Appalachia Music

My Dearest Dear

My dearest dear the blackest crow

In 1771 a ship called The America left Belfast, Ireland bound for the coastal town of Charleston, South Carolina. In the preceding years, the state of South Carolina offered free land, seed, and tools to white settlers who were willing to settle portions of the state’s undeveloped acreage. From 1771 to 1773 an estimated 17,500 people set sail from Ulster ports headed for the new world.

Samuel and Elizabeth Cunningham lived in Cullybackey, Ireland. Born and raised but a short distance from each other, they were bound from childhood by love and friendship. Though blessed with the wealth of one another’s care, their marriage was barren and sprung forth no children.

In the fashion of Sarah and Abraham, Elizabeth and Samuel found themselves expecting a child when the years of typical child bearing had left them.

God had given the couple the greatest desire of their hearts. However, as Samuel’s health began to rapidly fail, others were quick to point out the child seemed to come at the cost of Samuel’s vigor as a wasting disease took firm grasp of his body and mind.

Elizabeth enjoyed every aspect of raising the child, Rosanna. There was never a complaint of the aggravations of colic, of messy diapers, or of working long hours to provide for her family. Elizabeth counted it all as a blessing. Although Samuel could no longer converse as he once did, Elizabeth could see the joy Rosanna brought to him as his eyes shone brightly whenever the child was near.

Rosanna reached teenage years with strength of body and mind. But in the years it took Elizabeth to raise the child, Cullybackey fell into despair. Times were worse than anyone had ever seen with barely enough to eat from one day till the next. The linen production which once helped the town thrive had completely disappeared by the time Rosanna reached her 16th birthday. Yet, hope stood on the horizon and waved down at Elizabeth and Rosanna.

From the first time Elizabeth heard of the land that waited across the seas she knew she must send Rosanna. Elizabeth dreamed of distant shores filled with fruitful bounty. A new world where no landlords oppressed the downtrodden; where virtue, hard work, and desire ensured a better life for all who were willing.

Rosanna was 18 years of age when Elizabeth booked passage for her on The America.

Excerpts of the correspondence between Elizabeth and Rosanna in the months leading up to the ship’s departure can be read below.


As time draws near my dearest dear, when you and I must part. How little you know of the grief and woe of my poor aching heart. Each night I suffer for your sake, you’re the one I love so dear. I wish that I was going with you or you were staying here.

Cullybackey, Ireland August 10, 1770

Dearest Daughter,

The days are filled with busyness of many hands as we prepare for the long journey. While most complain of the work, I am thankful. If my hands and feet are tired at the end of the day it is but a small cost for the relief of worry and dread the journey brings to my heavy ladened heart.

Its seems but a fortnight since I looked down at your face as you lay in your cradle. Then my days were full of thanking God and the Saints for sending you to me in my old age. From the day they laid you on my breast I swore I would hold your love close in my heart and sacrifice all that you might prosper.


I wish my breast was made of glass wherein you might behold. Upon my heart your name lies wrote in letters made of gold. In letters made of gold my love believe me when I say you are the only one I love until my dying day.

Cullybackey, Ireland February 27, 1771

Dearest Daughter,

My joy seems but cruel folly now. I have two choices lain before me with neither pleasing to mine eyes nor to the deepness of my heart. How can I forsake the one whose own love sprung forth your life’s blood? Yet how can I ask you to stay in this forsaken land when I am told of a new land full of richness?


The blackest crow that ever flew would surely turn to white if ever I proved false to you bright day will turn to night. Bright day will turn to night my love the elements will mourn if ever I prove false to you the seas will rage and burn.

Belfast, Ireland April 16, 1771

Dearest Mother,

I am sorely afraid of taking leave of you and Da and all I have known. I gather your reason for sending me across the dark sea. Should I live in great richness without your presence it will all be for naught. Tis a bitter pill to know you have sacrificed all that I might live more abundantly. No matter the darkness of my heart nor the tears of mine eyes I will go and I will see you and Da both proud so that what you have given will never be for naught.

your ever-loving daughter Rosanna


And when you’re own some distant shore think of your absent friend. And when the wind blows high and clear a light to me pray send. And when the wind blows high and clear pray send your love to me that I might know by your handwrite how time has gone with thee.

