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“Darling Nellie Gray”

Laura went to sleep while Pa and the fiddle were both softly singing: “My darling Nellie Gray, they have taken you away, And I’ll never see my darling any more”… –Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 4, “Christmas”

Often spelled “Darling Nelly Gray”, this song was composed in 1856 by Benjamin Russell Hamby (1833-1867) while he was a student at Otterbein College in Ohio. Born in Ohio, as an adult Hamby worked for Root & Cady music publishers. The lyrics of “My Darling Nellie Gray” tell the story of lovers separated due to the evils of slavery. It immediately became a favorite, although today Hamby is probably best remembered for composing the Christmas classic: “Up on the Housetop.”


There’s a low green valley by the old Kentucky shore
Where we’ve whiled many happy hours away,
A-sitting and a-singing by the little cottage door,
Where lived my darling Nelly Gray.

Oh my poor Nelly Gray, they have taken you away
And I’ll never see my darling any more.
I’m a-sitting by the river and I’m weeping all the day
For you’re gone from the old Kentucky shore.

When the moon had climbed the mountain, and the stars were shining too,
Then I’d take my darling Nellie Gray.
We would float down the river in my little red canoe,
While my banjo so sweetly I would play.

One night I went to see her but “she’s gone” the neighbors say,
The white man bound her with his chain,
They have taken her to Georgia to wear her life away,
As she toils in the cotton and the cane.

My canoe is under water and my banjo is unstrung
I’m tired of living anymore;
My eyes shall look downward and my songs shall be unsung
While I stay on the old Kentucky shore.

My eyes are getting blinded and I cannot see my way,
Hark! there’s someone knocking at my door;
Oh! I hear the angels calling and I see my Nelly Gray
Farewell to the old Kentucky shore.

[final chorus]
Oh, my darling Nelly Gray, up in heaven there they say
That they’ll never take you from me any more;
I’m a-coming, coming coming as the angels clear the way
Farewell to the old Kentucky shore.

MY DARLING NELLIE GRAY (from Little House in the Big Woods)

My darling Nellie Gray, they have taken you away,
And I’ll never see my darling any more…

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    Click on the above images to view a copy of original sheet music of “Darling Nelly Gray”.    


“Darling Nelly Gray” (BW 4; PG)
     “My darling Nellie Gray, they have taken you away”