The Bonny Lighter Boy
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

Variants of this tune are found in England, Ireland and Canada. It is also known as The Disguised Sailor, The Rich Merchant's Daughter and Jolly Young Sailor Boy.

The variant My Darling Ploughman Boy, has only slight variations from this melody, but concerns a ploughman rather than sailor. It was popular in north-east Scotland.

This is apparently a fragment of a longer ballad where the girl dons men's clothing and follows her lover. They end up as bunkmates. She reveals her identity. They eventually return home and wed when her father dies.

The longer ballad is related to Jackaroe and is similar to The Valiant Lady.

Lighter Boy could be a corruption of the term "letter boy". The King's letter boys were the earliest form of naval cadet in the Royal Navy. The term was used from 1676 to 1731. For more information see the link to the Royal Navy below and look up "Letter" in Covey Crump.

It's of a brisk young sailor lad,
And he a prentice bound;
And she a merchant's daughter,
With fifty thousand pound
They loved each other dearly,
In sorrow and in joy;
Let him go where he will,
he's my love still,
He's my bonny lighter boy.

'Twas in my father's garden,
Beneath the willow tree,
He took me up all in his arms,
And kiss'd me tenderly
Down on the ground we both sat down,
And talk'd of love and joy;
Let him say what he will,
he's my love still,
He's my bonny lighter boy.

Her father, being near her,
He heard what she did say
He cried: Unruly daughter,
I'll send him far away;
On board a ship I'll have him press'd,
I'll rob you of your joy:
Send him where you will,
he's my love still,
He's my bonny lighter boy.
Related Links
From One Hundred English Folksongs
See Bibliography for full information.