New England's Annoyances

Words by Anonymous; tune "In Peascod Times," 1643

What is the mood of this song? What tone of voice do the performers use? Whining, griping.

What do the singers find annoying about New England? All woods, no grass; cold and frostbite; wildlife eating corn; worn out clothes; shortage of meat, too much pumpkin. Why was the lack of grass a problem? No grazing land; forest had to be cleared before it was planted. Why do they have so much pumpkin, turnips, and carrots? They are able to be stored.

How serious is this song? What literary device do they use for humor? Hyperbole/exaggeration. What is the funniest verse to you? Why did they write a humorous song about serious problems? Laughing at problems makes you feel more power over them.

Where do you picture this song being sung? Who is singing it? What mood are they in? Why do you think it has so many verses? Different people added new verses.

Of all of these annoyances, which would be most annoying to you? What do you think would be most annoying to a settler in 1610? What do you think was the most serious problem of all those mentioned?

What kind of person would it take to withstand these hardships? Do you think you have what it takes?

What other people were living in what the settlers called New England? Native Americans. Why do you think Native Americans are not mentioned in this song?

Compare this song with “Friendly Invitation to a New Plantation.” What would the Puritans think about emigrating to New England if they had heard this song?

“New England's Annoyances” performed by Anne and Ridley Enslow on Music of the American Colonies. © 2002. Available on Spotify and on YouTube.

 

One can imagine settlers seated around a table in a tavern, commiserating about the many hardships of colonial life. This recording reenacts that sense of camaraderie as the singers take turns airing their grievances. Both women and men voice their irritation. However, after complaining of the hardships, the song ends with the realization that although there are problems, it is still better to be where they are with "a quiet and contented mind" than in England.

View the music and lyrics for "New England's Annoyances."

View an original publication of the song.

Described as “America’s first folk song,” this song was originally composed in 1643 and first appeared as a broadside in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in that year. All copies of this original have disappeared, but the song survived in oral tradition and later publications.  It was printed in 1758 in a chapbook as “An Old Song, wrote by one of our first New England planters, on the management in those good old times.” (A chapbook is a small book of poems, ballads, stories, or religious tracts, sold by chapmen, or peddlers.) Variations of this song appeared in a newspaper of 1774, a magazine of 1791, and a newspaper of 1822, suggesting that this song was quite popular throughout the colonies.

It was popular because of its fairly realistic account of the tribulations faced by early colonizers. Presumably, most of the settlers could relate with the situations described in this song.

Cartoon by James Claypoole, 1764

Cartoon by James Claypoole, 1764.

Compare this song to:

Other “gripe songs" like “Gee, But I Wanna Go Home” (Unit 7).

Draw a cartoon strip based on this song.

Write a song, “Our School's Annoyances.”

 

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