1960: Michael Row the Boat Ashore by The Highwaymen

Composed by Tony Saletan, Pete Seeger, Bob Gibson. Recorded by college folk singers The Highwaymen. The group formed at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, USA. The words and tune originate from the era of the American Civil War (1861 – 1865) at St. Helena Island, one of the Sea Islands of South Carolina, USA. It was sung by former African-American slaves whose owners had abandoned the island before the Union navy arrived to enforce a blockade. Charles Pickard Ware was an abolitionist and Harvard graduate who had come to supervise the plantations on St. Helena Island from 1862 to 1865, and he wrote down the song in music notation as he heard the freed men sing it. Ware’s cousin, William Francis Allen, reported in 1863 that the former slaves sang the song as they rowed him in a boat across Station Creek. The song was first published in 1867 in the book ‘Slave Songs of the United States’. The composers of this version of the song by The Highwaymen adapted the tune and words. It reached No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in the USA on 4th September 1961.