“Pretty Saro” is an old Appalachian folk song originating from possibly North Carolina
or Virginia. The singer loves Pretty Saro, but she shows no interest in him: “She wants a
freeholder and I have no land.” Nor can he write her a letter “in a fine hand” as he would
wish to. In despair he vows to “wander by the river” (or kill himself?). This song seems to
break up into two families, “Pretty Saro” (which appears to be more popular) and “At the
Foot of Yonder Mountain.” In the latter, the woman is “Mary,” not “Saro.” It has been
argued between folk archivists that all this is based on an ancient hymn to the Virgin
When I first come to this country in eighteen and forty nine
I saw many fair lovers, but I never saw mine
I viewéd all around me, I found I was quite alone
And me a poor stranger and a long way from home
My true love she won’t have me and this I understand
She wants a freeholder and I’ve got no land
But I could maintain her on silver and gold
And as many of the fine things as my love’s house could hold
Fare you well to old father. Fare you well to mother too.
I’m going for to ramble this wide world all through
And when I get weary, I’ll sit down and cry
And I’ll think of Pretty Saro, my darling, my dear.
Well I wish I was a poet, could write some fine hand
I would write my love a letter that she might understand.
I’d send it by the waters where the islands overflow
And I’d think of my darling wherever she’d go.
Way down in some lonesome valley. Way down in some lonesome grove
Where the small birds does whistle, their notes to increase
My love she is slender, both proper and neat
And I wouldn’t have no better pastimes than to be with my sweet.
Well I wish I was a turtle dove, had wings and could fly
Just now to my love’s lodging tonight I’d draw nigh
And in her lily-white arms I’d lie there all night
And I’d watch the little windows for the dawning of day.
Well I strolled through the mountains, I strolled through the vale
I strolled to forget her, but it was all in vain.
On the banks of Ocoee, on the mount of said brow
Where I once loved her dearly and I don’t hate her now.