Pretty Saro
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

Variations of this song were collected by several folksong collectors in the early 1900s in the Appalachian mountains. The earliest publication was in Lomax's North Carolina Booklet (1911). A variation in Vance Randolph's Ozark Folksongs has the woman named Molly.

In Eighteen-Forty-Nine closely resembles Pretty Saro, several verses being nearly verbatim copies of verses here. However, some verses of In Eighteen-Forty-Nine resemble different folksongs, so that appears to be made up of remnants of several songs.

Dorothy Scarborough (A Song Catcher in Southern Mountains, American Folk Songs of British Ancestry), who collected a version in North Carolina in 1930, notes that her source said the appropriate date might be 1749, as that was a time of significant immigration from Scotland and Ireland, where the tune was probably from. She also says the term "freeholder" would indicate a British origin.*

Pretty Saro is also related to the Irish song Bunclody whose first lines of the first three verses correspond closely to these.*

In addition to those songs, according to The Ballad Index, Pretty Saro is related to At the Foot of Yonder Mountain, where the woman is referred to as Mary rather than Saro or Sarah. Some scholars trace the origin of that song to "an ancient hymn to the Virgin Mary."

Down in some lone valley,
In a lonesome place
Where the wild birds do whistle,
And their notes do increase
Farewell pretty Saro,
I bid you adieu,
But I'll dream of pretty Saro
Wherever I go.

My love, she won't have me,
So I understand,
She wants a freeholder
Who owns house and land.
I cannot maintain her,
With silver and gold
Nor buy all the fine things
That a big house can hold.

If I were a merchant
And could write a fine hand
I'd write my love a letter
That she'd understand
I'd write it by the river
Where the waters o'er-flow
And I'll dream of pretty Saro,
Wherever I go.

Related Links
The Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs
See Bibliography for full information.
*And The Mudcat Cafe