Submitted by Joel Mabus

“The Golden Willow Tree” is a ballad with many names – often called The Golden Vanity. Sometimes shelved as a “Child Ballad,” it has been around since the days of Sir Walter Raleigh, whose exploits the earliest versions expound. Aaron Copland once turned it into a fancy high-art piece, but in earthier editions it is still a favorite with traditional balladeers.

I crafted my own version from several I have heard, notably those from Arkansas. But I have stitched in a few verses of my own to expedite the narrative and let my own words tell the story. Another instance of nothing new under the sun, the duplicitous captain and his venal crew are the very picture of Wall Street scoundrels.

Here is a good website that has links to recordings of Arkansas source singers with four variants with various titles.

Listen to Joel singing “The Golden Willow Tree:”

Music and lyrics for "The Golden Willow Tree"
Download a PDF of the sheet music and lyrics for “The Golden Willow Tree.”


There was a little ship a-sailin’ on the sea
(O the low the lonesome low)
There was a little ship a-sailin’ on the sea
and the name of the ship was the Golden Willow Tree
(Sailin’ on the lonesome lonesome low,
sailin’ on the lonesome sea)

They hadn’t been to sea two weeks or three
When along come the pirate, the Turkish Sugaree

The captain turned to his able crew [as before]
Saying, oh brave boys what will I ever do?

Captain, oh captain, what will you pay
To the man who can sink the Turkish Sugaray

Why I’d give my daughter and a sack of my gold
To the brave boy who could prove so bold

Then the little cabin boy jumped in the sea
And he swum ’til he come to the Turkish Sugaree

And he had a little auger fitted for the use
He drilled nine holes and he let in the juice

Some with their hats and some with their caps
Tried to keep the water from a-comin’ through the gaps

But every man aboard the Turkish Sugaree
Met his doom in the bottom of the sea

Then the little cabin boy swum back to the fold
Said, haul me up aboard boys; I’m dyin’ of the cold

But the Captain said – you’ll not come aboard
You won’t have my daughter and you won’t have my gold

Oh captain, captain how can it be
You’d pay your man with such treachery

Oh my gold is my pride—my daughter is my joy
And I won’t give ’em up to a black cabin boy

Last Verse:
Now there’s a little cabin boy drownin’ in the sea
(O the low the lonesome low)
There’s a little cabin boy drownin’ in the sea
And he’s drillin’ little holes in the Golden Willow Tree
(And sink ’em in the lonesome lonesome low,
sink ’em in the lonesome sea)

Joel Mabus is a songwriter, folksinger, instrumentalist and music teacher living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Genealogical records show he is the scion of William Brewster of Scrooby, England and Plymouth, Massachusetts. Also the scion of a thousand anonymous potato farmers, barrel makers, and free thinkers from the German lowlands and Scottish highlands. His mom and dad toured the Midwest in the 1930s playing hillbilly music on fiddle & banjo. (That is how he got this way.) He has recorded 27 albums since 1978; his latest is titled Time & Truth.