Spirit & Heritage In Song – ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ – c. Late 1700’s


Spirit & Heritage In Song is a series highlighting Traditional American Music.


In the last half century many of these traditional songs have been forgotten in a flood of contemporary music and international cultural influences. Yet these songs, ballads, melodies and hymns reflect the events, cultural backgrounds, aspirations, land and faith that make up the soul of the American People far more than the strains of moderne music that have washed upon the nation’s shores. This series is offered as a reminder of the Spirit of America as given voice in song.

“I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
I’m traveling through this world of woe
Yet there’s no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright land to which I go”




Wayfaring Stranger

Wayfaring Stranger, or as sometimes titled, Poor Wayfaring stranger is a traditional American folk song of unknown origin. Music historians agree that it was first written over two hundred years ago. Apparently the music came from America’s southern Apalachian culture. Theories of its source include various ethnic origins, some relatively unknown in American history, the multi-ethnic American Melungeon People, born of the sweep of immigrants to the Americas, Europeans, indigenous American peoples and other races. The music is a hauntingly soulful retelling of the author’s life trials and speaks of his journeying on to a better place. His words by the very dynamics of human nature and history, became the companion of many Americans unsettled by national


conflicts, financial depressions, drought, homelessness and hardships of various kinds.

The song has been embraced by a wide variety of artists including Burl Ives, Johnny Cash, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, The Limeliters, Doc Watson, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Reed and many others. It has been included in soundtracks of various films.




Melungeon Boys

Wayfaring Stranger was born in the southern Appalachian Mountains about the time of the American Revolution, according to widely held beliefs about the origins of this popular, early American song. At that time, the immigrants of the region were mostly English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh, but there was also a mysterious group known as Melungeons. Sometimes called the Black Dutch, the Melungeons are often said to be of Portuguese descent, though their precise lineage is still a mystery, varies much, and is a complex mixture thought to include Native American, African (including Bantu), and some Mediterranean, with Turkish as a favorite. In recent years much research has begun to yield more clues to the Melungeons’ origins and history. They appear to have been semi-nomadic, generally moving inward from the Atlantic coast in search of more favorable social conditions. Probably because of this, Wayfaring Stranger has become associated with Melungeon history.

Regardless of descent, in those days the people of the region lived lives of enormous hardships, struggling to survive in an environment of often-rugged wilderness terrain, few supplies, not always friendly Indians, and the frequent loneliness of isolation. Wayfaring Stranger is typical of many of the spiritual songs of the time, expressing the pain and hardship of daily life, while dreaming and hoping for a bright and beautiful life after death.


Goins Family - Appalachia Melungeon Peoples

Wayfaring Stranger is a tremendously popular, universal, and timeless song that still strikes a deep, resonant chord within us today, just as it has for over two centuries.


Read more about the history of the song written by Steve Rouse >>

Further information about the song…

The Black Dutch, German Gypsies or Chicanere and their relation to the Melungeon
Linda Griggs

Melungeon are an olive complected, dark eyed, dark skinned people living in Appalachia. Their claim of Portuguese descent was largely ignored and they have been historically dismissed as “tri-racial isolates”, part African, Indian and White. Read more >>

The Wayfaring Stranger – Wikipedia

The Melungeons – A Mixed Race of American People
Melungeons (from melange) are an ethnic group indigenous to the mountains of northeastern Tennessee, racially a mixture of black, white and American Indian.

Melungeon – Wikipedia
Melungeon ( /məˈlʌndʒən/ mə-lun-jən) is a term traditionally applied to one of a number of “tri-racial isolate” groups of the Southeastern United States, mainly in the Cumberland Gap area of central Appalachia, which includes portions of East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and East Kentucky. Tri-racial describes populations thought to be of mixed European, sub-Saharan African, and Native American ancestry. Although there is no consensus on how many such groups exist, estimates range as high as 200.


Lyrics below




Trace Adkins


Ry Cooder


Jerry Reed


Melungeon Voices


See other songs of the American Spirit in History and at Music


Dust Bowl



I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
I’m traveling through this world of woe
Yet there’s no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright land to which I go
I’m going there to see my mother/father
I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I know dark clouds will gather ’round me

Great Depression

I know my way is rough and steep
Yet golden fields lie just before me
Where God’s redeemed shall ever sleep
I’m going there to see my father/mother
S/he said he’d/she’d meet me when I come
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I want to wear a crown of glory
When I get home to that good land
I want to shout salvation’s story
In concert with the blood-washed band

Burl Ives - Wayfaring Stranger

I’m going there to meet my Saviour
To sing his praise forever more
I’m just a going over Jordan
I’m just a going over home


“One good song is worth a dozen addresses and proclamations”

Joe Barlow, American poet and diplomat
at the start of the Revolutionary War
Traitors, Seamstresses, and Generals: Voices of the American Revolution


America remember and honor your history – it will give direction,
purpose and security to your future.


Plow & Hearth


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