> Folk Music > Songs > Springfield Mountain

Springfield Mountain / The Wicked Serpent

[ Roud 431 ; Laws G16 ; Ballad Index LG16 ; trad. / Jon Boden]

Roger McGuinn noted in his Folk Den:

Springfield Mountain is purported to be the first original American ballad. This was how the news was spread in the days before radio, television or the internet. A minstrel would go from town to town and sing about the most recent events. This song is the true story of twenty-two year old Lieutenant Timothy Merrick, a young man who was about to be married. He was bitten by a rattlesnake in Springfield Mountain, Massachusetts, on August 7, 1761 and died within three hours of the attack. His grave can still be seen fourteen miles north of that city.

There are many different versions of this ballad. Some were wild exaggerations made up by vaudeville performers, in which Merrick's wife-to-be died as a result of trying to suck the poison out with a broken tooth.

Jon Boden sang Springfield Mountain as the March 16, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in his blog:

From The Viking Book of Folk Ballads of the English Speaking World. I did this briefly with John [Spiers] and then with Eliza [Carthy] and the Ratcatchers. Fay [Hield]’s now doing a great version with Sam [Sweeney] and Rob [Harbron].

Indeed Fay Hield recorded Springfield Mountain in 2012 for her CD with the Hurricane Party, Orfeo. She commented in her sleeve notes:

The Viking Book of Folk Ballads of the English Speaking World, edited by Albert P. Friedmann, quotes a record stating that Timothy Myrick of Springfield Mountain was “bit by a Ratel Snake one August the 7th 1761, and Dyed within about two or three ours, he being nearly twenty two years … old and vary near the point of marriage.” The song spread widely through America, producing many variants. Some, such as this one, are wild exaggerations made up by vaudeville performers in which Merrick's wife-to-be died as a result of trying to suck the poison out with a broken tooth.

The observant musicologist out there will notice that the interval used on the lyric ‘neighbours’ in the last verse matches that of the theme tune to the popular Australian soap—folk transmission at its best.

This YouTube video shows her at Cambridge Folk Festival on July 28, 2012:

Lyrics

Jon Boden sings Springfield Mountain Fay Hield sings Springfield Mountain

On Springfield Mountain there did dwell
A comely youth and I knew him well.
One Monday morning he did go
Down to the meadows all for to mow.
Well he had not mowed but half the field
When a wicked serpent bit his heel.
He took the scythe and with a blow
He laid that wicked serpent low,
He laid that wicked serpent low.

On Springfield Mountain there did dwell
A comely youth who I knew full well.
On Monday morning he did go
Down to the meadow for to mow.
He had not mowed but half a field
When a wicked serpent bit his heel.
He took his scythe and with a blow
He laid that wicked serpent low,
He laid the wicked serpent low.

Well he took the serpent all in his hand
And he quickly went to Molly Bland.
“Oh, Molly, Molly, oh don't you see,
That wicked sarpent what bit me.”
Well Molly had a ruby lip
With which the poison she did sip.
But Molly had a rotting tooth,
And the poison struck and killed them both,
The poison struck and killed them both.

He took the serpent all in his hand
And went straight down to Molly Bland.
“Oh, Molly, Molly, don't you see,
This wicked serpent what bit me.”
Now Molly had a ruby lip
With which the poison she did sip.
But Molly had a rotting tooth,
And the poison struck and it killed them both,
The poison struck and killed them both.

And when the neighbours found them dead,
Well, they quickly laid them all in one bed.
And all their friends both far and near
They cried and moaned for they were so dear.
So come all you maidens and a warning take
From Molly Bland and Tommy Blake.
And mind, when you're in love, don't you pass
Too near to patches of high grass,
Too near to patches of high grass.

And when the neighbours found them dead,
They gently laid them all in one bed.
And all their friends both far and near
Did grieve and moan for they were so dear.
So all you maidens a warning take
From Molly Bland and Tommy Blake.
And mind, when you're in love, don't you pass
Too close to patches of high grass,
Too close to patches of high grass.