Cullybackey, Ireland May 1, 1771

Dearest Daughter

T’would be impossible for me to wish you gone never to return if I did not know love lives beyond what our eyes behold and cannot be bound by time nor by distance. No matter the breadth of your journey, your presence will always and forever live in the secret places of my heart.


Rosanna survived the sea voyage and found the life she’d been promised in the new world. Over the coming years, Rosanna’s descendants found their way to the far blue mountains. There were joys and sorrows. And for many generations there was the story of Elizabeth who sacrificed what she loved most so that her descendants could live in a land of promise.


I hope you enjoyed the story that was inspired by the ballad My Dearest Dear-and I hope you enjoyed The Pressley Girls version of the song.

I wish each of you a Happy Valentine’s Day and a life filled with love that knows no parting.


p.s. Although the story above is based on historical events it is a complete work of fiction. Any comparison which can be made to documented histories is only a coincidence.

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  • Reply
    Ray Sugg
    May 25, 2021 at 11:02 pm

    Dang if I don’t cry every time I hear this one! Nice version, girls. I have always heard it called “The Blackest Crow”.

  • Reply
    Betty Cloer Wallace
    February 20, 2020 at 7:35 am

    Love The Pressley Girls version of this mournful ballad. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    February 18, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    I really love this haunting ballad sung so beautifully by your sweet and talented girls. You did a great job writing this touching story, Tipper. I don’t often read long posts on this screen, but I couldn’t take my eyes off this until I had finished and played the video. Then I had to share it on FB. Too good not to

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    February 15, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Roses and dinner was my valentines. He gave the roses I bought him the dinner. such a grand Valentine I call T.

  • Reply
    R-ish ed
    February 14, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    yew no come two thank uv it all mi incesters come over hear on a boat sept the ones that kud walk on watter which i dont thank they wus verry minnie uv mi grannie was a Cunningham butt her famlee wuz hear befour the revaluchion sew she problee aint no kin two yore Rosanna but yu no Rosanna wudden uv been a Cunningham inneyhow iffin she got marrid she wooda ben sumpen els lessen she marrid a nother Cunningham awl this isa startin two make me dizzie now sew aisle tawk sum moore later own
    ps them to youngens uv yores bout made me cry sanging that song they are the best twin girl grewp iv ever seen are heerd tell uv an thats know lie

  • Reply
    February 14, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    This is a beautiful story/
    ballad on Valentine’s Day- and it does leave me to ponder how often this scenario was repeated by our ancestors, and even today, as the ‘melting pot’ continues.
    Thanks to all three of you for sharing your gifts.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 14, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    WOW! This moved me. The Pressley Girls
    did a fantastic job with this ballad.
    As I was reading your introduction, I
    was so captivated that I wouldn’t even
    answer the phone. I love these stories
    about our beginnings and what a better
    time than on Valentine’s Day. Thank

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    February 14, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Great job on the ballad!
    I have often thought about what a struggle it must have been for my ancestors to take the leap of faith of leaving the land they knew and family and friends they loved and to know they would most likely never see them or their homeland again. I being here in this place and time am the direct result of someone making the decision to abandon what they knew and strike out for a better life for themselves and the ones after them. I am thankful for that decision!
    Happy Valentines Day to you and your!!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 14, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    that should be loves and friends in our lives…my brain knows the word but my hands skip a beat or typewritten word! replace it please thanks

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 14, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    What a great story of love and devotion between a Mother and daughter. Imagine sending a child so far away, knowing that the probability of physically seeing the child again was naught! I know that this scenario plays over and over everyday under different circumstances, with different family members,loves and in our lives. Only the love, memories and visions of the one in our dreams, with the promise of seeing them in the spirit remain.
    Tipper, thank the girls for their rendition of a mixed emotion ballad!
    Thanks for a wonderful story, my dearest dear friend! We are so glad you are not on your way to Ireland, etc! LOL My rollator would not roll that far!
    PS..I had a distant relative, with the middle name of
    I saw him listed in my large family history and decendent book! Also, it stated he was never married. Did that mean he never celebrated Valentine’s Day? Come to think of it, he may have been named “Valentine”
    before the United States started celebrating Valentine’s Day! LOL
    PS..3.. It’s warming up in East Tennessee, so to start raining and change to snow tonight. HELP! Where’s SPRING???

