Judy Cook, Folksinger

Follow The Drinkin' Gourd

Author: Trad

Source: camp

Notes: The Civil War songs and stories I want to share with you are mostly not about battles, but about the time between battles, where the soldiers spent most of their time. Let?s start with a pair of songs of the Underground Railroad. This was the social network that helped slaves escaping to freedom. It started well before the Civil War and continued to operate through the war. In the 1850s, in Alabama, a man would hire on at a slave-owning plantation, perhaps as a carpenter or a painter. While he worked he talked to the slaves, and taught them a song, then moved on. A short time later, slaves from that plantation would disappear on the long road to freedom. The song was a code and a memory aid: it says to begin the journey at the time of year when the sun begins to rise higher in the sky each day and when the quail - a migratory bird that winters in the south - is heard. Experience has shown that this will most likely bring them to the Ohio River nearly a year later when it is frozen and can be walked across. To get to the Ohio River they must follow the Tom Bigbee river north to its headwaters, cross the hills and continue north up the Tennessee River, to where it empties into the Ohio. Peg-Leg Joe - the old man - will be waiting there to escort them for the remainder of the trip. Along the river bank there are dead trees marked with the sign of a foot print and a peg leg; and overhead in the sky the big dipper, or the drinking gourd, keeps them always headed north. The song came to be popularized as a wonderful song ?Follow the Drinkin Gourd? and I?ll follow that with a song of another hero of the underground railroad, Harriet Tubman.