Bruce Macartney RIP

Sad to say we lost Bruce this morning.  Don’t know how to process it.  It was a great pleasure making music with him, and he will be sorely missed.


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Tall Ship Celebration!

The Bay City Tall Ship Celebration 2019 is this weekend.  I’ve spent all day watching the tall ships come up the St Clair River on the Marine City Ship Cam.  Whisky and Water is not officially playing the Maritime Music Festival this year, but most of us will be around for most of it, no doubt instruments in tow, and there should be loads of good music.

In the meantime, here’s a recording of us from the last (2016) Tall Ship Celebration.

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150 Years Ago Today…

… the Persian collided with the E.B. Allen — September 16th, 1868.  The E.B. Allen survived to report the crash, but the Persian went down with all hands lost.  A few years later, Patrick Fennell wrote a poem, “The Loss of the Schooner Persian on Lake Huron”, which, when set to an old tune, became one of the most popular songs found on ships and in lumber camps on the Great Lakes.

I only realized early this month that this was the big anniversary.  I hoped to get Whisky and Water into one of our home studios to record it, but we were all too busy to find a time.  But I did get our Randy Bunting to sing it at the session, and the lovely Jennifer Foster videoed (most) of it.


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Loss of the Schooner “Persian,” On Lake Huron

Norm Cohen credited “The Persian’s Crew” to Patrick Fennell.  Thanks to the magic of the Internet, we have a scanned copy of Patrick’s 1886 book containing the poem (page 145).  If Cohen is right, this is a version of the song from its original author.


Sad and dismal is the tale,
Which I’ll relate to you,
About the schooner Persian,
Her officers and crew,
Who sank beneath the stormy deep,
To rise in life no more ;
Where winds with desolation sweep.
Lake Huron’s rock-bound shore.

They left Chicago on their lee,
Their singing did resound ;
All hearts were full of joyous glee.
As homeward they were bound ;
They little thought the monster, Death,
Was lurking in the deep,
And they, so full of life and hope.
Should in the waters sleep.

In mystery their doom is sealed,
They did collide some say,
And that is all will be revealed
Until the judgment day ;
When the angel takes his stand,
To wake the waters blue,
And summon forth, by heaven’s command,
The ill-starr’d Persian’s crew.

No mother’s hand was there to press
The brow’s distracting pain ;
No gentle wife, with kind caress,
To soothe the aching brain ;
No lover there, no sister nigh,
Nor little ones to weep ;
In wat’ry graves henceforth they’ll lie,
Beneath the stormy deep.

Her gallant captain is no more,
He fills a seaman’s grave ;
Beneath the deep, off Huron’s shore,
Where wind-tossed waters rave ;
Unknown the spot, and hid from view
His manly, lifeless form ;
And stilled in death the tar so true.
Who weathered many a storm.

Daniel Sullivan, her mate,
A tar as bold and brave,
As ever was compelled by fate,
To fill a sailor’s grave ;
He will be weeped for as a friend,
Alas! his days are o’er,
He met a sad, untimely end,
Near Huron’s rock-bound shore.

Oh, Dan, your many friends will mourn
That fate did on you frown ;
We’ll look in vain for your return,
To your adopted town ;
We’ll miss the love-glance of your eye,
Your hand we’ll press no more,
For stilled in death, old friend, you lie
Near Huron’s rock-bound shore.

Her sailors’ names we did not know,
Excepting one or two ;
Down in the deep they all did go,
They were a luckless crew.
Oh, not a man escaped to land,
To clear the mystery o’er.
Until they drift, by heaven’s command,
In lifeless form ashore.

Around Presque-Isle, the sea-birds scream
In mournful notes along ;
They’re chaunting forth the requiem,
The dismal funeral song ;
They skim along the waters blue,
And then aloft they soar,
In memory of the Persian’s crew,
Near Huron’s stormy shore.

Why the tentativeness about identifying this text as the original? This book was published by Fennell in 1886, 18 years after the Persian went down.  He speaks of the pen-name “Shandy Maguire”, and implies that the poem was published under that name originally.  Since he is publishing it under his own name in this book, it would seem to suggest there is an earlier published text for this poem.  And of course, without tracking down that earlier publication, it’s impossible to say if this is his original text or not.  Still, if Cohen is right, this is a version of the poem published by its author.

Incidentally, Windjammers suggests this book came out after the Buffalo Express published an uncredited version on March 9th, 1887.  They suggest that was before this book, but if the date on this book is accurate, the book came out the year before the newspaper article.