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    February 14, 2014 at 11:38 am

    we need to remember our beginnings,the struggles and sacrifices to appreciate our blessings

  • Reply
    Shirley Owens
    February 14, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Wonderful post Topper. The music as always was delightful and uplifted me. Thank You

  • Reply
    February 14, 2014 at 10:56 am

    What a beautiful Valentine gift to all of us. Makes me pause to think of the sacrifices of three brothers…distant family of mine who came on a ship from Ireland to North Carolina in the 1600’s…and I thank the Lord for their venture.

  • Reply
    Ken Ryan
    February 14, 2014 at 10:42 am

    “I wish my breast was made of glass wherein you might behold. Upon my heart your name lies wrote in letters made of gold.” What beautiful words! I’ve loved this song for a long time and it’s good to have your post about it. The girls did a great job playing it. HVD to all.

  • Reply
    February 14, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Great story and another great song by the Pressley Girls! Wishing the BP Gang and all the readers a Happy Valentine’s Day.

  • Reply
    February 14, 2014 at 10:03 am

    i love this! i’ve always enjoyed someone reading a poem or ode while others played so together is beautiful.

  • Reply
    February 14, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Lovely song; Lovely story – One not only inspiring memories of the various stories of my ancestors coming to America, but also of sending my children off to college or out into the world to seek their own “better life”. I would imagine that strikes a chord with you and many of your readers as well.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    February 14, 2014 at 9:31 am

    A beautiful story and beautifully sung.

  • Reply
    February 14, 2014 at 8:22 am

    Happy Valentine’s Day to all readers! I enjoyed the story of love and sacrifice; it was a romantic pleasure to read. The girls did a wonderful job with their playing and singing. God bless their wonderful talent!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 14, 2014 at 8:03 am

    That’s just beautiful, Tipper. That song is a perfect match for their guitar, fiddle, and voices. Fine job girls!
    The story in haunting indeed. The circle of life goes on, and will go on.
    Happy Valentines to all you wonderful Blind Pig readers!!

  • Reply
    Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen
    February 14, 2014 at 8:02 am

    What a fantastic love story Tipper. My great grand parent’s family came by ship to South Carolina from England and moved west to the Arkansas territory. I could imagine them as I read this wonderful story. Happy Valentine’s Day and thank you for sharing.

  • Reply
    February 14, 2014 at 7:37 am

    Oh those voices! So sweet and clear. What a great Valentine treat! And so the story, as well. As a descendant of Ulster Scots, I know a few stories like this one, and I never tire of hearing or reading them Good job, all around and thanks!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    February 14, 2014 at 7:33 am

    A really fine job by the girls with a hauntingly beautiful song, but what a lovely valentine story written for the singers it evoked from the Angel of Brasstown.
    Love is not found in flowers, candy, teddy bears and the other folderal promoted by hucksters; it is manifest by sacrifices made so that the object of one’s love would find a better way.

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    February 14, 2014 at 7:28 am

    Fantastic! Best one yet!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 14, 2014 at 7:17 am

    What a sad story, unfortunately it happened far too often.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    February 14, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Well, Tipper:
    Your story and the playing/singing by the DUET, so early in the morning, certainly put me in a state of sadness! Of course I can cry at the drop of a hat – or in this case singing of a sad song. It is easy to imagine the dreadful conditions those brave folks lived through while departing and coming to the ‘new land’ by ship. I can barely stand to fly over that ocean in a 747 jet plane.
    But thanks for reminding me this is VALENTINE’s Day. Jim and I have a date this evening with two of our wonderful grandsons. The oldest will be ‘out’ for the evening with some fair maiden!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    February 14, 2014 at 6:04 am

    Good story,, Many lives were forever changed in coming to this country and so many changed whom were left behind.. Good job Girls on the song…

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