Rolling Stone

Words by Eliphalet Mason after a text by Thomas D’Urfey, 1802; music by Henry Purcell, 1695 

What is peculiar about the chorus of this song? Two different, alternating choruses. Why does it have two different choruses? Two characters alternate verses.

You could call this a conversation in song. Who is talking? Husband and wife. What is the conversation about? Migrating from New England to Kentucky. What are their points of view? Do they agree?

Choose a couple of lines that summarize his opinion. Choose lines that summarize her position. In your own words, explain what the disagreement is about. Why does the husband want to move? Why doesn't the wife want to go?

How realistic are the husband’s expectations of Kentucky? How realistic are her concerns? Give examples of how both of them use exaggeration to make their points.

What happens in the last two verses? Why does the husband change his mind?

The wife convinces her husband not to migrate after she brings up the “danger” of “Indians” in Kentucky. What Native American nations lived in the region? When did white settlers begin moving there? Were they welcome? Why or why not?

What are some reasons a family might decide to uproot themselves and start over again in a different place? What are some reasons they might decide against migration? How do you think families made the decision to migrate to another part of the country in the late 1700s? How do they do it now?

Why do you think many people chose to move to Kentucky following the passage of abolition laws and anti-slavery court rulings in states north of the Mason-Dixon line?

"Rolling Stone" performed by David and Ginger Hildebrand. All rights reserved. © 2004.

In this recording of "Rolling Stone" a husband and wife re-enact the familiar argument, alternating verses and joining in the final chorus where the disagreement is settled.

View the music and lyrics for "Rolling Stone."

View the original publication.

Cover of The Comical History of Don Quixote: As it was Acted at the Queen's Theatre in Dorset Garden by … by Thomas D'Urfey

The melody of “Rolling Stone” was first written by English composer Henry Purcell in 1695 for a theatrical adaptation of Don Quixote. The original words by Thomas D’Urfey were printed in Wit and Mirth; or Pills to Purge Melancholy. D’Urfey’s lyrics are about a bumpkin who wishes to leave the country to seek his fame and fortune in the big city. His wife convinces him that it would be better to stay on the farm. Borrowing some of D’Urfey’s phrases, Eliphalet Mason wrote a new text for Purcell’s melody, which he published in The Complete Pocket Song Book (Northampton, MA, 1802). The new song humorously addresses the difficulties of farming in New England as a husband and wife debate whether to join the large-scale migration of settlers to Kentucky that had begun at the end of the eighteenth century.



Compare this song to:

"How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm?" (Unit 6)

"Sweet Betsy from Pike" (Unit 3), the tune of which "Rolling Stone" can also be sung to.

Design a poster Kentucky might use in the 1790s to promote settling there. Why should people move to there?

Write an ad or editorial for a New England newspaper urging people to stay.


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