Fo'c'sle Songs

Shanties were not the only songs sung by whalemen. The hard work on board the whaleship left them little time for relaxation but when they did have time off it was the fo'c'sle songs they turned to. While shanties were reserved for times of work and had particular rhythms, fo'c'sle songs were more varied, telling stories of heroes and villains, famous battles, lost romances or the longing for home. Many of them praised the joys of shore life compared to the hard work on board and, like shanties, they gave the sailors an acceptable way of expressing themselves.

It would be hard to say exactly who wrote the shanties since so many sailors had a hand in creating them. Some may have been made up by sailors, others may have been old songs heard by sailors on land, but either way the songs spread from man to man since sailors sang them wherever they went. Because sailors relied on memory, shanties were rarely written down and it wasn’t unusual for a sailor to add little bits of his own to a song, changing it to suit his fancy. It’s lucky for us that toward the end of the 1800s musicians began collecting shanties and writing them down.

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Martha's Vineyard Museum