Darling Nelly Gray
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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Darling Nelly Gray was written by Benjamin R. Hanby in 1856. His father was an Ohio minister with strong abolitionist sympathies. His home was a station on the "Underground Railroad." The tune was based on the story of a slave who was sold away from her home and family. The tune was very popular in the North before and during the Civil War.

It is said that the tune was inspired by a runaway slave named Joseph Selby who stopped at the Hanby home on the way to Canada. Selby hoped to earn sufficient money in Canada to buy the freedom of his sweetheart, a slave named Nelly Gray. One version of the story says that Nelly was traded to a Georgia slaveholder on the day before she and Selby were to be married.

Benjamin Hanby only lived to be 33 years old. During his lifetime he wrote over 80 tunes. Another of his tunes is Up on the Housetop.

There's a low green valley
On the old Kentucky shore,
There I've whiled many happy hours away.
A sitting and a singing
By the little cottage door,
where lived my darling Nelly Gray.
Oh! My poor Nelly Gray,
They have taken you away,
And I'll never see my darling any more.
I'm a sitting by the river
And I'm weeping all the day,
For you've gone from the
Old Kentucky shore.

One night I went to see her
But "she's gone," the neighbors say,
The white man bound her with his chain,
They have taken her to Georgia
For to wear her life away,
As she toils in the cotton and the cane.
Oh! My poor Nelly Gray,
They have taken you away,
And I'll never see my darling any more.
I'm a sitting by the river
And I'm weeping all the day,
For you've gone from the
Old Kentucky shore.

Related Links
From
The Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs
See Bibliography for full information.