Appalachia Music

Poor Mary Of The Wild Moor

Poor Mary Of The Wild Moor

Today’s Pickin’ & Grinnin’ In The Kitchen Spot features a song of old, Mary Of The Wild Moor. The song tells the sad lonesome story of a mother and child freezing to death because her father couldn’t hear her cries for help-doesn’t get much sadder than that.

It’s hard to imagine a world where information was at a minimum. A world with no Internet, no cell phones, no tv, heck not even many newspapers. Granted being literate was relegated to a smaller amount of people in those days, but I imagine the need for information was still a human want. And as usual where there’s a human want, there’s someone figuring out how to fill it in exchange for money.

Enter Broadsides. Sheets of paper printed with announcements from the government, news information, speeches, or songs. I’m sure all of us have watched a movie or tv show set in the early 1800s where a man is shown walking through the square uttering “Hear Ye Hear Ye” before nailing up a notice for all the villagers to read.

As time went by selling broadsides became a lucrative business for folks. Most popular were sheets containing details of notorious murders or words to popular songs of the day, one of which was Mary Of The Wildmoor.

According to Jurgen Kloss, Mary Of The Wildmoor was probably written by a performer in England in the early 1800s, written to appear older than it actually was. The song’s traits being similar to older ballads popular at the time indicate this.

By 1845 the song had made it to America and soon became quite popular. By the early 1900’s the song seems to have been relegated to singing around the home performed mostly in family settings. But by the early 1930s the song made a comeback, largely due to  “ballad hunters” who made every attempt to preserve old songs from the Appalachian Mountains.

In 1940, the first commercial recording of the song was made by The Blue Sky Boys of North Carolina. The song was recorded again in 1956 by The Louvin Brothers of Alabama. These two brother duet recordings cemented the song’s popularity in traditional bluegrass music circles.


Hope you enjoyed the sad song. I like the irony of the song’s beginning. It was written to appear old and then lasted until it can truly be considered a very old song.

With the song being passed down through at least three generations of my family I can rest assured the ballad will continue to age.


Today’s post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in January of 2009.


You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    March 2, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    I love this song done by Paul and Jerry. Their harmony is so sweet and pure sounding. Makes me want to cry. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Sam Ensley
    March 2, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    That is a great song, and nobody sings it better than Jerry and Paul. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Robert Wasmer
    March 2, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Back when I played my Appalachian dulcimer more often than I do now, I played a version of this from a song book purchased with the dulcimer. Same words. I also have it on a record by the same folks who published the song book. It’s a lovely old song. Thanks for posting this.

  • Reply
    Granny Norma
    March 2, 2015 at 2:55 am

    This ballad was always one of my favorites on the music sidebar that used to grace your blog. It speaks to a girl from long ago whose favorite books were Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles; a girl who like Anne of Green Gables, memorized The Highwayman line for line and recited it before her 8th grade English class; and a girl who as a teenager, went driving with her friends over country roads on summer nights with just her parking lights in search of legendary ghosts. I almost expect an additional stanza telling of how on a windy night one can hear Mary’s ghost calling out to her father.

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    March 1, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    I remember seeing this story on one of the History channel shows, can’t remember which one. Didn’t know there was a song about it. In that, I believe the story said her husband was working somewhere distant when the storm rolled in, leaving her snowbound, soon without enough food or wood to stay in the cottage. So she set off through the blinding blizzard for her father’s house, got barely within sight of it, calling to her father, but unheard over the fury of the storm, and shortly fell to the ground dead of cold, her child wrapped warm and snug within the folds of her shawl.
    I bet that type of thing has happened in old times more often than we could guess.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    March 1, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    One of my all time favorites. I had always thought she had been shunned for having the baby, too. Such a sad song with such a pleasing melody.

  • Reply
    March 1, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    That’s a sad but wonderful song,
    kinda like “Knoxville Girl.” I
    think you all did a nice job.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 1, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    I got to listening to the Blue Sky Boys again and they sang an old song I had heard in my youth. It is “One Step More from Earth To Heaven.” I don’t remember when or where I heard it but when it first played I could sing right along with it.
    Will you ask Pap if he knows it (I’ll bet he does) and if he will sing it for us sometime?

  • Reply
    Peggy Lambert
    March 1, 2015 at 11:33 am

    What a sad song this morning and with a mail from Crisp Funeral Home about the death of Pearl Crisp yesterday, makes it even sadder. I didn’t know Pearl Crisp but only by reading about her in the articles that I put in “The Bone Rattler” and what is here on the “Blind Pig” by Don Cassada. Blessings to all.
    Peggy L.

  • Reply
    March 1, 2015 at 10:59 am

    Thanks for this post the lovely rendition of the song. Here’s another:

  • Reply
    March 1, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Nicely performed! Although sad, the melody was catchy and pleasant to listen to. I wonder if the story could have been a true tale for the composer. Also, could the girl have given birth to a child out of wedlock and being shunned by the father?

  • Reply
    Crystal Richmond
    March 1, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Sweet music~ sad but such is life can be… Love my daily emails from you. Always ready to see what you got on for today. Happy Sunday~ Crys in Arkansas

  • Reply
    Vernon Kimsey
    March 1, 2015 at 9:29 am

    I first became aware of this song from the “Songcatcher” sound track. Sara Evans did that version. It hit me with the same feeling of sadness that Alison Krauss’ “Jacob’s Dream”. Love the ballads.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 1, 2015 at 9:10 am

    This song was sad in 2009 when you first posted it and it is still sad in 2015 this morning!
    Maybe it hits me so because of the folks around that died last week of hyperthermia from the ice storm, power failures and frigid temperatures. Even today in our modern times life in the winter can be treacherous for some that don’t always have the folks near by that they might need. Either from their own decisions to distance themselves from neighbors or relatives or because they might be old or disable and not even realize they need help!
    I don’t know why I always have a tinge of quilt when someone dies this way. Some of them so many miles from me and not related…but we are all brothers and sisters in the spirit and it is always sad…
    OK…I’m off my soap box…on to happier thoughts…
    Speaking of birds…LOL
    I always check my Cornell Ornithology website early every morning and look in on the live cameras…It is if anyone is interested…such fun……
    It is snowing at the feeders in Ithaca NY. And Ontario Canada…I was watching the Ontario Canada one when out walked a grouse…He decided to go “full strut”, tail feathers spread, top knot feathers standing up and turning around showing his stuff…So funny and fun to watch. Jim would have loved it…I thought any minute he would hop on the platform feeder and “drum up” a neighbor…
    He flew on the feeder the other morning when I had it on full screen…scared me and the birds that were feeding to death…LOL
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Great job singing the sad song…by Pap, Paul and the gang.
    I think we could change the lyrics (near the end) to add a few happy ones…What do you think?
    PS…sorry I had to put in about the live bird cams…I just want to share with everyone…some of the birds like pine grosbeaks, evening grosbeaks we rarely see around here..I also have been watching the Great Horned Owl and their owlets…so cute and ugly and the same time, in Savanah it’s 69 degrees there this morning!

  • Leave a Reply