The Coast of High Barbary


'Sea Fight with Barbary Corsairs', Laureys a Castro, 1681

The Barbary corsairs were pirates, privateers and slavers who operated from North African ports from the 16th to 19th century. It's a long and colorful history that has been sung, written and depicted endlessly. So let's just talk about the song here.

'The Coast of High Barbary' is a traditional song (Child 285, Laws K33) that dates back to the early 17th century and shows the staying power of a rousing yarn. It enjoyed wide circulation from 17th century broadsides to 20th century recordings by Burl Ives, the Almanac Singers and others. The story and words were absorbed into numerous books and songs throughout these centuries.

"Prince of Luther" seems an odd name for an English ship and there is no historical reference for such a vessel. Other versions substitute ship names like "the Queen of Russia and the Prince of Wales." Some of these, such as "The George Aloe and the Sweepstake", actually were the names of real ships.

My version is derived largely from the lively singing of Billy Faier and Frank Hamilton on Billy's 'Art of the Five String Banjo.'

Lyrics: 

There were two lofty ships from Old England sailed,
Blow high, blow low, and so sailed we.
One was the Prince of Luther and the other Prince of Wales,
Cruisin' down along the coast of High Barbary.

"Aloft there, aloft," our jolly boatswain cried...
"Look ahead, look astern, look the weather, look a lee."...

"There's naught upon the stern, there is naught upon the lee...
But there's a lofty ship to windward, she's sailing fast and free."...

"Oh hail her, oh hail her," our gallant captain cried...
"Are you a man of war or privateer or merchant ship?" said he...

"I am not a man of war or privateer," said he...
"But I'm a salt sea pirate a-lookin' for my fee."...

For broadside, for broadside a long time we lay...
Until the Prince of Luther shot the pirate's mast away...

For quarter, for quarter those pirates then did plea...
But the answer that we gave them, was to sink them in their sea...

Instruments: