Soldier Maid, The
DESCRIPTION: The singer, a maiden, runs away from her parents and enlists as a soldier/sailor. She proves highly successful. Sent home to recruit, a woman falls in love with the "soldier boy." The other woman betrays her secret; the woman is cashiered
EARLIEST DATE: 1904 (GreigDuncan1)
LONG DESCRIPTION: Singer enlists as a (drummer/sailor) (and fights "with the Noble Duke of York at the siege of Valenciennes"). Her "fingers neat and small" makes her the best drummer. She sleeps with the men but remains "a maiden all the while," Sent as a guard to the Tower of London a girl falls in love with her, she reveals her secret which the girl betrays to the regiment. She is given a bounty by the queen for her courage, marries and teaches her husband to drum, and would enlist again "if the (Queen/Duke) be short of men"
KEYWORDS: soldier sailor love disguise trick cross-dressing betrayal war
May 24-July 28, 1793 - Siege of Valenciennes by the Allies including the British under the Duke of York (source: Campaigns in the Online Encyclopedia site "Originally appearing in Volume V11, Page 182 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica")
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland,England(Lond,South)) Ireland Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (10 citations):
SHenry H497, p. 326, "The Drummer Maid" (1 text, 1 tune)
Greig #104, p. 2, "The Soldier Maid" (1 text)
GreigDuncan1 182, "The Soldier Maid" (6 texts, 6 tunes); 183, "The Female Soldier" (1 fragment)
Ord, p. 311, "The Soldier Maid" (1 text)
Wiltshire-WSRO Mi 567, "Female Drummer" (1 text)
Wiltshire-WSRO Mi 568, "To Beat the Drum Again"; Wiltshire-WSRO Ox 248, "To Beat the Drum Again" (2 texts)
RoudBishop #7, "The Female Drummer" (1 text, 1 tune)
DallasCruel, pp. 34-36, "The Female Drummer" (1 text, 1 tune)
Peacock, pp. 346-347, "The Soldier Maid" (1 text, 1 tune)
DT, SAILMAID* SOLDMAID
ST DTsoldma (Full)
Harry Cox, "The Female Drummer" (on HCox01)
Mary Ann Haynes, "The Female Drummer" (on Voice11)
Mrs. Clara Stevens, "The Soldier Maid" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]
Bodleian, 2806 c.17(132), "The Female Drummer" ("A maiden I was at the age of sixteen"), W. Armstrong (Liverpool), 1820-1824; also Harding B 11(2338), Harding B 11(1187), Harding B 11(1188), Firth c.14(165), Firth c.14(166), Firth c.14(168), Harding B 11(970), Harding B 17(93b), Harding B 11(969), Harding B 11(2505), Harding B 16(93c), 2806 c.16(67), Harding B 20(240)[some words illegible], "The Female Drummer"
cf. "The Banks o' Skene" (plot)
cf. "The Drum Major (The Female Drummer)" (plot)
cf. "Lauchie" (plot)
The Handsome Young Sailor
When I Was a Fair Maid
The Drummer Girl
NOTES [3251 words]: The [long] description is from broadside Bodleian, 2806 c.17(132). In Mary Ann Haynes's version on Voice11 her secret is revealed when she is wounded on the battlefield and she would enlist again "If our old queen was to go short and never want of men." The queen is a character in all versions (the broadsides are almost identical to each other) but not as an indication there is no king. Possibly this is a side reference to one of King George III's bouts of "madness" (porphyria).
Yates, Musical Traditions site Voice of the People suite "Notes - Volume 11" - 11.9.02 cites broadsides from c.1655 to 1689, predating the Siege of Valenciennes. Between 1689 and 1793 the Musical Traditions notes that "Roy Palmer ... [reports] there was indeed a female drummer at Valenciennes by the name of Mary Ann Talbot (1778 - 1808). In 1809 Talbot was the subject of a book The Life and Surprising Adventures of Mary Ann Talbot."
GreigDuncan1 seems to me a minor change to two lines of "The Soldier Maid." - BS
Ben Schwartz originally described his texts of "The Female Drummer" as separate from "The Soldier Maid." As the above makes clear, the song evolved heavily over time -- e.g. the localization to Valenciennes. I consider "The Female Drummer" a special case of "The Soldier Maid," though, and have lumped accordingly.
