Pretty Saro

Sara Grey: On Autumn Harvest ah007: Old Songs & Bothy Ballads: Grand to Be a Working Man. Recorded at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival May 2008.

This was sung by Cas Wallin, Madison County, North Carolina. It has been collected in Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, the Ozarks, Indiana, and Iowa amongst other states. The Frank C Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore suggests that that the odd line "banks of said brow" might be a corruption of the line of the another version which has "the mountain's sad brow". The use of the word “freeholder” places the song’s origin in England as the term is not used in the United States.

1: When I first came to this country in eighteen and forty nine,
I thought myself lucky but I never saw mine;
I viewed them all around me, I found I was quite alone,
And me a poor stranger and a long way from home.

2: Well my true love she won't have me, so I understand,
She wants a freeholder but I have no land;
I cannot maintain her with silver and gold,
Nor buy her all the fine things that a big house can hold.

3: Oh if I was a poet and could write a fine hand,
I would write my love a letter that she'd understand;
I'd send it by the waters where the islands overflow,
And I'd think of my darling wherever I go.

4: Oh if I was a turtle dove, had wings I could fly,
I would fly to my love's lodgin and there I'd draw nigh;
And in her lily-white arms all night I would lay,
And watch those little windows till the dawn of the day.

5: Way down in some lonesome valley, way down in some lonesome place,
Where those wild birds they do warble and their notes do increase;
My love she is handsome, she's slender and neat,
And I wouldn't have no better pastime than to be with my sweet.

6: Well I strolled through the mountains, I strolled through the plain,
I strolled to forget her but it was all in vain;
On the banks of Old Coaley on the mound of said Brow,
Well I once loved her dearly and I don't hate her now.

It appears that "Pretty Saro" and its doppelgaenger "At the Foot of Yonder Mountain" are mostly derived from "The Streams of Bunclody." The 1749 date looks good too. There is a local tradition that "The Streams of Bunclody" was written from America by an immigrant from County Wicklow and sent back to Ireland. If this immigrant or a son or daughter or someone who had the song from him was among the early European settlers of the Appalachians, the American versions could easily have been adapted from the immigrant's song. 1749 could be the date of the immigrant's arrival in America, although the stanza with the date did not go back to Ireland or was dropped there. Of course, there are a lot of floating lyrics here, and John Moulden points out the dangers of taking such material as a basis for identifying oral texts as versions of the same song. What one must look for is distinctive stanzas: otherwise there would be just one song of which "Pretty Saro," "On Top of Old Smokey," "The Month of January," "The Wagoner's Lad" and countless others would be examples. But these do have distinctive content and it seems that "Streams of Bunclody" begat "Pretty Saro". [Note from Sara Grey].

c p 2009 Autumn Harvest :