I love this kind of history, a slice of life from earlier days. Hearing this song is like taking a time machine to a fun and happy moment.
I remember my mother singing “Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow” to us children when I was small, in the ancient days of the 1950’s. When I recall songs and nursery rhymes and games I learned from Mama, I usually find that they are traditional in both the Appalachian mountains and the British Isles. They were handed down for generations, probably from one child to another, over centuries.
My mother grew up in Toast, in Surry County, N. C. Her parents and grandparents were from Surry and other counties on the North Carolina/Virginia line, and their ancestors seem to have been from the British Isles and to have come to America through tidewater Virginia, in colonial days. Many finally settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow” is a traditional British folk song, carried over to America. The words are said to date back to 1898, but the tune, called “Baltimore,” was possibly written about 1650. As an Appalachian play party song, it is accompanied by motions and dancing. The words suggest motions like clapping and stomping and turning around, and skipping around in a circle does nicely for the chorus. Young adults as well as children enjoyed this type of “play,” which was performed to music and carefully not called dancing in conservative religious communities that disapproved of dancing and often forbade it.
Here is my arrangement with chords for ukulele or guitar. You can find versions of the tune on Youtube.