The New York Trader

To the New York Trader I did belong
She was fit for sea both stout and strong
Well manned, well rigged, well fit for sea
Bound for New York in Amerikay

On the 4th of March we did set sail
All on a sweet and a pleasant gale
With hearts undaunted we set for sea
Bound for New York in Amerikay

Our cruel captain as we did find
Left half of our provisions behind
Our cruel captain, you’ll understand
Meant to starve us all before we reached the land

As our captain in his cabin lay
A voice came to him and this did say
"Prepare yourself and ship's company,
For tomorrow night you must lie with me"

Our captain woke in a terrible fright
It being the first part of the night
Loud for his bosun he did call
To him related the secrets all

"Bosun" says he, "it does grieve my heart
To think I have acted the villain’s part
To take what was not my lawful due
For to starve the passengers and the ship’s crew”

"There’s one thing more I have to tell
When I in Waterford town did dwell
I killed my master, a merchant there
All for the sake of his lady fair

I killed my wife and children three
All for that cursed jealousy
And on my servant I lay the blame
And he was hanged in grief and shame"

“Oh captain, captain, if that be so
Pray let none of the ship’s crew know
But keep that secret all in your breast
And pray the Lord may grant you rest

The very next morning a storm did rise
Which to our seamen did much surprise
The seas came over both fore and aft
Till scarce one man on deck was left

And then the bosun he did declare
The captain was a murderer
This so enraged the whole ship's crew
They overboard our captain threw

All of a sudden a calm was there
Our good little ship onwards did steer
The winds abated and calmed the seas
And we sailed on for Amerikay

And when we reached that New York shore
Our good little ship for to repair
The people wondered much to see
Such a poor distressed and shipwreck crew were we

So sailors all where’er you be
A warning pray you take by me
As you love your life won’t yous take good care
And never go sailing with a murderer


We learned ‘The New York Trader’, like so many other great songs, from Ringsend native and all round legend Luke Cheevers. It is one of a group of songs (sometimes referred to as the ‘Jonah Ballads’), which describe a criminal on board a ship being detected by supernatural means. It was believed that their presence would bring bad luck to the vessel and that the only way to escape this fate was to throw them overboard. The words to the song may be based on an older ballad called ‘The Pirate’ in which the destination was New Barbary rather than ‘Amerikay’. It was printed on broadsides in the UK where it was quite popular in the 19th century, and versions were subsequently collected in Wiltshire, Norfolk and Nova Scotia in the 20th century.

We follow the song up with an American tune called ‘Big Black Cat’. This tune was learnt by Cormac from our friend Anna Lisberg Poulsen.