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ARGEERS. AKA – “Wedding Night (2) (The).” English, Country Dance (2/2 time). B Flat Major (Barnes, Fleming Williams, Raven, Sharp): D Major (Johnson, Williamson). Standard tuning. AABB. The tune dates at least to 1651, when it was first published in John Playford’s first edition of his English Dancing Master, with the alternate title “Wedding Night (2) (The).” Williamson (1976) identifies the melody as a morris dance tune from southern England, and suggests that the title might have been a garbled version of the North African territory of 'Algiers.' This may be true: the Barbary coast, including Algiers, was long the haven of pirates that prayed on shipping for many centuries. Shakespeare and Dryden both refer to Algerian pirates by the term ‘Argiers’, and Luttrell writes: “His majestie hath granted a brief for making charitable collections for the redemption of captives at Argiers” [I, 37]. The Barbary pirates remained active into the next century, and they were a topic Playford’s day in England, as that country sought to suppress them in support of trade. Samuel Pepys makes mention in his diary for November 22nd, 1662: “News that Sir J. Lawson hath made up a peace now with Tunis and Tripoli, as well as Argiers, by which he will come home very highly honoured.” The entry references Sir John Lawson, born the son of a poor man in Hull, Yorkshire, entered the navy as a common seaman but rose to the rank of vice-admiral. Lawson spent the early 1660’s trying to suppress the pirates of the African coast and, in 1664, he “made the Algerines disgorge eighteen vessels…” after which he proceeded to relieve Tangier. He was killed fighting the Dutch in 1665, acting as Rear-Admiral of the Red under the Duke of York.

‘Algiers’ was also apparently in common use in the 1660’s as a term meaning a ‘haven for thieves’. A London pamphlet issued in 1662 (“printed for W. Gilbertson at the Bible in Giltspur-street without Newgate”), titled “The Life and Death of Mrs. Mary Frith. Commonly Called Mal Cutpurse,” purported to be the ‘diary’ of an infamous Fleet street criminal (and as such, no less fascinating to the public then, as now). She relates that her house received all kinds of stolen goods—“My House was the Algiers where (thieves) trafficked in safety without the Bribes to those Fellows (i.e. thief-catchers, the policemen of the era), and publically exposed what they had got without the danger of Inquisition or Examination or Fees of silence. I could have told in what quarter of the Town a Robberty was don the Evening before by very early day next morning, and had a perfect Inventory of what they had taken as soon as it came to the Dividend…”

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Barlow (The Complete Country Dances from Playford's Dancing Master), 1985; No. 4, p. 17. Barnes (English Country Dance Tunes), 1986. Fleming Williams & Shaw (English Dance Airs; Popular Selection, Book 1), 1965; p. 7. Johnson (The Kitchen Musician No. 14; Songs, Airs and Dances of the 18th Century), 1997; p. 1. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 20. Sharp (Country Dance Tunes), 1909; p. 30. Williamson (English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Fiddle Tunes), 1976; p. 17.

Recorded sources: Maggie’s Music MMCD216, Hesperus - “Early American Roots” (1997).

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