Hugill says he learned this halyard shanty from the Barbados shantyman, Harding "The Barbarian". The tune of the refrain is closely related to that of "John, Come Tell Us As We Haul Away", also known as "Mobile Bay"
The word kanaka is of Polynesian and Melanesian origin, with the meaning of "man" or "human being": indeed kānaka ōiwi, kānaka maoli or Hawaii maoli is how the indigenous peoples of the Hawaiian Islands refer to themselves. The same word is found only slightly changed in the Maori language of New Zealand as tangata.
In the 19th century large numbers of Melano-
I heard, I heard, the old man say,
Today, today is a holiday,
We'll work tomorrow, but no work today,
For today, today is a holiday,
We're outward bound for 'Frisco Bay,
We're outward bound at the break of day.
We're bound away around Cape Horn,
Where you wish to God you'd not been born!
We're outward bound from London Town,
Where all the girlies they come down
We're a Yankee Ship with a Yankee crew
And we're the boys to push her through
We're a Yankee Ship with a Yankee mate
Don't stop to walk or he'll change your gait
And when we get to 'Frisco Bay,
We'll pay off ship and draw our pay
O haul, oh haul, oh haul away,
O haul away, an' make yer pay!
from Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana, Jr., 1836
A considerable trade has been carried on for several years between California and the Sandwich Islands, and most of the vessels are manned with Islanders; who, as they, for the most part, sign no articles, leave whenever they choose, and let themselves out to cure hides at San Diego, and to supply the places of the men of the American vessels while on the coast. In this way, quite a colony of them had become settled at San Diego, as their headquarters....
They spoke a little English, and by a sort of compromise, a mixed language was used on the beach, which could be understood by all. The long name of Sandwich Islanders is dropped, and they are called by the whites, all over the Pacific ocean, "Kanákas," from a word in their own language which they apply to themselves, and to all South Sea Islanders, in distinction from whites, whom they call "Haole." This name, "Kanaka," they answer to, both collectively and individually. Their proper names, in their own language, being difficult to pronounce and remember, they are called by any names which the captains or crews may choose to give them. Some are called after the vessel they are in; others by common names, as Jack, Tom, Bill....
The earliest published version of John Kanaka appears to be that published in Minstrelsy of Maine:Folk-
In the book the shanty is entitled TOO-
It has only three verses, and the name is slightly changed, to Jan Kanaganaga:
A Yankee ship and a Yankee crew,
Jan Kanaganaga too-
A Yankee ship with a Yankee mate,
Jan Kanaganaga too-
If you stop to walk he'll change your gait.
Jan Kanaganaga too-
Captain James A. Creighton was born 6 June 1821 in Maine, and on married Emily Meservey on 8 January 1849. They raised eight children at Thomaston, three of whom died young. James was a master mariner, but later retired from the sea and returned to Thomaston to build ships in a shipyard to the east of the foot of Knox Street.
In 1859 he purchased a store and some lime kilns from Captain Edward Robinson. These kilns stood at the foot of Knox Street. By the time of his death in 1893 two of his sons, John H. Creighton and Charles A. Creighton, had joined him as partners in the family business: presumably one of these was the Captain Creghton who gave the shanty to Mary Winslow Smyth, or it could have been Charles' son, Charles William Creighton, who was born in 1888.
The firm appears to have been a model of vertical integration. They owned lime quarries, and had teams of horses and waggons to bring the rock to their limekilns. The kilns had a capacity of 150,000 casks a year, and the firm manufactured about 600 casks a day, which when filled were then shipped to New York in the firm’s six vessels, made in their own shipyard. They also owned a general store, where doubtless many of their employees spent a large proportion of their wages!