This song has proved very popular with folk revival singers. It doesn't seem to have been quite as popular in tradition, though by no means rare (the notes in Henry/Huntington/Herrmann list only fifteen traditional texts, mostly from Greig, but many Pop Folk recordings).
The theme is ancient and well-known. Edith Fowke quotes Belden, "The figure of the Maiden Warrior (as she is called in some of the English broadsides of the seventeenth century) has appealed to the human imagination from the days of Theseus and Hippolyta in the Mediterranean countries and of Alfred and Alfhind in the Baltic, down through the Britomart and the Mary Ambree of Elizabethan England, to our own time."
Indeed, it even shows up in saints' lives. Michael P. Kuczynski, on pp. 141-142 of Fein, describes the story of an obscure saint, presumably local to England and perhaps even to Herefordshire, Saint Marina. Her father prays to God that he be virtuous -- and God, being perhaps a little too literal and having read too many monks' tales praising chastity, kills Marina's mother so her father won't be tempted by the flesh. The father joins a monastery -- but, not wanting to separate from his daughter, convinces her to dress as a monk and join him there. She is a good monk -- until a woman accuses her of fathering the other woman's child (!), whereupon Marina is forced from the monastery to care for the child. When she dies, her sex is revealed and her honor restored.
George III's madness, mentioned by Ben, is a controversial point. That he was not very clever is hard to deny. That he had bouts of *something* is also quite clear. The diagnosis of porphyria was suggested in the 1960s in Macalpine/Hunter, who showed what they thought was a chain of disease going all the way back to Mary Queen of Scots (Macalpine/Hunter, pp. 201-212) and her cousin Arabella Stuart, implying that it was present as early as the English King Henry VII (Macalpine/Hunter, pp. 212-214) , but Peters, p. 4, notes that many of George's symptoms do not match porphyria.
It is certain that Macalpine/Hunter trace an astonishingly long line of porphyria (see the charts on p. 196), and claim to have evidence from twentieth century royals. In the absence of genetic testing, that seems impossibly long. and recent genetic testing has apparently been less than conclusive (Lyon, p. 306 n. 21).
Peters seems to argue for bipolar disorder with obsessive compulsive disorder eventually leading to dementia. It appears to me that this ignores some of George's symptoms also -- the king certainly had physical problems, and while his doctors doubtless made them worse with their poisonous nostrums, the problems were manifest before the quacks moved in. Emsley, p. 299, notes the interesting fact that George's discoloured urine, a possible symptom of porphyria, is also a side effect of lead poisoning. Indeed, porphyria and lead poisoning display many of the same symptoms -- and lead poisoning can aggravate the symptoms of porphyria.
Emsley, p. 132, says that a sample of George III's hair contained more than ten times the normal level of lead (and an even higher excess of arsenic, plus a little excess mercury).
Emsley apparently thinks that George III suffered both porphyria and lead poisoning, but his statements seem to imply that lead poisoning -- caused perhaps by the king's liking for sauerkraut and lemonade (both of which could extract lead from lead-glazed pottery), or perhaps by the other medicines given him -- would have sufficed to cause his illness. We perhaps have to simply say that George III was not of sound mind and leave it there.
Nonetheless the mention of George III's madness helps us with the dating, since Valenciennes was fought over more than once. Valenciennes was one of the great border forts Louis XIV used to protect from invasions from the Netherlands, and was first fought over in July 1656 when the Prince de Conde (at that time serving the Spanish) forced the Vicomte de Turenne (then a French officer) to give up the siege of Valenciennes.
Admittedly there is no particular reason to think that English soldiers would be involved in that; Oliver Cromwell did not commit English troops to the fight (on the side of the French) until 1657.
George III had his first fit of madness in 1788, with later bouts in 1801, 1804, and from 1810 until his death in 1820 (Peters, p. 4). That first spell of madness, we note, started before the French Revolution.
The first attack on Valenciennes (then held by the Austrians) was undertaken by the French in late April 1792. It failed utterly. A second attempt, in June, managed to take Courtrai, but then collapsed (Pope, p. 495). Most of Belgium finally fell that fall (Pope, p. 189).
In 1793, the English put a force in Flanders under the Duke of York (George II's second son) which was supposed to reconquer Belgium. They managed, after a long siege, to retake Valenciennes (Pope, p. 189), but the Allied army then broke up as the individual nations pursued their own aims. York stayed in command until 1795, but his ineffectiveness was sufficient that he became the subject of parody; many think "The Noble Duke of York" is about him (Pope, p. 525, but see the notes to that song).
