Monday, March 14, 2011

Two Murder Ballads and a Suicide Ballad

Looking through American Murder Ballads and Their Stories, by Olive Woolley Burt, I found three ballads relating to two murders already covered here: The murder of Domenico Cataldo by Maria Barbella and the murder of Capt. Joseph White by Richard Crowninshield, John Knapp and Joseph Knapp.

There is no tune to go along with these anonymous verses about Maria Barbella so it may be a poem rather than a song:

‘Tis not for me to speak aloud
        On lofty themes, I tell
As one among the lowly crowd
        How young Maria fell.

Swift as a flash a glittering blade
        Across his throat she drew,
‘By you,’ she shrieked, ‘I’ve been betrayed;
        The vengeance is my due'

Behold her new, a wounded dove:
        A native of a clime
Where hearts are melted soon with love
        And maddened soon to crime.

This ballad about the murder of Joseph White, sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne,” was originally ten stanzas long. Thankfully, Ms. Burt has selected only the most pertinent:

The Ballad of Joseph White

O what a horrid tale to sound
In this our land to tell,
That Joseph White of Salem Town
By ruffian hands he fell!

Perhaps for money or for gain
This wicked deed was done;
But if for either, great the pain
This murderer must be in

Oh the infernal of the damn’d ,
To murder in the night;
With cruel arm and bloodstain’d hand
Which pierc’d the side of White.
Thou harden’d hearted monster devil,
To thrust the dirk of death,
You will be plac’d upon the level.
For time will stop your breath!

     (three stanzas omitted)

Calmly he laid in sweet repose,
The ruffian forced the room,
And with his dirk he did dispose
Of him who’d done no harm.
Great God, how can these things be so,
When man is left alone?
Poor feeble wretch, he does not know
How wicked he has done.

     (Last four stanza’s omitted)

These untitled verses, probably by the same author, come from a broadside on the suicide of Richard Crowninshield while in jail. It is also sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” and has also been shortened:

Silence doth dwell in the murd’rer’s cell
No sound of clanking chain,
Of fearful moan or stifled groan,
Shall echo there again.

Poor wretch, thy name shall be spar’d the shame
Of vile, disgraceful death,
Expos’d forlorn to the public scorn,
While fleets thy passing breath.

     (five stanzas omitted)

See where he stands with clenched hands,
In restless agony.
Say, doth not hell in that bosom dwell?
Ah, whither can he flee?

Ah still midnight see the ghost of White
Streaming with blood appear.
Ill can murd’rer brook that dreadful look
His pulses stop through fear

     (one stanza omitted)

Had Crowninshield in bloody field
Died, like a warrior brave,
Glory had been his portion then,
He had slept in a soldier’s grave.

By thy name forgot; who can tell thy lot
Where departed spirits roam.
Haply at last all thy penance past
Thy God will receive thee home!


Anonymous says:
March 21, 2011 at 12:40 AM

Love it,altho I was surprised I did not see anything on "Frankie Silver's Ballard...Maybe now I found this sight I can move on from Frankie Silver since I have found out all I needed to and have been to all the grave sites...CKC

Robert Wilhelm says:
March 21, 2011 at 10:35 AM


Here is a link to Frankie Silver:

There are quite a few murder ballds here, look in column on the right under "Murder Ballads & Songs."

Unknown says:
February 10, 2014 at 5:38 PM

Any idea where I could find the missing stanzas of "The Ballad of Capt. Joseph White"?

Robert Wilhelm says:
February 19, 2014 at 8:39 AM

I have only seen "The Ballad of Capt. Joseph White" in _American Murder Ballads and Their Stories_, by Olive Woolley Burt and she does not say where she got it. It was probably printed as a broadside and may be available at the Library of Congress.

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