The Coasts of High Barbary
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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Lyrics
This ballad is an American variant of Child Ballad #285 (The George Aloe and the Sweepstake).

There is an entry in the Stationers' Register January 14, 1595 for a ballad The Soldier's Joy. The entry states that this ballad is to be sung to the tune The George Aloe and the Sweepstake.

The original ballad refers to two merchant vessels, The George Aloe, and The Sweepstake which were bound for Safee. The George Aloe anchored but the Sweepstake continued, being overtaken by a French ship. Her crew was thrown overboard. The George Aloe then pursued the French ship and defeated her. Though the French crew begged for mercy the English replied they would show them the same mercy that the French showed the crew of the Sweepstake.

Child notes there is an entry for July 31, 1590 of a ditty that was based upon a fight on "the fourth of June last" in the straits of Gibraltar between the George and the Thomas Bonaventure and eight galleys and three frigates. The correlation of the incident to the ballad cannot be confirmed as there were probably several ships named George.

The ballad was given new words and experienced a resurgence of popularity in America between the years of 1795 and 1815 - when Barbary pirates were attacking American ships. America (and most other nations) paid tribute to the pirates until the government took action in 1801. The pirates were not completely defeated until 1815.

For a complete list of Child Ballads at this site see Francis J. Child Ballads.

Stan Hugill says this is not normally considered a shanty. He does, however, and colected a capstain shanty variant High Harbaree.

Look ahead, look a stern,
Look the weather in the lee,
Blow high! Blow low! And so sailed we.
I see a wreck to the windward
And a lofty ship to lee,
A sailing down all on
The coasts of High Barbary

O are you a pirate
Or a man-o-war? cried we.
Blow high! Blow low! And so sailed we.
O no! I'm not a pirate
But a man-o-war, cried he.
A sailing down all on
The coasts of High Barbary

We'll back up our topsails
And heave our vessel to;
Blow high! Blow low! And so sailed we.
For we have got some letters
To be carried home by you.
A sailing down all on
The coasts of High Barbary

For broadside, for broadside
They fought all on the main;
Blow high! Blow low! And so sailed we.
Until at last the frigate
Shot the pirate's mast away.
A sailing down all on
The coasts of High Barbary

For quarters! For quarters!
The saucy pirates cried,
Blow high! Blow low! And so sailed we.
The quarters that we showed them
Was to sink them in the tide.
A sailing down all on
The coasts of High Barbary

With cutlass and gun,
O we fought for hours three;
Blow high! Blow low! And so sailed we.
The ship it was their coffin
And their grave it was the sea.
A sailing down all on
The coasts of High Barbary
Related Links
From The Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs,
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, and
Shanties from the Seven Seas
See Bibliography for full information.