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Nursery Rhymes Speak of Freedom

Updated on September 3, 2016
Queen Mary 1
Queen Mary 1 | Source

Why carry Nursery Rhymes to America?

England is where most of our Nursery Rhymes originated. Why would we carry them to America? Just as a way to entertain the children?

It goes back to why did we as American’s break away from England. We wanted more control over our religion, economy, society, and culture. True, some people were brought as slaves. What has that to do with Nursery Rhymes? Nursery Rhymes are actually allegories of English history representing the reasons why we wanted our Freedom from England.

Thumbscrew | Source

"Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary"

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary is about religious freedom.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells, and cockle shells,

And pretty maids all in a row.

The history of this nursery rhyme comes from Mary 1 (July 19, 1553 to November 17, 1558). It was just five short years, but almost three hundred (300) people (Protestants) were put to death over what they chose to believe. Mary, Mary quite contrary is Mary the first, also known as Queen Mary of Tudor and Bloody Mary. She was Catholic. When she came to the throne she said, "convert to Catholicism or pay the consequences." The consequences were death by torture or the guillotine. How does your garden grow? Refers to the growth of the cemetery. The more people she had tortured and killed the more her garden (cemetery) grew. Silver bells, Cockle shells and maids are forms of torture.

  • · Silver bells were thumbscrews
  • · Cockle shells were a devise used on the genitals
  • · Maids were maidens another name used for the guillotines.

Columbus discovered American in 1492. Between 1607 and 1608 many Protestants moved to Holland (the Netherlands) for more religious freedom, but found it hard to raise their children and to make a living. They found religious freedom, but the Dutch culture was too permissive. They then found their way to America in 1620.


"Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater"

Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater is about Prostitution.

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,

Had a wife and couldn't keep her!

He put her in a pumpkin shell,

And there he kept her very well!

Peter, Peter Pumpkin eater is interpreted, Peter was a farmer. He had a wife and couldn’t keep her is said to mean that she was a prostitute. He put her in a pumpkin shell, chastity belt. What is a chastity belt? It is a locking item of clothing designed to prevent sexual intercourse. Such belts were historically designed for women, for the purpose of chastity, to protect women from rape or to dissuade women and their potential sexual partners or from sexual temptation. And there he kept her very well. That does not need more explanation. Why did the pilgrim leave Holland? The culture was too permissive.

"Baa, Baa Black Sheep"

Baa, Baa Black Sheep is about taxation or the economy. Another reason the Pilgrim came to America was to prosper without taxation. Soon we came to realize that a government is not run on good looks. Taxation began again. We fought it for a while.

Baa, baa, black sheep,

Have you any wool?

Yes, sir, yes, sir,

Three bags full;

One for the master,

And one for the dame,

And one for the little boy

Who lives down the lane.

In 1275 there was a medieval English “Great” or “Old World” custom that taxed wool. This Nursery Rhyme was written in displeasure to heavy taxation on wool or taxation in general.


Hush-A-Bye is about pride and ambition.

Hush a bye baby, on the tree top,

When the wind blows the cradle will rock;

When the bow breaks, the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

In the 1765 Mother Goose book by Melody. It is quoted “This may serve as a warning to the Proud and Ambitious, who climb so high that they may generally fall at last.”


"Ring-a-Ring o’ Roses"

Ring-a-Ring o’ Roses is about the Bubonic Plague which was worse because it spread quickly among the many people close together. It killed 20% of the population of that time. America is big and you could spread out and contain diseases better. So we thought. We spread those diseases to those with no knowledge of them or had built any immunities again them.

Ring-a-ring o’ roses,

A pocket full of posies,

Ashes, Ashes

We all fall down.

Common English Version:

Ring-a-ring o' roses,

A pocket full of posies,

A-tishoo! A-tishoo!

We all fall down.

Ring-a-ring o’ roses is describing the spots or rosy rash that come upon some people with the plague. The pocket full of posies is the pocket full or packet full of flowers people would hold over their noses, to ward off the disease, for they thought the plague was caught through the nose, there was also a great stink from all the deaths. Ashes, Ashes, is all the cremated bodies left by the plague. The English version say A-tishoo! A-tishoo! which is sneezing, also a part of the Bubonic plague. We all fall down well that is understood. You're no longer standing, you're dead.

"Old Mother Hubbard"

Old Mother Hubbard is about haughtiness, grand style of living, and treason.

Old Mother Hubbard

Went to the cupboard,

To give the poor dog a bone;

When she came there,

The cupboard was bare,

And so the poor dog had none.

Thomas Wolsey was an effective administrator, and Henry the VIII, delegated more and more of his state business to him. Eventually he was crowned Cardinal. With this title came wealth and pride. He became haughty and disliked. He built houses, barns and had a grand style of living. Then Henry VIII wanted a divorce and wanted him to secure it. He could not for he had become disliked and because of this Henry VIII had him tried for treason and on his journey to court he died. Old Mother Hubbard is the Carinal and the poor doggie is Henry VIII. And the bone is the divorce. I believe the quote from the 1765 Mother Goose book by Melody: “This may serve as a warning to the Proud and Ambitious, who climb so high that they may generally fall at last” would stand true in this case also.

"Little Boy Blue:

The Nursery Rhyme “Little Boy Blue” is also referring to this same incident.

Little Boy Blue

A Little Boy Blue come blow your horn,

The sheep's in the meadow the cow's in the corn.

But where's the boy who looks after the sheep?

He's under a haystack fast asleep.

Will you wake him? No, not I - for if I do, he's sure to cry.

Why We Carried Nursery Rhymes to America.

Why did we bring Nursery Rhymes to America? We brought them to remind us of what we were seeking, FREEDOM from mad Kings and Queens, permissiveness, religious persecution and economic hardship. Somehow we did not pass on the word, like we should have and explained the Nursery Rhymes to our children. The Nursery Rhymes were created in this allegoric form to be passed verbally from person to person, because most people, at that time, could not read or write. The teachers have become the storytellers, but too much is left to the teachers.

Each Nursery Rhyme is a story of English history which is a part of the American culture and part of what makes us free and strong.


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