The schooner Bigler

The Bigler was supposed to have been one of the slowest ships on the Lakes - and this ballad commemorates one of her trips. Five variants are reproduced below. It is of the broadsheet style, and certainly not a shanty sung "at sea" - even taking into account that it's referring to fresh water sailors. Dozens of these were produced during the 19th century, and have little or no value as either poems or songs. Their only redeeming feature is as a cross check to historical research. It is normally sung in 2/4 time, B flat (occasionally C) and rather repetitious. Athough we have noted known copyright claims below, we believe that this ballad is properly traditional.

The term 'jubaju' (juberju, etc) used in this ballad is most probably (other explanations are welcomed) of African American origin, a juba being a frenetic dance, normally carried out to the point of exhaustion (listen to "American Folk Songs for Children", Rounder Records, 8001/8002/8003, LP (1977), cut 29; also "American Folk Songs for Children in Home, School and Nursery School", Ruth Crawford Seeger, Illustrated by Barbara Cooney, Doubleday NY, 1948). So the phrase quoted would refer to an exhilarating ride, movement taken to the limit, a wild run - something along those lines.

The vessel was possibly named for William Bigler, governor of Pennsylvania, was born in Shermansburg, Pennsylvania, in 1814, died in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, 9 August 1880.

The first version here

This is by Captain Asel Trueblood of Saint Ignace, Michigan - Archive of American Folksong, Library of Congress.

1. On the Sunday morning, just at the hour of ten,
When the tug Mico Robert towed the schooner Bigler, through Lake Michigan.
Oh, there we made our canvas in the middle of the fleet,
And the wind hauled to the south'ard, boys, so we had to give her sheet.

CHORUS: Watch her, catch her, jump up in her ju-baju,
Give her sheet and let her go, the lads will pull her through.
And don't you hear her howling when the wind was blowing free
On our down trip to Buffalo from Milwaukee.

2. The wind comes down from the south, southeast; it blows both stiff and strong,
You'd ought to've seen that little schooner Bigler as she pulled out Lake Michigan.
Oh, far beyond her foaming bows, the fiery lights aflame,
With every stitch of canvas and her course was wing and wing.

3. Passing by the Proctors the wind was blowing free,
Sailing by the Beavers with the Skillaglee on our lea;
Oh, we hauled her in full and bye as close as she would lie,
And we weathered Waugoshance to enter the Straits of Mackinaw.

4. At Huron we made Presque Isle Light and then we tore away,
The wind it being fair, for the Isle of Thunder Bay.
Then the wind it shifted and the night it came on dark,
The captain kept a sharp lookout for the light at Point aux Barques.

5. We passed the light and kept in sight of Michigan north shore,
A-boomin' for the river as we'd often done before.
When just abreast of Port Huron Light, both anchors we let go,
And the Sweepstake came 'longside and took the Bigler in tow.

6. She took the seven of us in tow, all of us fore and aft,
She towed us down to Lake St. Clare and stuck us on the flat.
Then eased the Hunter's tow line to give us all relief,
The Bigler fell astern and went into a boat called the Maple Leaf.

7. And then the Sweepstake towed us out beyond the river light,
Lake Erie for to roam and the blustering winds to fight.
The wind being from the south'ard, it blew a pretty gale,
And we took it as it came for we could not carry sail.

This next variant [1]

This was collected and arranged by Norman Luboff (born Chicago, 1917), who had a varied career, writing 80 or more scores for movies in the 1940's. He retired to London, then France. Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie picked his brains during the 1950's for whatever "shanties" he might have had. Note that the name becomes "Bigaler" and Milwaukee is sung Mi-ilwaukee, split "I"

1. Come all you boys and listen, a song I'll sing to you,
It's all about the Bigaler, and of her jolly crew.
In Milwaukee last October, I chanced to get a site
In the schooner called the Bigaler belonging to Detrite.

Refrain: Watch her, catch her, jump up in her juberju,
Give her sheet and let her go, we're the lads that can pull her through.
Oh don't you hear the howling of the winds a-blowing free
On our down trip to Buffalo from Milwaukee.

2. 'Twas on one Sunday morning just at the hour of ten
When the Nickle Roberts towed us into Lake Michigen
Oh there we made our canvass in the middle of the fleet,
Oh the win hauled to the southard and we had to give her sheet.

3. The wind came from the sou'sou'east, it blowed both stiff and strong,
You had orter seen the Bigaler as she plowed Lake Michigon.
Oh far beyond her foaming bows the fiery waves to fling,
With every stitch of canvas and her course was wing and wing.

