John Gilbert is the Boat

TITLE: John Gilbert is the Boat
AUTHOR: unknown
CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain
KEYWORDS: ship, travel, commerce
EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1939
HISTORICAL REFERENCES: “The John Gilbert ran from Cincinnati to Florence, Alabama. She was built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1881, and was named for Captain John Gilbert, of Evansville, Indiana, president of the Ohio and Tennessee River Packet Company.”

grandinA certain section through which this boat passed was known for its trade in peanuts. The John Gilbert was loaded with this product by the thousand pounds and the vessel was nicknamed by the rousters, “The Peanut John.” It is said that on one trip the John Gilbert carried the largest cargo of peanuts ever received in Cincinnati. All available space on the main deck,” boiler deck, and hurricane deck was used to store the cargo. Two thousand sacks of peanuts were taken on at Britt’s Landing, over five thousand more up the Tennessee at Sycamore, and another load at Johnsonville. 

On this last trip the John Gilbert struck it reef and grounded. The strong current swung her around and she broke in two. Tom Wall, from whose singing this song was taken down, had made many trips on the John Gilbert, but he left her before the disaster. When questioned about this, he said, “She wuz a purty boat an’ a fas’ boat, but I wouldn’t make no mo’ trips on her after I seen them bad luck tricks.” According to Uncle Tom, some props had fallen off at Jeffersonville, and a short time later three rats had jumped from the “nose uv the boat.” Pressed for his explanation of the ancient mystery of rats leaving the sinking ship, Wall said, “I don’t know, chile, a warnin’ frum the Lawd God, I reckon.” (from Steamboatin’ Days: Folk Songs of the River Packet Era by Mary Wheeler.)

OTHER TITLES AND VARIATIONS:

  • John Gilbert
  • John Gilbert is de Boat

RECORDINGS: (mp3’s available through Amazon.com)

YOUTUBE VIDEO: 

YOUTUBE AUDIO: download
LYRIC & CHORD PRO CHART: download
PPT LYRICS FOR THE CLASSROOM: download
BONUS YOUTUBE VIDEO: Peggy Seeger

John Gilbert Is The Boat

John Gilbert is a boat
Di-dee o, di-dee o
John Gilbert is a boat Di-dee o
Runnin’ in the Cincinnati trade

You see that boat a-comin’
She’s comin’ ’round the bend
Loaded down with cotton
She’s comin’ in again

John Gilbert is a boat
Di-dee o, di-dee o
John Gilbert is a boat Di-dee o
Runnin’ in the Cincinnati trade

She run peanuts and cotton
And then she run so many
Her men they run from her
Never get a penny

John Gilbert is a boat
Di-dee o, di-dee o
John Gilbert is a boat Di-dee o
Runnin’ in the Cincinnati trade

You see that boat a-comin’
She’s comin’ ’round the bend
Loaded to the bottom
With Louisiana men

John Gilbert is a boat
Di-dee o, di-dee o
John Gilbert is a boat Di-dee o
Runnin’ in the Cincinnati trade

John Gilbert is a boat
Di-dee o, di-dee o
John Gilbert is a boat Di-dee o
Runnin’ in the Cincinnati trade

SOURCES:

  • 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
  • Country Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music, Guthrie T. Meade, Jr. with Dick Spottswood and Douglas S. Meade, Southern Folklife Collection, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, NC 2002—Amazon Books

SONGBOOKS:

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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