Seventh Sister- Beck (NC-SC) 1954 Buchanan- McNeil
[From Southern Folk Ballads- Vol. 2 by McNeil. A version with the a similar title from NC is Brown B. 'The Seven Sisters,' secured in the summer of 1928 by Mrs. Sutton from the singing of Mrs. Rebecca Gordon of Saluda Mountain, Henderson county, NC.
R. Matteson 2014]
Child commented that "of all ballads this has perhaps attained the widest circulation" (I, p. 22).He was referring only to Europe but his remarks apply equally well to America for even today this is one of the favorite Child ballads. Indeed, Bertrand Bronson lists this as the fourth most popular of the Child ballads (see The Ballad as Song (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), pp. 165-66). Child listed it as number 4 under the title "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" but it is known traditionally under numerous titles. These include "The Outlandish Knight," "Billy Came Over the Main White Ocean," "The Cage of Ivory and
Gold," "Castle By the Sea," "The Daughter of Old England," "The Errant Knight," "The False-Hearted Knight," "The False Lover," "Go Steal to Me Your Father's Gold," "He Followed Me Up and He Followed Me Down," "If I Take Off My Silken Stay," "Little Golden," "The Knight of the Northland," "A Man in the Land," "Miss Mary's Parrot," "The Ocean Wave," "The Gates of Ivory," "Six fair maidens I've drowned here" and almost as many more different titles. The ballad has been reported from most of the Southern states as well as in New York, Maine Missouri, Indiana, Colorado, West Virginia, Ohio, Vermont, Michigan Utah, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma. In addition it has been collected in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Ontario, and it may even be more widely known than this list indicates.
Seven story types of the ballad exist in American tradition. In the most popular of these a knight convinces a family's seventh daughter to rob her parents and elope with him. He takes her to the place where he has drowned her six sisters and asks her to remove her valuable robe before he kills her, she asks him to turn around so he will not see her naked, and when he does she pushes him in the stream to drown. She then returns home and replaces the money, after which a parrot questions her concerning her activities. By promising an elaborate cage' the girl convinces him not to tell on her. Therefore, when the king asks the parrot about the fuss, he says a cat has been around the cage. This is essentially the narrative given in the present version except that the robbery is omitted and the dialogue with.the parrot is attenuated. A second type makes the knight, ,rrp"tt atural nature very clear' while in a third type the parrot "".rrt"t the girl of the murder. A fourth story type
has the parrot failing in his attempt to deceive the girl's father. In a fifth story type the *tffi. of the knight's drowning is protracted. After the girl removes her robe the knight drags her into the water but by some means, he drowns. She then returns home where her mother and the parrot have the usual conversation about the cat. In a sixth story type the parrot is missing and in a seventh both the parrot and the father are missing. When the girl leturns home she prays to God, thanking him for her escape.
Although the earliest reports of this ballad are from the seventeenth century it is thought by some to be an offshoot of the biblical story of Judith and Holofernes, a suggestion Child rejected. He did agree that the story belonged to a large body of European tales and hypothesized "that in independent European tradition existed of a half-human, half-demonic being, who possessed an irresistible power of decoying away young maids, and was wont to kill them after he got them into his hands,
but who at last found one who was more than his match, and lost his own life through her craft and courage. A modification of this story is afforded niy trre large class of gluebeard tales" (1, p.54). Others have traced the false knlght back to a twelfth-century demon king of the I orver Rhine region. Whatever its origins, there can be little doubt that nineteenth- century English broadsides played a large part in keeping the ballad alive in the British Isles, for it was a favorite with broadside printers of the era. These texts generally consisted of three scenes: (1) the knight cajoling the girl, (2) the waterside and (3) the parrot.
In most American versions neither the villain nor the heroine is named, but when they are Mary and Polly are the most common names for the girl while William and John are the most favored names for the knight. In a number of American lyrics the girl and the parrot have the same name (polly), which tends to make the story hard to follow. The knight's supernatural character is missing, which is hardly surprising since such elements generally tend to disappear in American renditions
of old world ballads. It is also characteristic of American texts that the girl is very vigorous. In one version she throws a rock at the drowning knight and in the text given here she doesn't just push him into the water, she "slung him in Yonder sea."
If any proof of the ballad's popularity were needed it is provided in the large number of parodies that have cropped up over the years. Some of these appeared in minstrel show songbooks during the nineteenth century. The narrative also exists as a folktale in both prose and cante fable form. The present version of the ballad was collected July 7, 1954, by Annabel Morris Buchanan from Carrie Louise Thames (Mrs. D. G.) Beck, Hendersonville, North Carolina. For more information about Buchanan see the notes fot "The False Knight upon the Road." For more about Beck see the notes for "Miss Mary Belle." She learned "The Seventh Sister" as a child in South Carolina from her mother, Evelyn Roberson Thames, who was a native of Canada.
The Seventh Sister- Collected by Annabel Morris Buchanan from Mrs. Carrie Louise Beck, Hendersonville, NC, JULY 7, 1954.
"Come rise you up, my pretty fair maid,
Come ride along with me,
We'll ride the length of this long summer's morn,
And married we shall be, be,
And married we shall be."
He mounted on the milk-white horse,
And she on the dapple-grey,
They rode the length of a long summer's morn,
Till they came to the rolling sea, sea,
Till they came to the rolling sea.
"Light down, light down, my pretty fair maid,
Light down, light down," says he,
"Six of your sisters I've drowned here,.
And the seventh one you shall be, be,
And the seventh one you shall be.
"Take off, take off those satin robes
And hang them on yonder's rock,
For they are too pretty and they are too good
To lay in the sea and rot, rot,
To lay in the sea and rot."
"Turn your face to-ward the wood
And turn your back on me;
I never thought that a naked woman
Was fitten for a man to see, see,
Was fitten for a man to see."
He turned his face toward the wood,
He turned his back on me;
I caught him around his waist so small,
And slung him in yonder sea, sea,
And slung him in yonder sea.
She mounted on the milk-white horse,
Leading the dapple-grey,
And when she reached her father's house
It was just three hours till day, day,
It was just three hours till day.
"Oh, shut your mouth, you parrot bird,
Don't tell no tales on me,
And your cage shall be made of gold and silver,
And hung on the willow tree, tree,
And hung on the willow tree."