> Waterson:Carthy > Songs > American Stranger

The American Stranger / When First Into This Country

[ Roud 1081 ; Master title: The American Stranger ; G/D 7:1469 ; Ballad Index SWMS195 ; VWML LEB/9/50/1 , GG/1/10/598 , GG/1/6/288 ; Bodleian Roud 1081 ; GlosTrad Roud 1081 ; Wiltshire 581 , 603 ; Mudcat 15075 ; trad.]

Jean Mathew of Aberdeen sang The American Stranger on 18 July 1952 to Séamus Ennis. This recording was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology Good People, Take Warning (The Voice of the People Series Volume 23).

Ewan MacColl sang The American Stranger on his and Isla Cameron’s 1958 Riverside album English and Scottish Love Songs and on their 1960 Topic album Still I Love Him. A.L. Lloyd noted:

A young man returns to Scotland from America to find a bride who will share his life in the wilds. He vows that he will be true, in the conventional image of fidelity. Ships will sail without sails, little fish turn to whales, and the mountain ash will grow in mid-ocean before he is false to the girl who accepts him. This version comes from a Falkirk iron smelter named Boston Dunn. Another, rather longer version in Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads, indicates that the song must date from before the Revolutionary War.

Tom Willett sang The American Stranger to Ken Stubbs in Ashford in 1960. It was printed in Stubb’s 1970 EFDS book The Life of a Man. The recording was included in 2013 on the Willett Family anthologies A-Swinging Down the Lane and Adieu to Old England. His son Chris Willett sang The American Stranger on 28 January 1978 at Paddock Wood, Kent. This recording by Mike Yates was issued in 1979 on the Topic LP of songs, stories and tunes from English gypsies, Travellers and in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Father’s the King of the Gypsies (The Voice of the People Series Volume 11). Rod Stradling commented in the booklet accompanying Adieu to Old England:

For some reason the phrase “Just to prove myself royal” occurs in dozens of English Gypsy songs, and one may presume that royal means loyal in this instance. At first glance, this looks like a fairly popular song, with 144 Roud entries—but 10 of these relate to books or broadsides, and only about 40 singers are named.

Tom Gillfellon sang The American Stranger in 1972 on his Trailer album Loving Mad Tom. He noted:

Scottish and Northumbrian collectors have included this song in their books. This version is from Stokoe and Bruce’s collection of Northumbrian songs. I must confess myself puzzled by the thought of a fully paid up member of the U.S. of A. wandering around the borders as early as this gentleman must have been.

The Broadside from Grimsby sang The American Stranger in 1973 on their Topic album of songs and ballads collected in Lincolnshire, The Moon Shone Bright.

Fairport Convention recorded When First Into This Country for their 1976 album Gottle O’ Geer. A 1976 live performance on a Capital Radio broadcast was included in 2003 on Free Reed’s Dave Swarbrick anthology Swarb!.

Julie Henigan sang American Stranger in 1993 as the title track of her cassette Amerian Stranger. She noted:

I learned this Staffordshire song (also called Rambling) from Roy Palmer’s Songs of the Midlands. It became my theme song during my last sojourn in England. For Pam Bishop.

The Waterdaughters (Lal Waterson and her daughter Maria Gilhooley (aka Marry Waterson) and Norma Waterson and her daughter Eliza Carthy) sang American Stranger in 1996 on Waterson:Carthy’s second album Common Tongue. Martin Carthy noted:

Maid Lamenting is a piece of Yorkshire straightforwardness from the Frank Kidson collection, a songs stripped right down and with absolutely no illusions. Similarly with American Stranger, which is from the other end of the country in Devon. Cecil Sharp rarely made recordings of singers, but this is from one which he did make. The singer is a gypsy woman called Priscilla Cooper recorded encamped on Stafford Common in Devon, and although the cylinder is very badly damaged, it was there that Norma first encountered it.

Graham Metcalfe sang The Immigrant in 1996 on his WildGoose CD Songs From Yorkshire and Other Civilisations. He noted:

As a stranger in this country (Canada) he didn’t waste time. This song became known around Oxford as Timmy Grant, I can’t think why.