Incidentally, there are many historical records of women running off to join the army and navy. Herman, p. 224, tells of a woman (unnamed) who fought at La Hogue (1692) aboard the St. Andrew and was later invited to meet the queen. Davies, p. 166, says that a woman served on the French ship Achille at Trafalgar; she had enlisted to be near her husband, and was freed by the British after the ship was captured (compare Cordingly, p. 104). Cordingly, pp. 54-56, mentions a book by Suzanne Stark which documents about twenty women who served in the navy, one of whom, "William Brown," served during the Napoleonic Wars and became Captain of the Foretop, and later captain of the Forecastle, in the first-rate Queen Charlotte. That is a significant accomplishment for any sailor. She was eventually discovered, but managed to rejoin; records are not available to show her eventual fate.
Mary Lacy/William Chandler managed to serve in the Royal Navy so long that she actually gained a disability pension after being injured in shipwright's work (Cordingly, pp. 56-60). Rebecca Young, the subject of "The Female Rambling Sailor," died while in disguise in 1833 (Cordingly, p. 63). Hannah Snell's service in the navy became so famous that it earned her a job as an act in a sort of circus (Cordingly, pp. 68-70); she also became the subject of a much-exaggerated biography.
Mayo, pp. 79-84, tells of a Massachusetts woman named Deborah Samson who served in the American Revolutionary War (joining the army as "Robert Shurtleff" in 1782) and was badly injured at Tarrytown. She was discovered during an illness in 1783. She died at age 66 in 1827 of yellow fever. Her husband applied for a widower's pension -- the first ever granted by congress.
Carruth, p. 149, says that one Lucy Brewer served on the U. S. S. Constitution during the War of 1812 under the name "Nicolas Baker." Cordingly, pp. 47-52, gives details on this account: Brewer claimed to have had a child by a man who abandoned her, run away from home, become a prostitute, then gone to sea. She published three books about this career, later published as a single volume The Female Marine, which went through multiple editions before 1820. Even her former madam published a book about the girl (and, of course, claimed that Brewer had enjoyed her work and that her real name was Eliza Bowen). Cordingly, p. 53, does point out that the whole account has been shown to be fiction -- but surely many people in the nineteenth century believed it.
Cordingly, pp. 90-91, notes in addition that many naval ships had wives aboard -- especially the wives of the standing (warrant) officers, such as the gunner and carpenter. These sailors were allowed to take their wives aboard because they were theoretically assigned to their ships for life -- if their families did not come along, they could never see them. Of course, these wives were not in disguise (although the Admiralty tried to ban them; Cordingly, p. 92). But the point is, ships were more used to women than we sometimes think. We have records of four women aboard the Goliath at the Battle of the Nile, for instance -- and, to some extent, taking part in the fighting (Cordingly, p. 103).
As early as the Revolutionary War, we see disguised women fighting on the American side (Blanton/Cook, pp. 5-6). This was probably relatively easy to pull off in the colonial armies, which were anything but organized.
There are fairly extensive records of female soldiers in the American Civil War. At least two modern books on the subject have been written, Tsui's and Blanton/Cook's. Sadly, our personal knowledge of these women is slight -- as Blanton/Cook note on p. 2, most female soldiers were in disguise and did not write home or keep journals. Blanton/Cook catalog many of these women on pp. 10-24, but rarely have more than a few sentences about any of them. I would estimate that two-thirds of the female soldiers mentioned by Blanton/Cook are inadequately identified.
Still, we know that several women served in the Army of the Potomac during the winter of 1862/1863; Sears, p. 79, notes a case of two soldiers who slept together; one was found to be a woman when she became sick. Pregnancy was often the cause of detection: in the 118th Pennsylvania, "'Corporal Blank' reported sick one evening and was sent to the hospital tent for examination, 'said examination causing a great commotion among the doctors and hospital attendants.... In the course of the night Corporal Blank gave birth to a fine boy -- a genuine child of the regiment." There was also a case in the 107th Pennsylvania, and reportedly one in a New Jersey regiment in the First Corps, and one among Massachusetts troops in the Sixth Corps.
