics). He notes on p. 130, "The great American deity, 'Speed,' had no more devout worshipers than the designers and builders of privateers and of the small slaving craft that followed them.... [T]he ability to sail fast was the prime requirement of both privateers and slavers." In this context, it's interesting to note that the ship of this song was both a slaver and a pirate -- and pirates, of course, were essentially privateers minus a letter of marque.
The reason slavers needed speed was that they were illegal in both the United States and Britain. Britain of course bad banned slavery by the early nineteenth century, and while the United States did not, it did ban importing slaves from Africa. On page 154, Chapelle explains, "In the development nof fast-sailing craft, the slave-trade did not have any effect until after the War of 1812... The period of the specially designed slaver can be placed as between 1820 and 1855." Again, on page 161, "The necessity of speed in a slaver was obvious, once the cruisers [appointed to stop the trade] became active. There was also the very high mortality among the slaves from over-crowding during a long voyage, and so speed and profits went hand in hand."
Thus, if the song does date from the post-Civil War period, a likely reason for using the name Flying Cloud for the ship is that it would invoke the speed of the famous clipper.
If the song is slightly later still, and was first written only shortly before the Wehman broadside, I would note that a famous Great Lakes ship called the Flying Cloud had been wrecked in 1890 (Shelak, p. 118). - RBW
Last updated in version 4.0
- Chapelle: Howard I. Chapelle, The History of American Sailing Ships, Bonanza Books, 1935
- Howe/Matthews: Octavius T. Howe and Frederick G. Matthews, American Clipper Ships 1833-1858 (Volume I), 1926 (I use the 1986 Dover paperback reprint)
- Shelak: Benjamin J. Shelak, Shipwrecks of Lake Michigan, Trails Books, 2003
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