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John Cherokee

[ Roud 4693 ; Ballad Index Hugi439 ; Mudcat 83748 ; trad.]

Stan Hugill sang John Cherokee on his 1980 Greenwich Village album of shanties and stories of life under sail, Stan Hugill Reminisces.

Ian Giles sang John Cherokee in 1997 on his WildGoose CD The Amber Triangle. He noted:

When I first learned this American shanty at school, it was ‘executed’ in such a dirge-like manner that I expelled it immediately from my mind! Until hearing Jim Mageean’s rendition twenty years later…

Danny Spooner and chorus sang John Cherokee in 2009 on his album Bold Reilly Gone Away. He noted:

John Cherokee reminds us of the days when, after the harvest, slave owners would hire their ‘property’ out to sailing or whaling ship captains. The attitude was “why feed ’em when they are not producing and you could earn money hiring them out”. This may well have been how man Negro songs went to sea. Joanna Colcord, the daughter of a ship’ master, put together a great book called Songs of the American Sailormen (Oak Publications 1964). She got John Cherokee from a Captain Robinson, “I heard it during the Civil War at Nassau, while the crew were loading cotton on the ship Hilja”. I assume they were cramming cotton into the holds using the big jackscrews.

This video shows The Young’uns singing John Cherokee at Folk by the Oak 2015:

The Salts sang Alabama John Cherokee in a live recording at Wilton’s Music Hall, London, on 13 April 2023 that was included in the following year on their album Live in London Town.


Danny Spooner sings John Cherokee

This is the story of John Cherokee,
    Alabama John Cherokee
Nigger man from Mirramashee,
    Alabama John Cherokee

Chorus (after each verse):
Way, ay, yah ugh! Alabama John Cherokee
Way, ay, yah ugh! Alabama John Cherokee

They made him a slave in Alabam’,
He run away every time he can.

They shipped him ’board of a whaling ship,
Again an’ again, he gave ’em the slip.

They catched him and they chained him tight,
Stowed him below without a light.

And he got nothing to eat or drink,
Soon his bones they starts to shrink.

And now his ghost is often seen
Up on the main truck wet and green.

So dat is de tale of John Cherokee,
Nigger man from Mirramashee.