We have far more names of women who tried to volunteer and were rejected (e.g. Blanton/Cook, pp. 25-26). Such women of course could not be the subject of this song; they merely give additional evidence that women were willing to serve. Blanton/Cook, p. 28, note that a significant number of examiners were willing to let wives, especially newlyweds, join with their husbands; they imply that this was one of the major causes of female enlistment..
Still, a few female soldiers were better documented; e few even became officers: Cuban immigrant Loreta Janeta Velazquez reportedly served as "Lt. Henry Buford" from 1861 until discovered in 1863, though many of the stories about her are self-reported and dubious. Tsui, p. 29, even reprints a woodcut of her in uniform, with a mustache and beard. (I must admit to finding this account pretty unreliable. I am not alone -- but Blanton/Cook, p. 2, claim that many of her statements can be verified. On the other hand, on p. 9, they say she could not procure a regular commission, yet managed to serve at the very first major battle at Bull Run, after which she started writing her own orders and claims to have been wounded at Shiloh. She may have hung around the Confederate armies, but I think they are taking her memoirs too seriously.)
Whatever you think of Velasquez's yarns, the Confederates did deliberately commissioned one female officer, Sally Louisa Tompkins -- though she was commissioned to allow her to run a hospital. (Women were allowed to serve as nurses in the war -- Blanton/Cook, p. 66, mention that there were thousands of paid female nurses in the Union medical system -- although the majority of nurses at this time were male.)
On the other hand, it's hard to believe two stories found on p. 67 of Blanton/Cook. Supposedly a 12-year-old girl served as a regimental clerk, and it is claimed that a Black woman, Maria Lewis, impersonated a white man.
This is apart from the well-documented cases of women serving as spies. There were, of course, a lot of women who carried intelligence (with the overrated Belle Boyd being the most famous), and some who did it professionally. But this involved no disguise -- and most accounts I have seen say that spies made very little difference in the Civil War; there was little attempt to suppress newspaper accounts, so the military could get better information from enemy papers.
Several of these tales resemble folk songs. For example, we have several cases where, like the Handsome Cabin Boy, a woman is pregnant while on service. On p. 11, Blanton/Cook claim that a woman fought at the battle of Stones River/Murfreesboro while five months pregnant -- although they do not give her name. They also mention on pp. 13-15 a pregnant woman serving in the Seven Days' Battles, and staying with the army and fighting two more battles before giving birth -- and don't give her a name either. They also describe on p. 54 a New Jersey woman who gave birth while in the ranks and was discovered as a result -- but she too is unnamed. They also seem to imply (p. 72) that this woman was promoted from private to corporal to sergeant. It is not clear how many of these women became pregnant while in service, but odds are that the first two, at least, conceived after they entered the military, since most soldiers in the armies involved had been inducted before the women became pregnant.
Blanton/Cook, p. 32, do note that there are several known instances of a woman running away to be a soldier alongside her lover because the parents had disapproved of her young man. They also note, on pp. 41-42, women who went to war to avenge a relative or lover.
According to Blanton/Cook, p. 62, it was not uncommon for several men in the ranks to know that one of their comrades was female. The young women generally were not discharged unless one of their officers found out.
Tsui profiles several disguised soldiers, but by no means all -- a woman named Mollie Bean fought in the 47th North Carolina regiment, and was used as a major character in Harry Turtledove's historical science fiction novel The Guns of the South. Turtledove offers as her reason a desire to escape a career as a prostitute. He admits that this is pure fiction, but Blanton/Cook, p, 36, cite several women who joined the Union army to escape such a career.
Although tales of female Civil War soldiers seem to be common, they cannot have inspired all the songs of this time; Blanton/Cook, p. 42, say that several Civil War soldiers were inspired by stories of the Female Warrior Bold.
Tsui, p. 1, states that "Scholars today estimate that about 250 women joined the Southern troops and that up to 1,000 women may have enlisted in both the Confederate and Union armies." I do not know the basis for this estimate -- it sounds as if it might just be a case of "There's one in every regiment!" Though in fact that would give a somewhat higher figure for the Federals. Based on the statistical totals in Phisterer, the Union armies eventually mustered the equivalent of about 1830 regiments of volunteers, plus 130 regiments of Black troops, 30 regiments of regulars, and about 50 regiments of soldiers from Confederate states. That's roughly two million men in arms. So it was really a case of "There's one in every brigade."
There were far more than that with the British army in many of its fights; according to Cordingly, p. 93, there were about 4500 women with the British Army in the Peninsular campaign during the Napoleonic Wars.
