Nell Cropsey’s Murder Ballad

Don’t you love it when two things you’re interested in collide? I was researching something else and came across an article about Jim Wilcox’ suicide in 1934. Mrs. L.A. Spencer, a local reader in Elizabeth City, NC, shared the lyrics of a murder ballad about Nell Cropsey’s case.

Jim Wilcox, of course, was accused of murdering Nell Cropsey, his former sweetheart. If her name sounds familiar, it may be because you’ve read one of my earlier posts about her, or heard about the case somewhere else. It’s really a fascinating one!

I also love murder ballads, like Henry Lee, which were popular at the turn of the century until about the 1930s. It’s a uniquely American type of music. I wrote a post about murder ballads with some links to examples back in 2019.

If you haven’t heard of Nell Cropsey or you’ve forgotten the details, check out the posts about her first and the murder ballad will make more sense. I don’t know if the song had a title. The Ballad of the Pasquotank River, maybe, or something like that?

Oh, swift flowing river,
A secret you hold,
Way down in the depths
Of the water so cold

Won’t you stop for a while,
As onward you flow.
And tell us, Oh River,
The secret your know?

And you oft have whispered,
In your ceaseless rounds,
From the Dismal Swamp
To your home in the sound,
Won’t you stop for a while,
As onward you flow,
And tell us, Oh River,
The things that you know?

The fair girl whose story
So sad has been told,
Stole away in the night,
Like a lamb from the fold;
The treacherous hand dealt
The villainous blow.
That secret, Oh River,
You surely must know.

Did you take her dear form
In your tender embrace?
Did you stoop low and kiss
Her beautiful face?
Did you sing sweet lullabies,
Down in the deep,
While the billowy waves
Rocked the loved one to sleep?

Rocked softly to sleep
To awaken no more
Till dawn of the light
On eternity’s shore.

Won’t you stop for a while,
As onward you flow.
And tell us, Oh River,
The secret you know?