The Old Oak Tree (MacEdward Leach)
(Betsey) or (Squire Nathaniel And Betsy)

Dark was the night, cold blew the wind,
and fast came down the rain,
When Betsy left her own true home
ne'er to return again;
She left her father's dwelling house,
she feared no wet or cold,
For she was young and fond of fun,
'twas love that made her bold.

At ten o'clock that very night
beneath the old oak tree,
She promised James, her own true love,
that with him she would be;
She did not fear the drenching rain,
the tempest's threatening pour,
She threw her cloak around her neck
and walked quickly from the door.

The night passed on and morning rose
and Betsy came not home,
It grieved her parents more and more
to know where she was gone;
Her mother arose, put on her clothes,
and cried in actions wild:
"This country I will travel through
to find my darling child."

For three long weary weeks she spent
in searching this country 'round,
At length it proved to no avail
for Betsy was not found;
And for to reach her lonely home
so saddened with her trial,
And pressed with grief she then knelt down
and broken-hearted died.

It was three weeks later
the owner of this ground,
When Squire McCallion he went
to search with all his hounds;
O'er hills, down dales they quickly
rode with gallant company,
At length by chance they spied
a fox down by the old oak tree.

The hounds began to sniff and snort
and then to tear the clay,
'Twas more than all those whips could do
to drive those hounds away;
The gentlemen then all gathered 'round
and called for pick and spade,
They dug the ground and there they found
that murdered missing maid.

The grave did show its horrid works,
that was a shocking sight,
To see the worms eat through her eyes
that once was shining bright;
And in her side a knife was found
to my sad grief and shame,
And on the knife this gentleman read
Squire McCallion's name.

"I done the deed!" McCallion cried,
"My soul is food for hell,
Oh, hide that cold corpse from my eyes
and I the truth will tell;
It's true I've loved young Betsy,
the same as I did my life,
A thousand times I've told her
that I'd make her my wife.

"And as she pleaded on her knees
these words were said to me,
The devil whispered, "Take her life
and then you will go free";
The knife I cut my dinner with
I plunged it through her breast,
'Twas with my staff I knocked her down,
I need not tell the rest.

"And from that dreadful hour to this,
she appears before my eyes,
I think I sees her bleeding ghost
and hears her dying cries."
He drew a pistol from his belt
and he fired it through his breast;
Right where he fell they buried him,
no Christian grave had he,
For none was found to bless the ground
down by the old oak tree.

####.... Variant of a 19th-century British broadside ballad [Laws P37] American Balladry From British Broadsides (G Malcolm Laws, 1957). Also a variant of a 19th-century British broadside ballad, The Old Oak Three [sic] published by P Brereton (Dublin) c.1867, and archived at the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads, shelfmark: Harding B 26(481) ....####
Collected in 1950 from Michael (Mike) A Kent [1904-1997] of Cape Broyle, and published as Betsey in MacEdward Leach And The Songs Of Atlantic Canada © 2004 Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA).

This same variant was also collected in 1951 from Michael (Mike) A Kent [1904-1997] of Cape Broyle, by Kenneth Peacock and published in Songs Of The Newfoundland Outports , Volume 2, pp.628-629, by The National Museum of Canada (1965) Crown Copyrights Reserved.

A variant was collected in 1951 from Dennis (Din) Dobbin [1900-1976] of St Vincent's, NL, and published as The Old Oak Tree in MacEdward Leach And The Songs Of Atlantic Canada © 2004 Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA).

MacEdward Leach also collected two variant texts and two tunes, published as #12, The Old Oak Tree, in Folk Ballads And Songs Of The Lower Labrador Coast by the National Museum of Canada (Ottawa, 1965) Crown Copyrights Reserved.

A variant was also published as Squire Nathaniel And Betsy in Ballads And Sea Songs Of Newfoundland, by Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf and Grace Yarrow Mansfield (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1933; Folklore Associates, Hatboro, PA, 1968.)

Kenneth Peacock noted that this ballad originally came from Ireland where it was once published as a broadside. A similar ballad may be found in the Journal Of The Folk-Song Society, Vol.1, pp.186-187.


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