Appalachia Granny Music Pap

When You and I Were Young, Maggie

Granny and Pap Thanksgiving 2015
Granny and Pap Thanksgiving 2015

I’ve always had a great fondness for the song When You and I Were Young, Maggie. Who wouldn’t enjoy the words that speak of a long and lasting love between Maggie and her man? Pap has always entertained me with stories of the mills his family used when he was a boy, so I suppose those memories swirl around in my like for the song as well.

In my mind the song fits into the Bluegrass genre of music because that’s mostly the type of bands/performers I’ve heard do the song over the years. I was surprised of the lack of traditional bluegrass videos that popped up when I did a quick youtube search of the song the other day. I quickly noticed the variety of names used to title the song as well. Even our video of Pap and Paul posted some 7 years ago has the wrong title – I Wandered to the Hill Maggie.

A quick google search for the real title gave me the history of the song. Apparently a lot of folks list the song as a traditional Scottish tune, but that isn’t where the song was born. The song was written by a Canadian, George Washington Johnson.

The Glandbrook Heritage Society website tells the story of the song:

In 1859, George Washington Johnson, recently graduated from the University of Toronto, came to teach at S.S. #5, Glanford. A native of the adjacent community of Binbrook, George, twenty-one, dark and handsom, soon found himself in love with his student, the fair Maggie Clark who was just eighteen.

She reciprocated his affection and the two shared many hours together. Fond of music they would often sing together at the Clark homestead or in the local Glee Club of Glanford; and frequently summer strolls along the maple lined banks of Twenty Mile Creek took them to her father’s mill, a short distance north of the Clark homestead. It was on one these romantic walks that George Johnson was inspired to begin a volume of verses entitled “Maple Leaves” which would contain the poem “When You and I Were Young, Maggie”.

Much in love, the couple became engaged. However, a storm loomed on the horizon. Maggie who had contracted tuberculosis, then known as the “Great White Plague” made both aware of the threat it held for their future.

During one of his financee’s more serious periods of illness, George made a solitary walk to the hill which overlooked the mill. Here in the “green grove – where first the daises sprung”, George Washington Johnson composed the verse that would provide lyrics for the song.

Unfortunately, they would not grow old together. Whether the lyrics were a denial of reality, a touching pretense or an expression of faith in their future, the couple made plans for marriage.

But first there was a period of separation. Maggie went to the Wesleyan College in Hamilton and George to study at the Fort Edward Institute on the Hudson River in New York State. Distance only increased their love and on October 21, 1864 they were married at the Methodist Church in Glanford Township.

George had now settled on a career of journalism with the “Courier” in Buffalo, New York. His ability as a journalist soon became recognized and he was offered a position with the Cleveland, Ohio, “Plain ‘ Dealer”. Once he was secure in his new post, George and his bride took up residence in Cleveland. Then suddently, the tragedy they had feared struck. Maggie’s tubercuolois failed to respond to medical treatment. She passed away on May 12, 1865, at twenty-three, less than a year after their marriage. She was laid to rest at the family plot in White Church cemetary near Mount Hope. Overwhelmed by his loss, George resigned from the “Plain Dealer” and returned to Canada and to teaching.

The following year, George visited an old friend in Detroit, Michigan, J.C. Butterfield, who at his request, set the words of “When You and I Were Young, Maggie” to music.

When I read the information regarding the song on the  Glandbrook Heritage Society website I was surprised to learn the song wasn’t written exactly for the reason I had in my mind. I thought “Well there was no aging couple who’d spent the last 60 years of their lives together.”

But then I reminded myself, songs mean different things to different people. There’s no doubt Johnson wrote the song thinking of his deep love for his Maggie and there’s no doubt the words do fit perfectly for couples who last through the test of time.

The words below are the ones Pap and Paul sing, to see Johnson’s original words go here.

When You and I Were Young, Maggie written by George Washington Johnson

I wandered today to the hill, Maggie,
To survey the scene below,
To see the creek and the creaking old mill, Maggie,
As we used to, long ago.

But the green grass is gone from the hill, Maggie,
Where first the daisies sprung;
And the creaking old mill is still, Maggie,
Since you and I were young.

They say I’m feeble with age, Maggie,
My steps less spry than then,
My face is a well-written page, Maggie,
And time alone was the pen.

But the green grass is gone from the hill, Maggie,
Where first the daisies sprung;
And the creaking old mill is still, Maggie,
Since you and I were young.

