Ho! for California! (Hutchinson, 1849)

A song composed for a group of overland emigrants,
who left Massachusetts, in the spring of 1849.

We’ve formed our band and are well mann’d,
To journey afar to the promised land,
Where the golden ore is rich in store,
On the banks of the Sacramento shore.

Then, ho! Brothers ho!
To California go.
There’s plenty of gold
in the world we’re told,
On the banks of the Sacramento.
Heigh O, and away we go,
Digging up gold in Francisco.

O! don’t you cry, nor heave a sigh,
For we’ll all come back again, bye-and-bye,
Don’t breathe a fear, nor shed a tear,
But patiently wait for about two year.

As the gold is thar, most any whar,
And they dig it out with an iron bar,
And where ’tis thick, with a spade or pick,
They can take out lumps as heavy as brick.

As we explore the distant shore,-
We’ll fill our pockets with the shining ore;
And how ’twill sound, as the word goes round,
Of our picking up gold by the dozen pound.

We expect our share of the coarsest fare,
And sometimes to sleep in the open air,
Upon the cold ground we shall all sleep sound
Except when the wolves are howling round.

As off we roam over the dark sea foam,
We’ll never forget our friends at home
For memories kind will bring to mind
The thoughts of those we leave behind.

In the days of old, the Prophets told
Of the City to come, all framed in gold,
Peradventure they forsaw the day,
Now dawning in California.

O! the land we’ll save, for the bold and brave-
Have determined there never shall breathe a slave;
Let foes recoil, for the sons of toil
Shall make California GOD’S FREE SOIL.

Then, ho! Brothers ho! to California go,
No slave shall toil on God’s Free Soil,
On the banks of the Sacramento.
Heigh O, and away we go,
Chanting our songs of Freedom, O.

SOURCE = Asa Hutchinson, Book of Words (1851) p.22

This song appears in an 1849 sheet music edition by Jesse Hutchinson, Jr., arranged by Nathan Barker.  It uses Dan Emmett’s popular tune “De Boatmen Dance” to portray the hardships and economic opportunities of the California Gold Rush, with final verses arguing for the exclusion of slavery from the California territory.  The song appears again in Asa Hutchinson’s 1851 “Book of Words” [p.22].

Jesse Hutchinson, Jr. led his group, the Alleghanians, on a concert tour of California in 1852.  Tragically, on his way home via Panama, he contracted fever and died in Ohio in 1853.

Interestingly, fragments of Jesse’s song appear in Hugill’s Shanties from the Seven Seas (1961) [p.95] and Carl Sandburg’s American Songbag (1927) [p.110]; apparently sailors were quick to adopt the chorus into various sea shanties and bawdy songs.  Both sources, however, give melodies (and variant verses) that correspond with Stephen Foster’s “Camptown Races” — further evidence of the fluid interplay and exchange between contemporary popular/topical/folk/activist/labor musics.

See also: “I’m Off for California” >>

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