As I Roved Out (Tarry Trousers)

TITLE: As I Roved Out (Tarry Trousers)
AUTHOR: unknown
CATEGORY: traditional, public domain
KEYWORDS: lover, courting, mother, sailor
EARLIEST DATE: 1848 (Journal from the Nauticon)
marriage, dialog, humorous, mother, sailor

sailorAlan Lomax in his Folk Songs of North America (in the English Language) says, “This little Canadian ditty is cousin to a thousand other songs of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, in which susceptible young ladies sighed for, pined for, . . . ran away to sea with, followed across the main, scorned richer suitors for—in a word, tried anything—to marry their ‘sweet sailor boys’. Later on, the feminine folk singer, being no more nor less fickle than history, turned to the pursuit of lumberjacks, cowboys, and railroaders.”

This version of I Roved Out is an overheard conversation between a mother and her daughter, who only has eyes for boys in their “tarry, tarry trousers”. The Contemplator tells us that “tarry trousers refers to the sailor’s practice of waterproofing their trousers with tar. This may be among the reasons sailors were referred to as “tars,” a term used since 1676. Between 1857 and 1891 sailors also wore black ‘tarpaulin’ hats (boater-shaped with ribbon around the crown).”

There are other conversations songs but one closely related to As I Roved Out is Sailors They are Such a Sort which the Traditional Ballad Index describes as “Don’t marry a sailor; they drink . . ., spend all their money, and don’t care for wife or child. But the daughter wants to be some gallant sailor’s wife.”


  • The Mother’s Admonition
  • Tarry Trousers




As I Roved Out

As I roved out one fine summer`s evening
To view those flow`rs and take the air, `
Twas there I spied a tender mother
Talking to her daughter dear

Singing, `Daughter, O daughter,
I`ll have you to marry,
No longer to live a sweet single life.`
`O mother, O mother, I `d rather to tarry
To be some brave young sailor`s  wife.

A sailor boy likes to wander;
To some foreign country he would go.
O daughter, you are better to wed with a farmer,
For to the seas he’d ne’er do  go.’

‘O mother, I cannot wed a farmer,’
Though he decks me with diamonds bright,
I’ll wait for my love with the tarry, tarry trousers,
For he’s my darling and my heart’s delight.

`Now Polly is the wife of some jolly sailor,
See how neat and trim she goes,
See how neatly he maintains her,
Dressed in silks from top to  toe.

She leans her head on her true love’s shoulder,
Tears down from her eyes do flow,
‘O stay with me, my dearest Willie,
And to the seas no more to  go.’


  • Digital Tradition—414, TARYTROU* TARYTRU2*
  • Roud #427
  • Folk Song Index: A Comprehensive Guide to the Florence E. Brunnings Collection, Florence E. Brunnings, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London 1981—Amazon Books
  • Folk Songs of North America (in the English Language), Alan Lomax, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York 1960—Amazon Books

NOTICE: I’m not the best guitar player or vocalist, but no one loves these songs more than I do. The tune and lyrics are in the public domain unless otherwise noted. The recording © copyright 2013 by Stephen Griffith and may be used by permission of the copyright holder. The variation of the song I’m posting is the version I perform and is not exactly replicating the sources cited, but is always in the same song family. If anyone has more details about this song, or believes I’ve stated something in error, please let me know. I’m also open to suggestions to improve the site. Thanks. sgg

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