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The Persian’s Crew

This one we added to our repertoire this summer.  Interestingly, the song speaks of the mystery of what happened to the Persian, and articles about the song indicate there is a mystery about what ship the song is actually about, but I think that both mysteries have been solved.

The schooner Persian (1855) has the right name, sailed from Oswego, and went down in Lake Huron on September 16th 1868.  She was even near Presque Isle, also mentioned in the song.  This seems like a pretty solid identification, though I bet more research can be done to shore it up.  (Newspaper clippings from Oswego?  Genealogical records of the two men we suspect were on the ship — Captain John Long (mentioned in newspaper reports on the wreck in the Chicago and Detroit papers) and Daniel Sullivan (mentioned in the song)?)

At any rate, the fate of that Persian is definitely known.  She was in a collision with the E.B. Allen, last seen heading for shore, but she never made it.  Her wreck was found in 1991:


There are even tantalizing hints that a movie may have been made about finding the wreck, but I’ve not been able to track that down yet.

Edited to add: I should make it perfectly clear that I’m not the first person to espouse this theory on the Persian.  Several of the sources I consulted cite Norm Cohen as having this same theory, citing an article in December 1969 New York Folklore Quarterly he wrote.  I’ve not yet seen the full article, so I don’t know what his evidence was.

After trying a bit of research on Captain Long and Dan Sullivan and coming up empty-handed, I decided to see if I could learn anything about the Patrick Fennel some sources allege to be the song’s author.  Doing so I found an 1886 book of poetry by Fennel which includes “The Persian’s Crew” as “Loss of the Schooner ‘Persian,’ on Lake Huron.”

PS After I wrote this, Jen found an interesting note in the October 17th, 1868 Detroit Free press:

THE BODY OF A SAILOR FOUND. — A day or two since Capt. Nicholson, of the propeller Montgomery, picked up the body of a sailor in Lake Huron, not far distant from False Presque Isle, which, without a doubt, was one of the lost crew from the schooner Persian, which went down in that locality.  It was decently interred at Presque Isle, where further information may be obtained; also from Capt. Nicholson.




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Red Iron Ore

We don’t sing this one (yet, I’ve been trying to convince the others for a while now), but I randomly decided to research the ships involved this morning, and I want to preserve my notes on it somewhere, and this seemed like a pretty good place.

I think we can say with some confidence that the E.C. Roberts is this ship — — the 1856 one mentioned in Walton et al.  According to the database she was owned by one H. Rumage from 1866 through 1873.  Given that some versions of the song speak of “Captain Harve Rummage” and that time period overlaps nicely with the periods of service of the Escanaba, Kate Williams, and Exile (not to mention 3 Minches), it would be a fantastic coincidence if the song were about some other E.C. Roberts.
The other ships:
The Minch is harder.  I’m guessing it’s
    Schooner Charles P. Minch
But based on the other dates I’m working with, it could conceivably be
    Schooner Anne S. Minch
    Schooner Sophia Minch
as they were both built in 1873, the last year H. Rumage was owner of the Roberts.  (Though if the song was written at a time there were three Minches sailing out of Cleveland, it would be a bit odd to not be more specific naming her.)
The Exile was built in 1867, so combining that with the time H. Rumage was an owner gives us 1867-1873 as the time period for the events of the song.  I don’t see any obvious way to narrow it down further, but I know a very good reference librarian who might have some other ideas.
Oh!  It just occurred to me, the 1866 owner is listed as “Rumage & Anderson”.  I’ve been assuming that was the same Rumage as “H. Rumage”, but there was also a Solon Rummage active in Cleveland shipping.  If that’s the Rumage of Rumage & Anderson, then we’d have narrowed down the possible timeline to 1871-1873.  But that’s pure speculation.
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Bay City Tall Ships Celebration

This year the Tall Ships Celebration is back in Bay City, July 14-17 (2016), and Whisky and Water is playing three sets.  In addition, our various members will be appearing with other configurations of musicians.  And there will be tall ships, pirates, and Vikings.  Should be a fantastic weekend.


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Whisky and Water at the Great Lakes Gathering

Whisky and Water are playing at the Great Lakes Gathering in Saginaw, Michigan, at noon on August 22nd. Here’s our latest band picture, taken last night at rehearsal.

Whisky and Water

Here’s a set of tunes from the rehearsal, “Da Scalloway Lasses / Da Underhill”.

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Whisky and Water Session Group at the Great Lakes Gathering


Photo by Will Westerfield.

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Great Lakes Gathering

So, despite the spelling difference, the “Whiskey and Water Seisiun Band” playing the Great Lakes Gathering is us: Jerry, Bruce, Sol, Andy, and Randy. We’re on at noon on Saturday.

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