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Sir William Gower / William Glenn / Captain Glenn / The New York Trader

[ Roud 478 ; Laws K22 ; G/D 2:191 ; Ballad Index LK22 ; Bodleian Roud 478 ; Wiltshire 328 , 814 ; trad.]

This song is listed in A.L. Lloyd and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Penguin Book of English Folk Songs as The New York Trader.

Tony Rose sang it in 1976 as Sir William Gower on his third album, On Banks of Green Willow. He commented in the album's sleeve notes:

It was a common superstition, possibly originating with the story of Jonah, that the presence of an evil-doer on board a ship might imperil both vessel and crew, unless the guilty party were sought out and thrown overboard. Such is the theme running through The Banks of Green Willow and Sir William Gower, both of which were collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset.

Fairport Convention recorded Sir William Gower a few years earlier than Tony Rose for their LP Angel Delight. Their BBC session recording broadcast 27 March 1971 on “Folk on One” was included in the 4 CD box Live at the BBC.

Nic Jones recorded this ballad as William Glenn with somewhat different verses in 1978 for his album From the Devil to a Stranger. Another version was included in 2001 on his compilation CD Unearthed where it is called Captain Glenn. He also sang it in a BBC Radio 1 John Peel session recorded on 19 April 1977 and broadcast 26 April 1977.

John Wesley Harding also sang this ballad on his Nic Jones tribute album, Trad Arr Jones.

Graham Moore sang William Glenn on his 1995 album Tom Paine's Bones.

John Doyle sang Captain Glenn on his 2005 CD Wayward Son. He noted:

Nic Jones recorded this on an early out of print record called From the Devil to a Stranger. Many thanks to the Rusby family and to Ken Cope each for getting a copy to me.

Bryony Griffith sang William Gower in 2011 on her and Will Hampson's CD Lady Diamond. They learned it “from the singing of Tony Rose and Cecil Sharp's collection of English Folk Songs.” and coupled it with the tune The Tankard of Ale “from the manuscript of Joshua Jackson, North cornmiller and musician, by Bowen & Shepherd for Yorkshire Dales Workshops.”

Tarras sang New York Trader in 2011 on their CD Warn the Waters.

False Lights sang William Glenn on their 2018 CD Harmonograph. They noted:

Learned from Nic Jones' version on From the Devil to a Stranger, with some extra lines based on Tony Rose's recording under the name Sir William Gower. It was a common superstition that an evil-doer onboard could endanger the whole crew, and the best solution was to find the guilty party and throw them overboard to calm the storms they had caused.


Tony Rose sings Sir William Gower Bryony Griffith sings William Gower

A bold young seaman, stout and strong,
To a lofty vessel I do belong:
Well rigged, well manned, well fit for sea,
Bound for New York in Amerikey.

Our captain's name was William Gower
And his crew in the number were just four score.
All seamen bold for to sail the sea
Bound for New York in Amerikey.

A bold sea captain named William Gower
And his loyal crew of just four score.
All seamen brave for to sail with he
Bound for New York far across the sea.

Our captain in his cabin lay
When an awful voice to him did say:
"Prepare yourself and your company
Tomorrow night in the deep to lie."

This captain in his cabin lay
When a dreadful voice unto him did say:
"Prepare thyself and thy ship's company
For tomorrow in deepest waters may be."

Our captain woke in an awful fright
It being in the first part all of the night,
And to his bosun aloud did call
To him revealed his secret all.

The captain woke in a shivering fright
And it being the third part all of the night,
Unto the bosun he loudly cried
And shared the secret of how they might die.

"Oh, it's bosun, bosun, let no-one know
What we poor sailors do undergo,
But keep the secret within your breast
And pray to God now to give you rest."

Saying, "Bosun, bosun, let no-one know
What our poor ship might undergo,
Pray keep the secret close to thy chest
And pray to the Gods that they give us rest."

"I killed my master, a merchant there,
And 'twas all for the sake of his lady dear;
I killed my wife and my children three
And 'twas all for the sake of jealousy."

"For, I killed my neighbour back on the land,
All for the sake of a lady's hand;
Then I killed my wife and my children three
All for the sake of damn jealousy."

"Oh, it's on my servant I laid the blame,
He was hung and quartered all for the same.
And it is his ghost I am much afraid,
This very night has my heart betrayed."

"And on a poor young sailor I laid the blame,
He was drawn and quartered all for the same.
Now it is his ghost I am afraid
Has come this night my poor life to take."

Early next morning the storm did rise
Which our poor sailors did much surprise,
And the sea washed o'er us, both fore and aft
Till scarce one man on deck was left.

Then the sea burst over both fore and aft
Till hardly any crew were left,
Then the bosun cried, “I do declare,
It's the captain's fault, he's a murderer!”

At this our bosun he did declare
Our captain he was some murderer.
Which so enraged the whole ship's crew
They overboard then the captain threw.

This news, this news did enrage the crew
And overboard their bold captain threw,
Then the wind it ceased end the sea was calm,
Bound for New York they sailed free from harm.

When this was done, oh, a calm was there
And our good ship homeward did steer.
Oh the wind abated and calmed the sea,
And we sailed safe to Amerikey.

Nic Jones sings William Glenn

Oh it's of a ship and a ship of fame
Launched off the stocks, bound to sail the main;
With one hundred and fifty brisk young men
Well picked and chosen every one
And William Glenn was the captain's name.
He was a fine and a tall young man
As fine a sailor as sailed the sea;
And we were sailing to New Barbary.

On the first of April, then we set sail,
Blessed with a fine and a prosperous gale.
And we were bound for New Barbary
With all of our whole ship's company.
We hadn't been sailing a league or two
Till all of our whole ship's jovial crew,
They all fell sick but sixty-three
As we were sailing to New Barbary.

One night the Captain then he did dream,
A voice came to him and said to him:
“Prepare yourself and your company
For tomorrow night you must lie with me.”
This woke the captain in a terrible fright,
It being the third watch of the night.
And aloud for the bosun then he did call
And to him told his secrets all.

“Bosun,” he said, “it grieves my heart
To think I've played a villain's part:
A man I slew in Staffordshire
And all for the sake of his lady fair.
And of the ghost of that I am afraid
That has in me such terror bred.
So keep the secret within your breast
And pray to the lord that he gives you rest.”

We hadn't been a sailing a league but three
Till raging grew the roaring sea.
There rose a tempest up in the skies
Which did our seamen much surprise
And the main mast sprung by the break of day
Which made our rigging all but to give way;
And did our seamen much affright
The terrors of that awful night.

And then the bosun he did declare
That the captain was a murderer.
This so enraged the whole ship's crew
That overboard our captain threw.
Our treacherous captain he being gone
Immediately there came a calm
And the winds abated and so did the sea
And we went sailing to New Barbary.

And when we came to the Spanish Shore
Our good little ship for to repair,
The people there were amazed to see
Our dismal case and such misery.
Now seamen all wherever you may be
I pray you take a warning from me:
As you love life won't you have care
And never go sailing with a murderer.

Acknowledgements and Links

Thanks to Garry Gillard for transcribing the lyrics from Tony Rose's singing.

Nic Jones' lyrics were copied from the Mudcat Café.