They say we are old and grey, Maggie,
Our trials of life nearly done
But to me you’re as fair as you were, Maggie,
When you and I were young.

I hope you enjoyed the song of love on this Valentine’s Day. I think of Pap and Granny when I hear it these days. They’re both feeble, grey, and old – yet their love for one another is still as strong as when their daisies first sprung and they were young.

Go here to read about another Maggie. A Maggie that lived just down the road from me and had a lasting impression on Brasstown.

Tipper

*Source: Glandbrook Heritage Society

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Mel H.
    February 15, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Mighty fiiine!

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    February 14, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Wonderful song, and perfect for today–listened to it twice.
    For anyone visiting Niagara Falls, it’s worth continuing over into Canada to the area where songwriter George Washington Johnson and Maggie Clark were from. Today the farm country there is Canada’s vineyard belt, where both the country roads and the towns are perfect for bicycling. The Inn on the Twenty is a great place to stay. It’s in the village of Jordan, right on Twenty Mile Creek, where George and Maggie strolled together over 150 years ago. Twenty Mile Creek is so named because it is twenty miles down the lakeshore from the Niagara River, which is the U.S. border, so the side trip isn’t very far.
    Excellent pieces of research into the two Maggies, Tipper. Tragic that both died so young.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 14, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    Tipper,
    I love your stories about your Granny and Pap, they remind me alot of my parents and their enduring Love…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 14, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Ken Roper pointed me to another version of this song a few years back when you first featured it on your blog. It is by Rob Mashburn, a local Cherokee Countian who is now deceased. He recorded only a few songs. I was impressed by every one I heard and this one was the best. His voice is perfect for the song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xJ73Xw65S8

  • Reply
    Shirl
    February 14, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Thank you for sharing the song and it’s history. I think I remember The Stanley Brothers singing about Maggie in one of their songs. They are my favorite bluegrass band (next to Pap and Paul) and one of the singers is the father of my twin first cousins. Finding out if they recorded the song will be easy. Happy Valentines Day to you and all your gang!

  • Reply
    Gayle
    February 14, 2016 at 11:01 am

    What a beautiful story for Valentine’s Day.
    When I drive by that church in Brasstown I will think about Maggie. It is great to remember that every building in the world has a story.
    I am still praying for Pap and hope all of the Blind Pig gang are doing well.
    Miss you all.
    Gayle

  • Reply
    Dolores
    February 14, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Thanks for the new song; loved the way it was sung! Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

  • Reply
    Marilyn
    February 14, 2016 at 10:33 am

    I love to hear them sing , there’s a lot of history in the songs they sing of life in the Mts years ago .

  • Reply
    Jack
    February 14, 2016 at 9:43 am

    Nice rendition. Very melancholy. I remember the Statler Brothers singing the song. I guess ole G. W. Johnson got over Maggie, as he apparently married two more times .

  • Reply
    Quinn
    February 14, 2016 at 8:27 am

    p.s. Tipper, I posted a recipe for a baked cornmeal pudding today, and you might like it as much as I do! You’ve also probably got enough people around your table to eat a skilletful straight from the oven, which is how it’s best.
    Happy Valentine’s Day to you and and the Blind Pig gang and readers 🙂
    http://comptonia.blogspot.com/2016/02/brisk.html

  • Reply
    Quinn
    February 14, 2016 at 8:22 am

    Gosh, you are really tugging the ol’ heartstrings for Valentine’s Day, Tipper! I loved your post about you and the Deer Hunter yesterday, but this one will surely make me cry!
    On the “up” side, I’m now going to start thinking of my face as a “well-written page.” 😉

  • Reply
    TimMc
    February 14, 2016 at 7:42 am

    Very well done,, and nice story behind the song, sounds like a Hallmark Movie..

  • Reply
    Cullen in Clyde
    February 14, 2016 at 7:32 am

    Thanks for introducing this tune to me!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 14, 2016 at 7:31 am

    Thank you for sharing this song today. The story is a perfect reminder that true love will last

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 14, 2016 at 7:31 am

    Thank you for sharing this song today. The story is a perfect reminder that true love will last

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 14, 2016 at 7:31 am

    Thank you for sharing this song today. The story is a perfect reminder that true love will last

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 14, 2016 at 7:31 am

    Thank you for sharing this song today. The story is a perfect reminder that true love will last

  • Reply
    Greg
    February 14, 2016 at 6:09 am

    One of my favorites. Love Tom Rush’s version from 40 years ago, and it’s great to know the sad story behind the words. Lovely on a Valentine’s Day morn.

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