Elizabeth Canning

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ELIZABETH CANNON. AKA - "Elizabeth Canning." English, Reel. A Mixolydian/Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The melody first appeared under the title "Elizh. Canning" in London publisher John Johnson's Two Hundred Favourite Country Dances, vol. 8 (1758), followed by Charles and Samuel Thompson's 1765 country dance collection where it is given as "Elizabeth Canning." However, a number of musicians' manuscript collections and copybooks give the title as "Elizabeth Cannon," such as Northumbrian musician William Vickers, who included it in his 1770 manuscript collection (as "Elizabeth Cannon"). In America it appears in the music copybooks of Samuel Hudson and Nicholas Cook (Johnston, Rhode Island, 1772), fiddler Whittier Perkins (Massachusetts, 1790), fifer Aaron Thompson (New Jersey, 1777), and flute player John Hoff (Lancaster, Pa., 1797). The latter two musicians gave the tune as a quickstep march.

It is fitting that the tune appears in both English and American sources, for the real-life Elizabeth Canning (1734–1773) [1] lived in both countries, albeit in America presumably against her will. She was an London maidservant who was at the center of one of the era's most celebrated criminal mysteries when, in 1753 at age 19, she disappeared for a month, only to reappear after that time miles away at the home of her mother, malnourished and in "deplorable condition." She told her family, neighbors, and finally the magistrates that she had been abducted and held in a hayloft. From her descriptions of her abduction and the place she was held, it was determined that a single house was the site of the crime and that it had been occupied by a woman named Susannah Wells, for whom an arrest warrant was soon obtained. Also at the house was one Mary Squires, whom Elizabeth also said was a party to the crime. Both were arrested, and, as the case progressed (involving magistrate and novelist Henry Fielding), both Wells and Squires were tried and convicted of the crime.

Many had their doubts about Canning's story, however, particularly the Lord Mayor of London and the trial judge himself. Post conviction, they re-interviewed witnesses for the prosecution and found their stories held up poorly--some even recanted their testimony. The Lord Mayor ordered Canning's arrest and at her trial she was found guilty of perjury. Squires received a pardon, and Canning was placed in jail for a short time then ordered transported for seven years, ending up in America, where she eventually died. Londoners were intensely interested in the case, taking sides one way or the other, and followed the various opinions in published pamphlets. Allan Ramsay and Voltaire (Histoire d'Elisabeth Canning, et de Jean Calas, 1762), even wrote of the case.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Seattle (Great Northern/William Vickers), 1987, Part 3; No. 510. Thompson (Compleat Collection of 200 Favourite Country Dances, vol. 2), 1765; No. 69.

Recorded sources:




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