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Gibb Sahib Shanty or Chantey? (160* d) RE: Shanty or Chantey? 05 Sep 15


Re: Evidence in print of the TERM (I'm not concerned as much with the spelling) chanty/chantey/shanty/etc.:

I have been working with Clark's _Seven years_ (1867) as the earliest cited reference to the term -- while assuming, at the same time, that there is probably some earlier evidence waiting to be found.

Well, here is some earlier evidence I have "found": a whaleman's journal entries from 1859 have "shantie."

The reason for my scare-quotes is that the source isn't exactly new; granted, perhaps few people have really examined it, but the people that have would be at least somewhat close to discussions of chanties. Nonetheless, I'm not aware that they have presented it in this light.

if you'll excuse a cut 'n' paste (I'd rather not re-type these details) from a FB post:

//
One might suppose the term "chanty" (or, as it may be spelled, "shanty," "shantey," "chantey," etc.) was known from the beginning, more or less, of the existence of the work-song genre or repertory to which the term refers. Although it's possible that was the case, evidence of the term, so far discovered, only appears in documents dating from a period well after the genre began to develop.

Whether one subscribes to the idea, developed by myself, that the chanty genre developed from forms of song sung in African-American non-seagoing work contexts going back at least to the late eighteenth century, or if one prefers to see shipboard chanty-singing that emerged in the 1830s as a starting point, in either case one has to settle for references published significantly later to date the term itself.

One of the best known references to s term morphologically and contextually similar to "chanty" is the mention of cotton stowers' "chants" in Nordhoff's _The Merchant Sailor_ (1855). Nordhoff, observed the singing of cotton-stowers in Mobile, AL in 1848. That these "chants" were sung by a "chantyman" confirms that they were connected to the tradition of what we know as chanties. However, the familiar form ending in a /y/ sound does not (i.e. as far as is known) appear in a publication until the 1860s.

The Oxford English Dictionary long offered an 1869 _Chambers's Journal_ article, which referred to /shanty/, as the earliest known source. It was later discovered that Clark's _Seven Years of a Sailor's Life_, 1867, contained /chanty/, and the OED now reflects this revision.
However, an earlier, manuscript source, long known to historians of whaling out of New England, contains plenty of earlier evidence for /shanty/. Nonetheless, I have never encountered it in any discussions about the age of the term.

The source is the journal of William Abbe while he worked aboard the whaleship _Atkins Adams_ out of Stonington, CT, 1858-1859. Given the difficulty of deciphering the writing in many such journals and logs, it is not at all surpassing that this late 1850s whaleman's journal went unnoticed. I conjecture, additionally, that the small set of whaling historians who did take the pains to study Abbe's journal may have taken the term for granted, perhaps not realizing the significance of its appearance in an 1850s document.

Beginning in entries from 1859, Abbe refers to "shantie" or "shanties" some ten times. For example, in the entry for January 4, 1859, Abbe wrote,

'We began to sing Shanties last night in hauling off sheets or lowering on halliards, Jack leading in "Johnny Francois" & "Katy my darling" and all hands taking up the refrain & pulling with a will. This pleased the mate, who told us that was pretty well for the first time, that he liked to hear us make a noise, as it showed that Jack -- "not Allegany" -- but any one of us, was awake. He laughed, rubbed his hands, & crew out "that's the way, sailors." The first time when lowering away on f. t. sl halliards, Tom set them all a roaring by his ludicrous singing, till Mate & all laughing, they were obliged to avast singing, and haul away without the "Shantie," but the next attempt was more successful, & we hauld home the main sheet in fine style.'

My "discovery" of these references would not have been likely if it weren't for the fact that the late William Wyatt (d.2011), a retired professor of Classics at Brown University and a volunteer at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, transcribed Abbe's journal. Wyatt's transcription was posted fairly recently to the NBWM's website. (The page is marked as last modified in Aug. 2014.)

_Journal of my Whaling Cruise in ship Atkins Adams_ is part of the Old Dartmouth Society's collection, log # 485. The transcription can be seen here:
http://www.whalingmuseum.org//library/projects/atkins-adams
//

The journal from ATKINS ADAMS is familiar as the source for a version of "Old Maui," given by Gale Huntington. I have not seen the manuscript directly.


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