This was a sea chantey, used with the windlass, and the capstan.The lead man would sing the first and third lines of each verse and the crew would sing on the second and fourth lines, as they did their work, with winches for loading cargo, raising sails, pulling up anchors, and other jobs on deck.
Some believe the song originated among the early American river men, or Canadian voyageurs. Others believe it was a land song before it went to sea. Most agree that it incorporates both Irish and African-American elements.
Shenandoah was tremendously popular both on land and sea and was known by countless names, including: Shennydore, The Wide Missouri, The Wild Mizzourye, The World Of Misery-Solid Fas (a West Indian rowing shanty that may be older than other versions), The Oceanida, and Rolling River.
Two verses of the song were published in an article by W. J. Alden in Harper's Magazine (1882). A version of Solid Fa's was collected by R. Abrams in England in 1909. The shanty is said to date at least to the 1820s.
Shenandoah was an Indian chief living on the Missouri River.
The purpose of the Folk Den is to use the medium of the World Wide Web to continue the tradition of the folk process, that is the telling of stories, and singing of songs, passed on from one generation to another, by word of mouth.
In this electronic era, such a process is in danger of being overwhelmed by the commercial mass media. This page and others on the 'net are working to preserve the folk songs that have chronicled our global heritage for centuries.
In the Folk Den, a "new" folk song is uploaded every month as a "Global Community Service."