Follow the Drinking Gourd: Home Page

 

Follow the Drinking Gourd:
A Cultural History

<BACK

What the Lyrics Mean Notes

(1) Marking Trees

There are at least two other accounts of Underground Railroad operatives marking trees to aid escaping slaves. The first is from an unpublished account by Addison Coffin, cousin of the well-known abolitionist Levi Coffin:

From the starting point in North Carolina to the great turnpike in Virginia the Underground Railroad was built, constructed, or marked, as we call it, by driving nails in trees, fences, and stumps. [emphasis in the original.] Where there was a fork in the road there was a nail driven in a tree three and half feet from the ground half way round from front to back, if the right hand road was to be taken the nail was driven on the right hand side, if the left was the road the nail was to the left. If there were fences and no tree, the nail was driven in the middle of the second rail from the top, over on the inside of the fence, to the right, or left as in the trees...When a fugitive started on the road they were instructed into the mystery,  [emphasis in the original.] when they came to a fork in the road, they would go to the nearest tree put their arms round and rub downwards, which ever arm struck the nail, right or left, that was the road, and they walked right on with no mistake...

Addison Coffin, Early Settlement of Friends in North Carolina: Traditions and Reminiscences, North Carolina Friends Historical Society, 1952 (unpublished typescript, Friends Historical Collection, Guilford College) p. 123.

Operatives also tied ribbons to trees and broke branches to deliver coded messages, according to J. Blaine Hudson, Fugitive Slaves and the Underground Railroad in the Kentucky Borderland, (p. 64.)

In contrast with nails and ribbons, using charcoal or mud as described in the Parks article seems a relatively impermanent way to mark trees.

(2) Lines from the Woodum Version

Sinner You Better Get Ready
Traditional gospel tune (excerpt)

Well, I thought I heard the angels say,
"The time's a-comin' when the sinner must die
so you better get down on your knees and pray"
The time's a-comin' when the sinner must die
Sinner, you better get ready
O, you better get ready, halleluia
Sinner, you better get ready
The time's a-comin' when the sinner must die

Source

(3) Lines from the Woodum Version

A Possible Variant of Run, Nigger, Run
Anonymous

Stars gonna show you the way,
Stars gonna show you the way,
It's run, nigger, run,
When the paddy rollers come,
Stars gonna show you the way.

Source


Parks Lyrics

VERSE 1
When the sun come back,
When the firs' quail call,
Then the time is come
Foller the drinkin' gou'd.

CHORUS
Foller the drinkin' gou'd,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd;
For the ole man say,
"Foller the drinkin' gou'd."

VERSE 2
The riva's bank am a very good road,
The dead trees show the way,
Lef' foot, peg foot goin' on,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd.

CHORUS

VERSE 3
The riva ends a-tween two hills,
Foller the drinkin' gou'd;
'Nuther riva on the other side
Follers the drinkin' gou'd.

CHORUS

VERSE 4
Wha the little riva
Meet the grea' big un,
The ole man waits--
Foller the drinkin' gou'd.

Hays Lyrics

VERSE 1
When the sun comes back,
and the first quail calls,
Follow the drinking gourd
The old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom
If you follow the drinking gourd.

CHORUS

Follow the drinking gourd,
Follow the drinking gourd,
For the old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom
If you follow the drinking gourd.

VERSE 2
The river bank will make a mighty good road
The dead trees show you the way
Left foot, peg foot, traveling on
Follow the drinking gourd.

CHORUS

VERSE 3
The river ends between two hills,
Follow the drinking gourd,
There's another river on the other side,
Follow the drinking gourd.

CHORUS

VERSE 4

Where the great big river meets the little river
Follow the drinking gourd
The old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom
If you follow the drinking gourd.

Woodum Lyrics

VERSE 1
When the sun goes down
And the first quail call
Follow the drinkin' gourd
Then it's time, children
to come one and all and
Follow the drinkin' gourd

CHORUS
Follow the drinkin' gourd,
Follow the drinkin' gourd
There's a roadsign in heaven
On that muddy path to freedom
Follow the drinkin' gourd

VERSE 2
Pegfoot gonna show you the way
Follow the drinkin' gourd
Keep on movin' the Old Man say
Follow the drinkin' gourd

CHORUS

VERSE 3
Think I hear the angels say
Follow the drinkin' gourd
Stars in the heaven gonna show you the way
Follow the drinkin' gourd.

CHORUS

Sparks Lyrics

CHORUS 1
Follow the drinkin' gourd, we gonna
Follow the drinkin' gourd.
Oo-oo-oo-waa,
Follow the drinkin' gourd

VERSE 1
Think I heard the angels say,
Follow the drinkin' gourd.
Stars in the heaven gonna show you the way,
Follow the drinkin' gourd.

Step by step keep a'travelin' on
Follow the drinkin' gourd.
Sleep in the holler 'til the daylight is gone,
Follow the drinkin' gourd

CHORUS 2
Follow the drinkin' gourd, we gonna
Follow the drinkin' gourd.
Keep on travelin' that muddy road to freedom,
Follow the drinkin' gourd.

VERSE 2
There's a good day comin' and it won't be long,
Follow the drinkin' gourd.
All God's children gotta sing this song,
Follow the drinkin' gourd.

Follow that river 'til the clouds roll by,
Follow the drinkin' gourd.
Keep on movin' better look to the sky,
Follow the drinkin' gourd.

CHORUS 3
Follow the drinkin' gourd, we gonna
Follow the drinkin' gourd.
There's a little bit of heaven in that muddy road to freedom,
Follow the drinkin' gourd.
Step by step keep a'travelin' on,
Follow the drinkin' gourd.
 

Follow the Drinking Gourd: Home Page

 

Copyright 2008 - 2012, Joel Bresler.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

<BACK