The Three Butchers
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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This ballad is also known as Gibson, Wilson and Johnson. It was printed on black-letter and white-letter broadsides in the 17th century and is in both the Roxburghe and Pepys collections.

One copy in the Roxburghe collection is named The Three Worthy Butchers of the North. To a pleasant new Tune. The author is noted as Paul Burges. The chorus in this version is "God bless all true men that travel by Land and Sea, And keep all true men out of Thieves company!" The butchers' names are Kitson, Wilson and Johnson, and they are traveling through Blankly-lane. Kitson has traveled the road before and heard a woman scream. Though Kitson suspects thieves, Johnson presses ahead. After killing Johnson, the woman takes a club and "dashes the brains out of Kitson and Wilson," exclaiming they were cowards and should die like cowards. The thieves escape by taking ship at Yarmouth.*

Such and Catnach issued modern ballad-sheets named Ips, Gips, and Johnson, or the Three Butchers. The location is stated as Northumberland and Broadwood believes the story is genuine history. Another scholar believes Blakeney to be near Land's-end, at the mouth of the River Glaven, in Norfolk, where escape by Yarmouth would be natural.*

The tune for the broadsides is not noted and the words are sung to several distinct melodies. This version was collected by Lucy Broadwood in Sussex in 1893.

This ballad was also collected in North America as The Three Butchers or Dixon and Johnson. It was found in Vermont, North Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. In the Vermont version, The Three Jovial Huntsmen, all three men fight the bandits and Johnson pursues the woman and kills her.**

A story I will tell to you,
It is of butchers three:
Gibson, Wilson and Johnson,

Mark well what I do say;
Now as they had five hundred pounds,
All on a market day,
Now as they had five hundred pounds
To pay upon their way.
With my hey, ding, ding, with my ho, ding, ding,
With my high, ding, ding, high dey!
May God keep all good people from such bad company!


Now as they rode along the road
As fast as they could ride
Spur on your horses says Johnson,
For I hear a woman cry;
And, as they rode into the wood,
The scene they spied around,
And there they found a woman lay
A-swooning on the ground.
With my hey, ding, ding, with my ho, ding, ding,
With my high, ding, ding, high dey!
May God keep all good people from such bad company!


0 woman, woman! Johnson cries,
Oh pray, come tell to me,
0 woman, woman, Johnson cries,
Have you got any company?
Oh, no! no! no! the woman cries,
Alas! how can that be?
When here have been by ten swaggering blades
Who've robbed and beaten me!
With my hey, ding, ding, with my ho, ding, ding,
With my high, ding, ding, high dey!
May God keep all good people from such bad company!


Now Johnson, being a valiant man,
He bore a valiant mind,
He wropped her up in his great coat,
And placed her up behind.
And as they rode along the road,
As fast as they could ride,
She put her fingers to her ear
And gave a screekful cry.
With my hey, ding, ding, with my ho, ding, ding,
With my high, ding, ding, high dey!
May God keep all good people from such bad company!


With that, came out ten swaggering blades,
With their rapiers in their hand.
They rode up to bold Johnson,
And boldly bid him stand.
Oh, I cannot fight; says Gibson,
I am sure that I shall die!
No more won't I," cries Wilson,
For I will sooner fly!
With my hey, ding, ding, with my ho, ding, ding,
With my high, ding, ding, high dey!
May God keep all good people from such bad company!


Come on, come on! cries bold Johnson,
I'll fight you all so free!
And, woman, stand you here behind;
We'll gain the victory!
The very first pistol Johnson fires
Was loaded with powder and ball,
And, out of these ten swaggering blades
Five of them did fall.
With my hey, ding, ding, with my ho, ding, ding,
With my high, ding, ding, high dey!
May God keep all good people from such bad company!


Come on! come on!cries bold Johnson,
There are but five for me,
And, woman, stand you there behind;
We'll gain the victory!
The very next pistol Johnson fired
Was loaded with powder and ball,
And out of these five swaggering blades
There's three of them did fall.
With my hey, ding, ding, with my ho, ding, ding,
With my high, ding, ding, high dey!
May God keep all good people from such bad company!


Come on! come on! cries bold Johnson
There are but two to me,
And, woman, stand you there behind;
We'll gain the victory!
As Johnson fought these rogues in front,
The woman he did not mind
She took his knife all from his side
And stabbed him from behind.
With my hey, ding, ding, with my ho, ding, ding,
With my high, ding, ding, high dey!
May God keep all good people from such bad company!


Now I must fall says Johnson
I must fall to the ground!
For relieving this wicked woman
She gave me my death wound!
Oh! woman, woman, woman,
What have you been and done?
You have killed the finest butcher
That ever the sun shone on!
With my hey, ding, ding, with my ho, ding, ding,
With my high, ding, ding, high dey!
May God keep all good people from such bad company!


Now, just as she had done the deed
Some men came riding by,
And, seeing what this woman had done,
They raised a dreadful cry.
Then she was condemned to die in links,
And iron chains so strong,
For killing of bold Johnson,
That great and valiant man.
With my hey, ding, ding, with my ho, ding, ding,
With my high, ding, ding, high dey!
May God keep all good people from such bad company!


Related Links
From *English Traditional Songs and Carols and
**American Balladry from British Broadsides
See Bibliography for full information.