Dave Arthur with Pete Cooper and Chris Moreton (later Rattle on the Stovepipe) sang American Stranger in 2003 on their WildGoose album Return Journey. They noted:

A 19th century broadside ballad. After this CD was finished I found this ‘live’ recording of American Stranger among some tracks that I had put down to hear how they might sound on guitar rather than banjo. It was a song I had wanted to include as it seemed particularly appropriate to the general theme of Return Journey. Too late to go back into the studio, Doug agreed to put it in as sort of a bonus track. It’s a ‘work in progress’; how it will sound in six months I don’t know.

Mike Bosworth sang the Emigrant’s Song, accompanied by John Kirkpatrick on accordion, in 2004 on his CD of songs from the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould Collection, By Chance It Was.

Peggy Seeger sang When First Unto This Country at her 70th birthday celebration live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on 29 May 2005. A recording of this concert was released in 2007 on her CD Three Score and Ten.

The Andover Museum Loft Singers, directed by Paul Sartin, sang American Stranger in 2012 on their WildGoose CD The Bedmaking. A year later, Sartin returned to American Stranger with Faustus on their Navigator CD Broken Down Gentlemen. The WildGoose sleeve notes commented:

The text is a compilation of versions from Alfred Porter (73) of Basingstoke Workhouse [VWML GG/1/10/598] and Henry King (75) of Lyndhurst [VWML GG/1/6/288] , taken in 1906 by John F. Guyer and Dr George Gardiner. According to a note at the top of the manuscript it is ‘Indecent’! The tune is from James Saunders (77) of Newcastle, noted on 2 September 1910, by Cecil Sharp.

Andy Turner learned The American Stranger from the singing of Chris Willett on Travellers. He sang it as the 16 November 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Patakas (Joe and Will Sartin) sang American Stranger in 2023 on their WildGoose EP When You’re Ready. They noted:

One of our favourite songs in our father [Paul Sartin]’s repertoire, this song has always had a special place for both of us. This pre-American Revolution song has Scottish roots and was published in numerous 18th century broadsides. In 1906 John F. Guyer and Dr George Gardiner compiled versions of the text from both Alfred Porter from the Basingstoke Workhouse and Henry King of Lyndhurst and the tune was later collected by Cecil Sharp from James Saunders of Newcastle on 2 September 1910.


Tom Willett sings The American Stranger

I’m a stranger in this country, from America I came,
Oh, and no-one don’t know me or nor can tell my name.
Just to prove myself royal, if you’ll go along with me,
I will take you to America my own darling to see.

Now the moon shall be in darkness and stars shall give no light,
Oh, if ever I prove false to, oh, my own heart’s delight.
Just to prove myself royal, if you’ll go along with me,
I will take you to America my own darling to see.

Give my love to Pretty Polly, she’s my own heart’s delight,
Likewise my dearest Susan although she is poor.
Just to prove myself royal, if you’ll go along with me,
I will take you to America my own darling to see.

Now some says I am rakish while another says I’m wild,
Oh, and some says I am guilty pretty maids to beguile.
In the middle of the ocean there should grow a myrtle tree
To maintain my own darling that’s a long way from home.

The Waterdaughters sing American Stranger

I have been a-rambling by night and by day
But to prove myself royals you should go along with me
And I’ll take you to America my darling to be

Some says I am ragged some says I am poor
But to prove myself royals you should go along with me
In the middle of the ocean there will grow a maypole tree
If ever I prove false to the girl that loves me

Kind love to my Polly although she is poor
Give my love to Betsy she’s the girl that I adore
And I will roll her in my arms on a cold winter’s night

I am a stranger in this country from America I came
Where there’s no-one knows me nor as yet can tell my name
I wandered from my darling for many’s a long mile
Now our ship she is got ready to sail

Some says I am ragged more says I am wild
Some says I am foolish my mind to beguile
But to prove yourself royals you should go along with me
And I’ll take you to America my darling to be


Transcribed by Garry Gillard with help from Steve Willis.