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Gum-Tree Canoe

Discussion in 'Birchbarks, Dugouts and Primitive Craft' started by William Kerrigan, Apr 21, 2014.

  1. William Kerrigan

    William Kerrigan New Member

    There is an old minstrel song from the 1840s about a "Gum-Tree Canoe." I am curious to know what exactly the "Gum-Tree canoe" was made of, and what the reference might have signified at the time it was written. Did southerners make dugout canoes out of the indigenous sweet-gum tree? I believe spruce gum is traditionally used in making some bark canoe, so I was wondering if the "gum" could be referring to sap resins used in constructing bark canoes in the American South. Any thoughts you have on this subject are greatly appreciated.

    William Kerrigan
  2. Jan Bloom

    Jan Bloom LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Black Gum aka Black Tupelo. Fine grained and at one time frequently used for dug out canoes. Grows from New England to Florida and west through the Great Lakes in the native range and these day probably all over. Another frequent tree used for dugouts is Tulip aka Yellow Poplar. The name,"yellow Poplar" is misleading as Tulip is in the Magnolia family.
  3. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    That's an interesting bit of information, Jan... Thank you!
  4. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    Yes, thanks Jan. Very interesting!
  5. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    if you don't know the song, for a good performance see:

    Gum Tree Canoe was published in 1847 in the book Plantation Melodies. The song is part of the blackface minstrel tradition in which performers (generally white) sang and danced in purported imitation of the music and dances of African Americans. The cover of the book indicates "Words by S.S. Steele, Esq. as sung by A.F. Winnemore and his band of Virginia Serenaders; Arranged for the Piano Forte by A. F. Winnemore."
    Lyrics to Gum Tree Canoe

    Gum Tree Canoe


    Singing row away, row o'er the waters so blue
    Like a feather we'll float in my Gum Tree Canoe
    Singing row away, row o'er the waters so blue
    Like a feather we'll float in my Gum Tree Canoe


    On the Tombigbee river so bright I was born
    In a hut made of husks of the tall yellow corn
    It was there I first met with my Julia so true
    And I rowed her about in my Gum Tree Canoe


    All day in the fields of soft cotton I'd hoe
    I think of my Julia and sing as I go
    Oh, I catch her a bird with a wing of true blue
    And at night sail her ‘round in my Gum Tree Canoe


    With my hands on the banjo and toe on the oar
    I sing to the sound of the river's soft roar
    While the stars they look down on my Julia so true
    And dance in her eyes in my Gum Tree Canoe


    One night the stream bore us so far away
    That we couldn't come back, so we thought we'd just stay
    Oh, we spied a tall ship with a flag of true blue
    And it took us in tow in our Gum Tree Canoe

  6. Jan Bloom

    Jan Bloom LOVES Wooden Canoes

    John Hartford was truly a great fiddle and banjo player that I met and spent an hour or so with once. But his version of Gumtree Canoe is a very modern arrangement done ala bluegrass style banjo. Minstrel style banjo aka stroke style banjo is very different.
  7. H.E. Pennypacker

    H.E. Pennypacker LOVES Wooden Canoes

    You can see all of this (verbatim) and much more at the website of Ballad of America, a project by Matthew Sabatella and the Rambling String Band, dedicated to preserving and promoting folk music. Cool stuff; it's worth checking out:
  8. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    Thanks for all the information in this very interesting thread. An important part of the history of the canoe includes the music it has inspired... and the ways in which that music has been used.

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