Song or Story
Events took place in Berlin, NH; recorded in Blackville, New Brunswick
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“Benjamin Deane” is a classic example of a confessional ballad, with a man in prison lamenting how he came to be there: bootlegging, adultery, and murder.
1. You people all, both great and small, These few lines penned by me, ‘Tis of a man and he is now Deprived of his good liberty; Shut up in court’s consignment For deeds that he has done, And here I fear he must remain ‘Til his race on earth is run.
2. My name it is Benjamin Deane, My age is forty-one, I was born in New Brunswick Near the city of St. John, Close by the Bay of Fundy, Where the sea gulls loud do call As they rock with pride on the silvery tide As the billows rise and fall.
3. I was raised by honest parents, Brought up in the fear of God, But they have long been slumbering Beneath that native sod; Side by side they’re slumbering In that quiet cemetery, As the willows weep before the breeze Way off the deep blue sea.
[4. Farewell unto my native home, I ne'er will see it more, No more I'll watch the billows break Upon it's rock bound shore, No more I'll watch those ships go by With sails as white as snow, Bound for some port far o'er the sea Before the winds that blow.]
5. When I arrived in Berlin Falls Just twenty years ago, Berlin was not near as large What that it is now, Men of every nationality They were working there, For work was plenty, wages good, And each man got his share.
6. The businessmen of Berlin Were making money fast, I thought that I would invest Before the boom had passed. Buildings bought on German street And into business went, I ran a fruit and candy store, Likewise a restaurant.
7. My business proved successful, I did the right by all, Gained the favors of the rich, Likewise, the great, the small. To my surprise before a year Had fully rolled around, In glittering gold did I possess ‘Twas near two thousand pounds.
8. The coming year I wed with one, The fairest of the fair; Her eyes were of a heavenly blue, And dark brown was her hair, Her cheeks were like the early rose, Her form graceful and fair, Her step was like the early light, Her breath was light as air.
9. I own I loved this fair young bride, She proved a prudent wife, Little did she ever think Someday I’d take her life; The day I gained her promise, Her hand to me she gave, It would’ve been better far for her Had she went to her grave.
10. She was raised by honest parents, And raised most tenderly, But little did they ever think That she’d be slain by me. As the years rolled swiftly by, Down on the heels of time, I found the fields of pleasure And to the fields of crime.
11. ‘Twas then I began my wild career, All for the thirst for gold, My business up on German street For a goodly price I sold. Buildings bought on Main street I paid a handsome sum, And ran a free and easy house Went right to selling rum.
12. My former friends of high degree My company did shun, But still I was contented in This life that I’d begun; Gold and silver like a brook Came flowing in to me, By glitters I was blinded And the danger could not see.
13. My wife she often told me My steps I should retrace, She said, “Dear Ben, this path you trod Leads to death and disgrace.” Had I her warning heeded I would not be here now, And she might too be living With no stain upon her brow.
[14. I soon began to associate With men of low degree, My business kept me constantly In their base company. I quickly went from bad to worse, Did many a deed of crime That never will be brought to light In future years of time.
15. Kind fortune that had been my friend Began to frown on me; 'Twas then my eyes were opened, I could see my destiny. Black clouds were gathering o'er me, That with fury soon would break, I faint then would retrace my steps, But, ah, alas, too late.
16. All I possessed in real estate To my wife it was made Over in legal writing When kind fortune's smile did fade. But her regard and love for me Did gradually grow cold When she found my heart and soul Were bound with glittering gold.
17. The storm it came; the house I built Upon the sands did fall, With it my name, my wife and children, Ill got wealth and all. And on the verge of deep despair I saw them drift from me Upon the tide of justice Towards the sea eternity.
18. Then under forty thousand Dollar bonds I soon was placed, To respect the laws of man That I had long disgraced. And then to add unto my many Troubles that had come Were four indictments that appeared For selling beer and rum.
19. My fair wife she had fled to one Whose name I will not write, Whose character was blacker Than the darkest hours of night. To persuade her to return to me It was my whole intent, Unto the house where she then dwelt My steps I quickly bent.]
20. I carefully approached my house And opened the hall door, Made my way to my wife’s room ‘Twas on the upper floor. The very fiends of hell it seemed Were stamped upon my mind, For on the bosom of a man My fair one’s head reclined.
21. I drew a loaded pistol And I aimed it at her breast, When she saw the weapon It was loudly she did cry, “For God’s sake, do not shoot me, Ben, I am not fit to die.”
22. I heeded not her warning, In a moment she was dead; “For God’s sake, Ben, you shot me!” Was the last words she ever said. The trigger of my pistol, It moved too quick or slow, Or another soul would have passed that day Unto the fields of woe.
23. The last time that I saw my wife She was laying on the floor, Her long and wavy dark brown hair Stained with the crimson gore. The sun shone through the windows Upon her clay, cold face, As the officers led me away From that polluted place.
24. I have two daughters living, They’re orphans in a way, And should you chance to meet them Treat them kindly I pray. Don’t chide them for this crime I’ve done, For on them it will rest In future years long after when I am moldering back to dust.
25. Now come all young men, a warning take From this sad tale of mine, Don’t sacrifice your life For the gold and silver kind. Let truth and honor be your guide, Oh, you’ll success to climb, Success the ladder to the top And don’t a stain like mine.
Chester Price, Sandy Ives, Berlin, New Hampshire, Blackville, New Brunswick, Joe Scott, murder, adultery, Benjamin Deane, Mary Elizabeth Blodgett, woodsmen, lumberwoods, ballad, Androscoggin River, Jack Garland, pulp mills, boardinghouse, Roud, Laws
Ives, Edward D. Joe Scott: The Woodsman-Songmaker. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978, 228-66; & Laws, G. Malcolm, Jr. Native American Balladry. Revised Edition. American Folklore Society, Bibliographical and Special Series, 1. Philadelphia: American Folklore Society, 1964, 207 (F32).
Ethnomusicology | Folklore | Oral History
Price, Chester. 1961. “Benjamin Deane.” NA1.103, CD142.5. Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History, Raymond H. Fogler Special Collections Department, University of Maine.