4. We made Skilagilee and Wabbleshanks, the entrance to the straits,
And might have passed the whole fleet there if they'd hove to and wait,
But we drove them all before us the nicest you ever saw
Clear out into Lake Huron through the Straits of Mackinaw

5. We made the light and kept in sight of Michigan's east shore
A-booming for the river as we'd often done before.
And when abreast Port Huron Light, our anchor we let go;
The tug Kate Moffet came and took the Bigaler in tow.

6. Through Lake St. Clair they towed us till we got to the River Light,
Lake Erie for to wander, her blust'ring winds to fight.
Then the wind blew from the sou'west and our hearts began to glow
With the thought of all the good things waiting there in Buffalo.

The third variant

"The cruise of the Bigler", is reported to have been originally written out in 1875 by Aemilius Jarvis, long time Commodore of the R.C.Y.C., while he was a young man and a crew member of the Edward Blake, a timber drougher sailed by the Great Grandfather of the present Lt. Governor, Hal Jackman.

1. Now, my boys, if you will listen, I'll sing you a little song
So sit down a while here, I'll not detain you long.
At Milwaukee in October I chanced to get a "site"
On the timber drougher Bigler, belonging to Detroit.

Chorus: Oh! Watch her! Catch her! Jump up on her ju-ba-ju!
Oh, give her sheet and let her boil, the boys'll put her through.
You ought to see her boiling, boys, the wind being fresh and free,
On our passage down to Buffalo from Milwaukee-ee-ee.

2. It was on a Sunday morning, about the hour of ten,
The Robert Emmett towed us into Lake Michigan.
We set sail where she left us in, the middle of the fleet,
The wind was from the southward, and we had to give her sheet.

3. But by the night the wind came down and blew both stiff and strong,
And swiftly through Lake Michigan the Bigler ploughed along.
And far before her bows, boys, the foaming waves did fling.
With every stich of canvas set and her courses wing on wing.

4. But the wind it came ahead before we reached the Manitous,
And two-and-a-half a day, Sirs, just suited the Bigler's crew.
From these until the Beavers we steered her full-and-bye,
We kept her to the wind my boys as close as she could lie.

5. At Skillogalee and Wadgochance, the entrance to the straight,
We might have passed the whole fleet if they'd hove to and wait,
But we drove them all before us, the prettiest ever you saw
Right out into Lake Huron through the straits of Mackinaw

6. In Huron Lake we passed Presqu'ile and then we hove away
The wind being fair, we soon flew by the isle of Thunder Bay
But the wind made us close haul her upon her starboard tack
And with a good lookout, we made for the light of Port aux Barques.

7. We made the light and kept inside by Michigan's east shore,
Abooming for the river as we'd oft done before;
Abreast Port Huron Light, my boys, both anchors we let go.
And the Sweepstakes came along and took the Bigler in tow.

8. The Sweepstakes took us eight in tow all of us Fore and Aft,.
She towed us down Lake St.Clair and struck us on the flats.
The I eased her tow line to give us some relief,
And Bigler went astern and smashed right into Maple Leaf.

9. And then the Sweepstakes left us, outside the river light,
To roam the broad Lake Erie and the blustering winds to fight.
The wind being fresh and free my boys we paddled our own canoe,
And pointed her nose for the Dummy on the way to Buffalo.

10. We made the Eau, flew by Long Point, the wind being fresh and free,
And down the Canada shore we humped, Port Colbourne on our lee.
What's that looms up ahead, my boys we knew as we drew near,
For like a blazing star shone out the light on Buffalo pier.

11. Ah! now my boys we are safe in Buffalo creek at last
And under Reed's big storehouse the Bigler she's made fast;
And in Tom Guest's saloon, boys, we'll let the bottle pass,
For we are jolly shipmates, and we'll take a social glass.

12. We soon received our stamps, my boys, from our skipper, Cal McKee,
And with our dunnage jumped ashore to go off on a spree.
For Garson's then we started and got there when we chose,
And the boys they rigged us out again in a splendid suit of clothes.

13. Oh! now my song is ended and I hope it pleases you,
Let's drink to the old Bigler her officers and crew,
I hope she'll sail till Kingdom Come in command of Cal McKee,
Between the port of Buffalo and Milwaukee-ee-ee.


The fourth variant [2]

This is as sung by Jerry Silverman - some verses are very similar to the first version above:

1. Come all my boys and listen, a song I'll sing to you,
It's all about the Bigler, and of her jolly crew.
In Milwaukee last October, we chanced to get a sight
In the schooner called the Bigaler belonging to Detrite.

