The Maid of Amsterdam

The Maid of Amsterdam

"Amsterdam," sometimes named "A-rovin'" in books of song, is a capstan chanty. I prefer the title I have used; for, in its two sonorous syllables linked by a sibilant third, it is expressive of the labouring feet of the seamen stamping a round. It is obviously a longshore song adapted by the seaman to fit his own circumstance. I have seen it in a Collection of College Songs under the title of "Nancy Dawson," and Captain W. B. Whall in his excellent Sea Songs and Shanties mentions that a version appears in Thomas Haywood's Rape of Lucrece, which would place it as of an early date - about 1640. In its entirety, it is quite unprintable: Jack would omit no detail of his amorous adventure. Admittedly, I have paraphrased his frank confession, but the plain tail of it is understandable. Paid off in a continental port after a long sea voyage, the hardly-earned dollars in his pocket raking at the touch of his hand, what more natural than that he should seek a companion with whom to spend them? He would be in happy physical condition: the rigours of his deep-sea employment, the enforced abstinence from the indulgences of a longshoreman, the sparse diet aboard ship, would make him a king among pitiful shore dwellers, a prince over dyspeptic shipowners. Not a care in the world! Money in his pocket and, when that was done, why "let 'er go, boys; there are more ships than parish churches anyway." So hands a-pocket, no man his master, he steps jauntily down the Sckipper Strass to his adventure.

-David Bone, Capstan Bars



Back