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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
JWB Lyr Add: Huckleberry Hunting (Pumping Chantey) (51* d) RE: Lyr Add: Huckleberry Hunting (Pumping Chantey) 22 Mar 11

Gibb Sahib, you ask a valid question about "huckleberry" being the clue to Down East origins that the collectors mention. I grew up in Maine, and picked wild blueberries every summer of my life, yet never heard the word huckleberry used as anything other than a fictional character's name.

Apparently, huckleberry is a corruption of "hurtleberry", which was used by 17th-century English settlers on the East Coast for the fruits of native plants of the family Ericaceae.

I imagine that Colcord, who was fron Searsport, ME, on the shores of Penobscot Bay, associated the wild-growing low-bush blueberry (for which huckleberry was apparently a generic term) with that part of the world. Today, in fact, a majority of the wild blueberries produced in the US come from Down East. It may be that, due to the abundance of the fruit in Maine and the Maritimes, 18th- and 19th-century rural social structures evolved around berry picking. A young seaman, who'd spent part of his summers berrying with large groups of mixed gender, would likely have looked back fondly on the opportunities for sexual exploration that a day out among the blueberries might have presented.

(My very first paying job, at the age of 14, was raking blueberries on the "barrens" in my hometown of Brunswick, ME; I learned a fair amount about girls during that time, though by that date they didn't wear dresses to go berrying so there was no chance for viewing anyone's "coffee grinder.")

Any collector of chanteys had her or his world view which affected how they perceived their subject. Ego, prejudice, morals and more determined what collectors included, so how could we ever be confident that any of them speak truth; it will always be their version of the truth, right?

Let me share a bit about Joanna Colcord's methods of collecting chanteys. According to the Introduction (written by her brother, Lincoln) to the first edition of "Roll And Go, Songs of American Sailormen", published in 1924, "...the greater number of these shanties and forecastle songs have been verified, especially as to music, from the editor's personal recollection. She remembers the tunes as she used to hear them on shipboard, as they were actually sung by sailors in the American merchant marine of her day. She remembers many points raised by her father, who was a good shantyman himself, a stickler for accuracy, and who had a wonderful memory...most of the material in this volum has been put to the test of living memory; and where it differs from forms already recorded, it takes its stand on the ground of actuality...The book is a field-work; in the truest sense of the word, it is an authority."

Colcord was born at sea on her father's ship, and up to the age of 18 she spent most her life at sea with her father, a 4th generation shipmaster. To me, at least, that gives a pretty solid base for making a claim about a chantey. But we'll never know for sure.


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