A jig from the notebook of ship’s fiddler William Litten, who served with the British India fleet, 1800 - 1802. More on this later, including Litten’s own take on it. The first version given as A Dorian, a step up from Litten’s G Dorian transcription, and, also different from Litten are the slow-quick beats (| G2 E G2 B |) of a single jig.
Sorry, not Dorian, Major, the original in F and the version given here in G ~ ending, one possibility:
[2 d2 B gfg | a^ga b2 a | g2 g e2 g | dBG AGF | G3 g3 |]
“E. Gale Huntington, the late Vineyard fisherman, farmer, school teacher and historian, is regarded as an icon in many circles, especially among folk musicians and those who are interested in maritime lore.
Though he died in 1993, Mr. Huntington’s collection of sea chanteys - the 328-page Songs the Whalemen Sang - remains a landmark work, preserving the melodies of a bygone era and also giving insight into the lives of the whalemen of the 1700s and 1800s. It was first published in 1964, and has been out of print for years.
Now Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, the premiere East Coast maritime museum, has republished the book with the blessing of the author’s daughter, Emily Huntington Rose.
Mr. Huntington’s contribution to the history and music of this region is as significant as Alan Lomax’s collection of American Ballads and Folk Songs, which has been republished many times. ~ “
“William Litton’s Fiddle Tunes 1800-1802” ~ extracts from the introduction by Gale Huntington, pages 6 & 7
This collection of fiddle tunes was made by William Litten at sea on a vessel, or on two different vessels, of the British India fleet in the years 1800, 1801, and 1802.
Everything that we know about the man is from disjointed material onthe inside front and back covers of the manuscript book and from scraps of information on the pages of the book itself and from the music. The notes in the text are difficult to decipher because Litten’s handwriting and spelling are both very bad, and in places the paper has bled. On the other hand the tunes themselves were transcribed without too much difficulty, for Litten was a good musician.
The manuscript is in the library of the Dukes County Historical Society in Edgartown, Massachusetts, on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Here are some of the facts that we can gather from the scattered notes. The British India fleet sailed from England May 27th, 1800, and arrived in China Fegruary 10th, 1801.
(Note: the author in correspondence with ~ John Compston, E.D., D. Litt. of Australian National University, says that the fleet visited Australia and may have made other stops during the passage.)
The fleet consisted of sixteen war vessels. The names of the vessels and of six of the captains of them are listed on the inside back cover of the book. ~ We can not be sure which ship Litten was on on the voyage out, but on the return voyage he was evidently on H.M.S. Gorgon, for he mentions a stop of that vessel at St. Helena on June 3rd, 1802. Litten’s duty was that of ship’s musician. At that time there was no chanteying on British war vessels, for cahteying was considered much too undignified for His Majesty’s service. Instead of a chanteyman all war vessels of any size carried and official fiddle player whose music helped to lighten some of the heavier work. A little after Litten’s time the cornet began to compete with the fiddle.
The manuscript was brought home to the Vineyard by Allen Coffin of Edgartown. His name appears on the inside cover of the book. Allen Coffin must surely have been younger than Litten. But they may have been shipmates, if not on that voyage perhaps on a later one. Coffin was born in 1788. But many boys did go to sea at twelbe or thirteen in those days, and many American were serving in the British navy, usually because they had been pressed into the service.
James Coffin, Allen’s father, had been a seaman and then a shipmaster. But by 1800 he had retired from the sea and was an Edgartown merchant and a man of real wealth for the Period. He had a fleet of small merchant vessels that sailedto all parts of the world. Such men as James Coffin often did send their sons to sea at an early age to learn the business.
We cannot be sure that Allen Coffin played the fiddle but he probably did or why would he want Litten’s book? Also there were a great many more fiddle players a hundred and seventy-five years ago than there are today. (1970s) We do know that Allen’s family was a musical one, tow of his daughters played the violin and played it well. It could be just that fact taht accounts for the book’s survival.
Allen Coffin is mentioned several times in Jeremiah Pease’s diary for the early years of the 19th century. Jeremiah was a singer and he and Allen were friends. They used to go fishing and eeling through the ice together. Perhaps they made music together too.
But about William Litten we do not know even whether he was English, SCottish, Irish or American. There are some very good Irish tunes inteh book and some equally good Scottish and English ones. However Litten did not seem to care too much for the typically Scottish dotted eighth and sixteenth note combination. In fact, some of his Scottish tunes play like Irish versions of them. There are even some almost American tunes in the book. That “almost” is because American fiddle tunes were rare in those days and even some tunes that we think of as American had their origin in the British Isles. ~
“Boring the Leather” ~ two other unrelated jigs that can carry the same name
Interesting the possible connections to the other two tunes. Down the Back Lane (aka “Boring the Leather”) is a tune I’m familiar with that had some interesting comments. Apparently Willie Clancy used to play it and “The tune is No.6 in Breandan Beathnach’s Ceol Rine na hEireann 1 (p.5)”. You gotta wonder the history of these tunes, how many people from various parts of the world had a version of them they’d play, how they changed…
Litton and Harrington are worth exploring, what we have from them. Interesting the tunes Litton had in his repertoire, and what he favored. I passed this on to my friend Brian who does some work similar to Harrington, today, in Minnesota. He brings to life songs from the lumberjacks and old songs from our upper midwestern region of the U.S. http://www.evergreentrad.com
Great find ‘c’, thanks again. 😉
Your welcome, and I’m glad you enjoyed looking further. We’ve a couple of Huntington’s works in our libraries. 😉
Much better for Chanteys though are the works of Stan Hugill, “Shanties from the Seven Seas”, and Roy Palmer, “Boxing the Compass: Sea Songs and Shanties”… Both are brilliant and highly recommended, as too anything else by Roy Palmer.
Re: Boring The Leather
No, those two other jigs aren’t “unrelated”. At least one of them is highly related.
If you play your version X:2 above, but change the key signature to Dmix, voilà, you have a version of “The Humours of Ayle House”.
As for “Down the Back Lane”, just start the first part on the second bar and it’s more similar to “The Humours of Ayle House”.
Yes! The choice of the term ‘unrelated’ was possibly ill chosen and used not necessarily in reference to melody…
Re: Boring The Leather
So many ‘relatives’, starting with the shared name… 😏 ( - chuckling quietly to myself in my frustration this late night over a half finished Sudoku listed as ‘evil’… Time to go for my usual evening conclusion of a ‘soak & read’ - leaving this graph of numbers behind. I appreciate this escape of enjoying listening to and playing through all these old acquaintances again…)
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