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Betsy Bay was a lady gay,
She had a nice and a winning way;
A waiting maid bound down to be,
She was sent there for some higher degree.
Betsy's mistress has one only son,
Whom Betsy placed her own heart upon;
With sparkling eye and with beauty fair,
She threw this young man's heart into a snare.
One morning he rose and put on his clothes,
And into Betsy's bed chamber goes;
Saying, "I love you dearer than my life,
And I do intend to make you my wife."
Betsy's mistress being in the next room,
And heard the words that came from her son;
"You may talk away but it's all in vain,
For I'll have Betsy to cross the Main."
Early next morning, oh, young Betsy arose,
And dressed herself in her best clothes;
Being of the ship that lay in the town,
To a slaving Virginia young Betsy bound.
Three months after, her mistress returned,
Her son was dressed in his uniform;
"You're welcome home, kind old mother," he said,
"But where is Betsy awaiting me?"
"Betsy, my boy, she's far o'er the main,
And never will you see her again;
I'd rather see you dead and in your grave,
Than to marry Betsy, a waiting maid."
A short while after her son took abed,
No harp nor music could make him glad;
And in his dreams he would loudly cry,
"I love you Betsy, for you I'll die."
A short while after her son lay dead,
She wrung her hands and she tore her hair;
"If I could see my son brave again,
I'd send for Betsy, my waiting maid."
Sung by Jack Knight [b.ca.1874] of Shoe Cove, NL, and published in MacEdward Leach And The Songs Of Atlantic Canada © 2004 Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA).
Also collected in 1952 from Mrs. J. Mahoney of NL, by Kenneth Peacock, and published as Betsy, Betsy From London Fair in Songs Of The Newfoundland Outports, Volume 3, pp.666-667, by The National Museum Of Canada (1965) Crown Copyrights Reserved.
Another variant was collected in 1975 from Lillian Pittman of Placentia, NL, by Genevieve Lehr and Anita Best and published as #7, Betsy Beauty, in Come And I Will Sing You: A Newfoundland Songbook, pp.13-14, edited by Genevieve Lehr (University of Toronto Press © 1985/2003).
Genevieve Lehr noted that Lillian Pittman learned this song from family tradition. It was popular with the women in Merasheen, NL, who would get together at wedding and garden parties and sing it in unison. Lehr also noted that there would usually be one lead singer to establish the key.