Ballads favorite method of preserving our oral history

Published 2:33 pm Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Scot-Irish and borderland England immigrants who came to the mountainous Dark Corner area, beginning in the late eighteenth Century, brought with them a deep-seated love for storytelling, especially in the form of ballads.

Most often, they were sung without accompaniment, allowing the nuances of each human voice to create the dramatic mood and blend together each element of the story.

Many of the ballads came with the new settlers from the old country, but new ones were created to tell of unrequited love, scary situations or tragedies.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Perhaps the best known and loved ballad was Barbara Allen. A half-dozen or more versions of the basic story were sung in the Dark Corner alone.

The most popular lyrics were these:

Barbara Allen

In Scarlet Town where I was born,

There was a fair maid dwelling;

Made every youth cry, well away,

And her name was Barbara Allen.

All in the merry month of May,

Where the green buds were aswelling,

Sweet William came from another town

And courted Barbara Allen.

It was all in the month of June

When all things were ablooming,

Sweet William on his death bed lay

For the love of Barbara Allen.

He sent his servants to the town

Where Barbara was adwelling;

My Masters sick and sends for you,

If your name be Barbara Allen.

And death is painted on his face,

And oer his heart is stealing;

Then happen away to comfort him,

Oh, lovely Barbara Allen.

Slowly, slowly, she got up,

And slowly she came nigh him;

And all she said when she got there,

Young man, I think youre dying.

Oh, yes, Im sick and very sick,

And death is on me dwelling;

No better will I ever be,

If I cant have Barbara Allen.

Oh, yes, youre sick and very sick,

And death is on you dwelling;

No better, no better, you never will be,

For you cant have Barbara Allen.

Oh, dont you remember in yonder town,

When you were at the tavern;

You drank a health to the ladies around

And slighted Barbara Allen.

As she was on her highway home,

The birds they kept asinging:

They sang so clear they seemed to say,

Hard hearted Barbara Allen.

She looked to the east, she looked to the west;

She spied his corpse acoming;

Lay down, lay down that corpse of clay,

That I may look upon him.

The more she looked, the more she mourned,

Till she fell to the ground acrying;

Saying, Take me up and carry me home,

For I am now adying.

Oh, mother, oh mother, go make my bed;

Go make it long and narrow;

Sweet William died for pure, pure love,

And I shall die for sorrow.

Oh, father, oh father, go dig my grave;

Go dig it long and narrow;

Sweet William died for me today,

Ill die for him tomorrow.

Barbara was buried in the old church yard,

And he was buried anigh her;

On Williams grave grew a running rose,

On Barbaras grew a briar.

They grew and grew to the tall church tower,

There they could not go any higher;

And there they tied in a true lovers knot,

And the rose grew around the briar.

The next tale will be an early twentieth Century tragedy in the Dark CornerThe Ballad of the Killing of Holland Howard in a distillery near Chestnut Ridge and Hogback Mountain.


Jerry Alexander, author of Where Have All Our Moonshiners Gone?, will discuss bootleggers he has known, and will demonstrate moonshine-making methods in&bsp; the Dark Corner exhibit at the Greer Heritage Museum on Saturday, May 15, at 2 p.m.

For information or directions, call 864-877-3377.