Amazingly, a woman reportedly led a company of Mexican lancers, more or less openly, at the Battle of Monterrey in 1846 (Wheelan, p. 193).
Supposedly the first woman to circumnavigate the globe began her voyage in disguise. Jeanne Baret was a French botanist, the assistant (and, probably, lover) of another biologist, Philibert de Commerson. Commerson was chosen to be the official botanist aboard the Etoile on Louis Antoine de Bougainville's great exploratory voyage of 1766.
Commerson was allowed an assistant, but French naval regulations did not permit women on board ship, so Commerson and Baret resorted to a subterfuge. Commerson kept rejecting potential assistants until it was time to sail, and then had Baret show up, disguised as a man, at the last minute. He made it appear that he hired her on the docks, whereupon they set sail -- and the Etoile's captain made things easier by letting the two botanists take over his captain.
Baret made it halfway around the world, but was discovered -- and, very possibly, raped -- in the Pacific. Bougainville dumped Commerson and Baret in Mauritius; it took them until 1775 to make it back to France (Bougainville had arrived home in 1769).
It is of course possible that an earlier women, perhaps in disguise, had made it around the globe, but Baret does appear to be the first documented instance. She is the subject of a recent book by Glynis Ridley, The Discovery of Jeanne Baret, A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe.
It's interesting to note how "folkloric" some of these women's stories sound. For example, Tsui, pp. 8-9, says that Sarah Emma Edwards ran away from home at fifteen to avoid being married, and at twenty she enlisted in a Michigan regiment as Franklin Thompson (Tsui, p. 10), though she served primarily as a medical attendant rather than a front line soldier. She also fell in love with at least one of her officers (pp. 17-18). Later on, she would desert (p. 20). Must have been quite the character....
The very earliest instance of a cross-dressing woman being revealed by accident, however, seems to go back all the way to classical Greece. According to Jones, p. 50, at the Olympics in 440 B.C.E., a widow, Kallipateira, had a son who was entered in the boxing event. Women were excluded from watching, so she disguised herself as a man. When her son was victorious, she leapt onto the field and her clothing tore, revealing her gender. Women who watched the games were supposed to be killed; she, however, was spared because the boy had won, but the rules for competitors and trainers were tightened after that -- arguably the beginning of gender testing in sports. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.1
- Blanton/Cook: DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook, They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War, 2002 (I use the 2005 Sutton paperback edition)
- Carruth: Gorton Carruth, The Encyclopedia of American Facts and Dates, eighth edition, Harper & Row, 1987
- Cordingly: David Cordingly, Women Sailors and Sailors' Women, Random House, 2001 (I use the undated, but later, paperback edition)
- Davies: David Davies, A Brief History of Fighting Ships: Ships of the Line and Napoleonic sea battle 1793-1815, Carroll & Graf, 1996, 2002
- Emsley: John Emsley, The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison, Oxford Univeristy Press, 2005
- FeinEtAl: Susanna Fein, editor, Studies in the Harley Manuscript: The Scribes, Contents, and Social Contexts of British Library MS Harley 2253, TEAMS/Western Michigan University, 2000
- Herman: Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, 2004 (I use the 2005 Harper Perennial edition)
- Jones: Steve Jones, Y: The Descent of Men, Houghton Mifflin, 2003
- Lyon: Ann Lyon, Constitutional History of the United Kingdom, Cavendish, 2003
- Macalpine/Hunter: Ida Macalpine and Richard Hunter, George III and the Mad Business, Pantheon, 1969
- Mayo: Matthew P. Mayo, Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks, Globe Pequot Press, 2011
- Peters: Timothy Peters, George III: a new diagnosis, article in History Today magazine, September, 2009, pp. 4-5
- Phisterer: Frederick Phisterer, Campaigns of the Civil War: Statistical Record of the Armies of the United States, 1883 (I use the 2002 Castle Books reprint)
- Pope: Stephen Pope, Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars, Cassell, 1999 (I use the undated Facts on File hardcover edition)
- Sears: Stephen W. Sears, Chancellorsville, Houghton Mifflin, 1996
- Tsui: Bonnie Tsuie, She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War, Twodot, 2003
- Wheelan: Joseph Wheelan, Invading Mexico: America's Continental Dream and the Mexican War, 1846-1848, Carroll & Graf, 2007
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 2020 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.