The Black Ball Line
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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Lyrics
This tune is a variant of Blow the Man Down, which originated in the Western Ocean sailing ships. The tune could have originated with German emigrants, but it is more likely derived from an African-American song Knock a Man Down. Blow the Man Down was originally a halyard shanty (see the article on see shanties for details).

The Black Ball Line was founded by a group of Quakers in 1818. It was the first line to take passengers on a regular basis, sailing from New York, Boston and Philadelphia on the first and sixteenth of each month. The Blackball flag was a crimson swallow-tail flag with a black ball.

The ships were famous for their fast passage and excellent seamanship. However, they were also famed for their fighting mates and the brutal treatment of seamen. (Western Ocean seamen were called "Packet Rats"). Many ships bore the name "bloodboat". Most of the seamen hailed from New York or were Liverpool-Irish.

By 1880 the sailing ships were being replaced by steamers and the packets entered other trades or were sold.

In the Black Ball Line I serv'd my time
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
In the Black Ball Line I serv'd my time
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

The Black Ball ships are good and true,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
They are the ships for me and you.
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

For once there was a Black Ball ship,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
That fourteen knots an hour could slip,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

Her yards were square, her gear all new,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
She had a good and gallant crew,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

One day whilst sailing on the sea,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
They saw a vessel on their lee,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

They knew it was a pirate craft,
All armed with guns before and aft,

She fired a shot across their bow,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
Which was not kind you must allow,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

They did not fear as you may think
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
But made the pirates water drink,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

They gave that vessel their sharp stem,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
And cut her through; more praise to them,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

They seized the pirates' wicked mate,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
He was so bad they broke his pate,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

The skipper and his wicked crew,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
They sunk beneath the waters blue,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

It was a plucky thing to do
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
To cut the Pirate vessel through,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

Then drink success to the Black Ball Line,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
Their ships are good, their men are fine.
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

In the Black Ball Line I served my time,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
In the Black Ball Line I served my time,
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
Related Links
Information From Shanties from the Seven Seas
Lyrics From Fifty Sailors' Songs or "Chanties"
See Bibliography for full information.