Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad
Secrets: Signs and Symbols
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Follow the
Drinking Gourd
Music The Language of Quilts Language of the Railroad Teacher Tips


Follow the Drinking Gourd
  Listen to the song »



Lyrics of One Version of the Song:

Some Clues About the Words:

When the sun comes back
And the first quail calls


These are signs that winter is ending — when the days start getting longer, yet it is still cold. 

Follow the Drinking Gourd.
For the old man is waiting for to carry you to freedom,
If you follow the Drinking Gourd


Some people think the old man was Peg Leg Joe, a carpenter who reportedly traveled throughout the deep south.

The river bank makes a mighty good road,
The dead trees show you the way.
Left foot, peg foot, traveling on
Follow the Drinking Gourd


The river bank here is the river bank of the Tombigbee River in Mississippi. “Left foot, peg foot” talks about marks that were placed on dead trees along the river bank. If Peg Leg Joe did create this song, perhaps he left his mark on the trees.

The river ends between 2 hills
Follow the Drinking Gourd.
There’s another river on the other side
Follow the Drinking Gourd.


When the Tombigbee ended, slaves should go north over the hills until they came to another river, the Tennessee River.

When the great big river meets the little river,
Follow the Drinking Gourd.
For the old man is a-waiting to carry you to freedom
If you follow the Drinking Gourd.


The Tennessee River joins the Ohio River. Once slaves crossed the Ohio, they were in free territory. There, people from the Underground Railroad could help them as they escaped to freedom.


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