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Twenty-One Years on Dartmoor

[ Roud 2248 ; Laws E16 ; Ballad Index LE16 ; DT YRS21 ; Mudcat 23631 ; Bob Miller]

Louie Fuller (Saunders) sang Twenty-One Years on Dartmoor on the 1995 Veteran anthology When the May Is All in Bloom. John Howson noted:

Twenty-One Years originates in America and is usually set in Nashville, Tennessee although it seems not to be connected with a specific incident. It was recorded on a Decca 78 record by ’Mac and Bob’ in the early 1930s and became popular with duet singers.

Tim van Eyken sang Twenty-One Years on Dartmoor in 2004 on Waterson:Carthy’s fifth album, Fishes & Fine Yellow Sand. Martin Carthy noted:

The album is topped and tailed by Goodbye Fare You Well and Twenty-One Years on Dartmoor. […] Tim learned the latter from a recording of the lovely London born, Sussex dwelling singer Louie Fuller who sadly died just this year. It’s great to come upon an old American song which has made the crossing the other way for a change and this is one which has been given a real working over into an English vernacular. Louie can be heard on When the May Is All in Bloom, one of John Howson’s Veteran series of tapes and CDs.

Nick Hart sang Twenty-One Years on Dartmoor in 2017 on his CD Nick Hart Sings Eight English Folk Songs. He noted:

I learned this one from a recording of a woman called Mrs Saunders in Lingfield, Sussex, although it’s been collected many times over the years, and seems to have been particularly popular with Gypsy singers. The melody and much of the language feels very American to me, but the place names all appear to be English. I’m mostly in it for verses 5-6.

Jim Causley sang Twenty-One Years on Dartmoor on his 2021 album Devonshire Roses. and on his 2023 CD Songs of Dartmoor. He noted:

Written by Bob Miller (USA) and first published in 1930. It was a popular song that went on to become a traditional song in America, Ireland, Australia and England and became localised and much altered from the original version first recorded in the early 1930’s.


Waterson:Carthy sing Twenty-One Years on Dartmoor

The judge said, “Stand up, boy, and dry up your tears.
You’re sentenced to Dartmoor for twenty-one years.”
So kiss me goodbye, babe, and say you’ll be mine,
For twenty-one years, love, is a mighty long time.

Just look down that railway and there you will see,
My comrades are waving their farewell to me.
The steam from the whistle and smoke from the stack
But I know you’ll be true love until I get back.

Go back to the governor, babe, on your sweet soul,
He has sent me to Dartmoor so get up that road.
For if I’ve got the governor then the governor’s got me
But before Tuesday morning I guess I’ll be free.

It’s hailing, it’s raining, this moon gives no light.
Oh baby, please tell me why you never write.
I’m here in this gaolhouse, my heart broken down,
I had a letter from mother in old Campton Town.

Six months have gone by, babe, and I wish I were dead
In this dirty old gaolhouse with a post for a bed.
So hold up your head, babe, and dry up your eye
Best friends must part, love, so must you and I.

I’ve counted the minutes, and I’ve counted the nights,
I’ve counted the hours, I’ve counted the lights.
And I’ve counted the footsteps, and I’ve counted the sighs,
And I’ve counted one million of these prison bars.

And I’ve counted on you, babe, to get me a break.
Well I guess you forgot me, I’m here for your sake.
You know who is guilty and know it too well,
But I’m up in this gaolhouse before I would tell.

Come all you young fellows with a heart brave and true,
Don’t trust any women, you’re beat if you do.
Don’t trust any women, no matter what kind,
For twenty-one years, love, is a mighty long time.