Refrain: Watch her, catch her, jump up in her juberju,
Give her the sheet and let her go, we're the lads can pull her through.
Oh don't you hear us howling? O, the wind is blowing free,
On our down trip to Buffalo from Milwaukee.

2. It was on one Sunday morning, just at the hour of ten,
When the Nickle Roberts towed the Bigler into Lake Michigan.
0 there we made our canvas in the middle of the fleet,
0 the wind hauled to the south'ard, boys, and we had to give her sheet. Chorus

3. The wind come down from the sou' sou'-west, it blowed both stiff and strong,
You had orter seen the Bigler, as she plowed Lake Michigan,
0 far beyant her foaming bows the fiery waves to fling,
With every stitch of canvas and her course was sing and wing. Chorus

4. We made Beaver Head Light and Wabbleshanks, the entrance to the straits,
And might have passed the whole fleet there, if they'd hove to and wait,
But we drove them all before us the nicest you ever saw,
Clear out into Lake Huron through the Straits of Mackinaw. Chorus

5. First, Forty Mile Point and Presque Isle Light, and then we boomed away,
The wind being fresh and fair, for the Isle of Thunder Bay;
The wind it shifted to a close haul, all on the starboard tack,
With a good lookout ahead we made for Point Aubarques. Chorus

6. We made the Light and kept in sight of Michigan's cast shore
A-booming for the river as we'd often done before,
And when abreast Port Huron Light, our small anchor we let go,
The tug Kate Moffet came along and took the Bigler in tow. Chorus

7. The Moffet took six schooners in tow, and all of us fore and aft,
She took us down to Lake Saint Claire and stuck us on the flat,
She parted the Hunter's towline in trying to give relief,
And stem to stem went the Bigler, smash into the Mapleleaf. Chorus

8. Then she towed us through and left us outside the river light,
Lake Erie for to wander and the blustering winds to fight,
The wind was from the sou'west, and we paddled our own canoe,
Her jib boom pointed the Dummy, she's hellbent for Buffalo. Chorus

The fifth version

This one - of unsure origins - is fairly similar except for the last verse.

On the Sunday morning, just at the hour of ten,
When the tug Mico Robert towed the schooner Bigler, through Lake Michigan.
O, there we made our canvas in the middle of the fleet,
And the wind hauled to the south'ard, boys, so we had to give her sheet.


Watch her, catch her, jump in her ju-baju,
Ggive her sheet and let her go, the lads will pull her through.
And don't you hear her howling when the wind was blowing free
On our down trip to Buffalo from Milwaukee.

2. The wind comes down from the south southeast; it blows both stiff and strong,
You'd ought to've seen that little schooner Bigler as she pulled out Lake Michigan.
O, far beyond her foaming bows, the fiery lights aflame,
With every stitch of canvas and her course was wing and wing.

3. Passing by the Proctors the wind was blowing free,
Sailing by the Beavers with the Skillaglee on our lea,
O, we hauled her in full and bye as close as she would lie,
And we weathered Waugoshance to enter the Straits of Mackinaw.

4. At Huron we made Presque Isle Light and then we tore away,
The wind it being fair, for the Isle of Thunder Bay.
Then the wind it shifted and the night it came on dark,
The captain kept a sharp lookout for the light at Point aux Barques.

5. We passed the light and kept in sight of Michigan north shore,
A-boomin' for the river as we'd often done before,
When just abreast of Port Huron Light, both anchors we let go,
And the Sweepstake came 'longside and took the Bigler in tow

6. She took the seven of us in tow, all of us fore and aft,
She towed us down to Lake St. Clare and stuck us on the flat.
Then eased the Hunter's tow line to give us all relief,
The Bigler fell astern and went into a boat called the Maple Leaf.

7. And then the Sweepstake towed us out beyond the river light,
Lake Erie for to roam and the blustering winds to fight,
The wind being from the south'ard, it blew a pretty gale,
And we took it as it came for we could not carry sail.

8. We made the Eau and passed Long Point, the wind now blowing free,
We bowled along the Canada shore, Port Colborne on our lee,
What is that that looms ahead? We knew as we drew near,
That blazing like a star, shone the light on Buffalo Pier.

9. And now we're safely moored in the Buffalo Creek at last,
And under Brigg's elevator the Bigler is made fast.
And in some lager beer saloon we'll let the bottle pass,
For we're all happy shipmates and we like a social glass.

[1] This version might have been copyright 1965, Walton Music Corporation, New York City - but we can find no trace. [back]

[2] This variant has had copyrght claimed by Mel Bay Publications, 1992 [back]