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The Meaning of “Sing a Song of Sixpence”

Living in Jamaica, not far from Port Royal, (once the ‘wickedest city in the world, until it sank) I know the meaning of a particular ‘nursery rhyme’.

It was created more as an advertising jingle then rhyme.

Although kids sing it today, thinking it’s just a bit of silliness, it wasn’t. It was Blackbeard’s Alert.

The Rhyme Goes

Sing a Song of Sixpence
Pocket Full of Rye
Four and Twenty Black Birds
Baked in a Pie
When the Pie was opened
The Birds began to Sing
Wasn’t that a dainty Dish
To set before the King?
The King was in the counting
house counting out his money
The Queen was in the Parlour
Eating Bread and Honey
The Maid was in the Garden
Hanging out the Clothes
When along came a Blackbird and
Snipped off her nose

Every word of the rhyme has a meaning, a meaning that was known by those who participated in Piracy.

<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Source</a>


Blackbeard, (Edward Tech) was a very well known and successful pirate.   Unlike others, he paid each man six pence a day to sail with him.   No one else paid their crew.  The crew would get a piece of the take, if there was a take, and nothing if the trip was a failure.

Not only did he give them six pence a day, he also gave each man a packet of rye whiskey.

Hence he was very popular.  And selective.

Each ship usually had a crew of about twenty four men.  Experience had taught Blackbeard these were enough to keep the ship afloat, and do all necessary attacks.

<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Source</a>


His usual mode was to learn where a ship would be, (and this is data gotten from various Jewish merchants who did business with other Jewish merchants in Curacao and sent the messages in Ladino or Hebrew which was undetected by the Spanish) and make his ship look as if it were abandoned.

When another ship saw it bobbing along, apparently unmanned, the would board.  When they went into the hold, the ‘Blackbirds’ would race out, kill them, and then capture their ship.

<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Source</a>

Blackbeard was the King; the Queen was his ship; Queen Ann’s Revenge, the Maid would be the ship about to be attacked; it was in the garden; a specific area which was useful for Pirates.  It was hanging out the clothes, meaning under sail.

So, the Blackbirds, Blackbeard’s men were in the ‘pie’, the Queen Ann’s Revenge. They came out when it was opened, and captured the curious ship.

This is just one nursery rhyme which actually has a real meaning.


What do you think?

Written by jaylar


Leave a Reply
    • Nope. This wasn’t a story. Snopes can say what it wants, but this happened. And it isn’t one source.

      Port Royal was a real place. Most of it sank during an Earthquake, but there is a lot of history. I’m sure Snopes says there was no Port Royal.

      • I’m not sure why you’re accusing me or Snopes of claiming Port Royal wasn’t real. That has nothing to do with it.

        Why would Snopes claim that they themselves made up the story if they didn’t? Can you give me an example of this story that predates the Snopes article? (1999)

        I’m not trying to be argumentative, I would actually gladly be wrong because I think it makes a great origin story. I just don’t believe it’s true, based on my research.

        • Snopes would have had to existed in the 1600s to have made up the story. It is a very old rhyme, that predates Snope and has meanings.

          Think of it, Four and Twenty Blackbirds, baked in a Pie? How could that match anything possible? It isn’t a bracelet, a land title…?

          The King, was not the King of England, anymore than the Queen … the King was Blackbeard, the Queen his ship, the Blackbirds, Blackbeard’s men.

          There is a lot to Port Royal, and a very interesting reference from Oliver Cromwell concerning how much money was garnered from Jamaica due to Piracy.

        • I’ve looked over my replies to you. I apologise because you actually believe Snopes is a real source and prints absolute unquestioned truth. You can believe Snopes. The facts are that Blackbeard did pay his pirates, the others didn’t. He gave them a sixpence a day and a packet of rye whiskey a day. Those are facts.

          Anyone researching Pirates, using real sources will learn that a particular area of ocean (West of South Carolina) was called ‘the garden’ do to its calm seas.

    • Sorry. It’s a story that I know about since I was a child… before there was an Internet or a Snopes. My parents know about it, and my grand parents know about it, and …. do you understand that Snopes wasn’t in existence then?

      It is part of Jamaican history.

      Um… you do know there’s an island called Jamaica which exists, right? And a place called Port Royal which exists… right? Or did Snopes invent that as well?

    • Years ago, I was physically present in Triond’s Forum, when the crew decided to invent “WhiteHouse Insider” and write horrible things about Obama. To clue it was Satire, it would be written by ‘Ulsterman’.

      People believed it. They actually believed every word written by the crew which the guy in Northern Ireland published.

      When it went down, because Triond went down, these sheep couldn’t believe it. They insisted it was true, and nothing I could say would dissuade them.

      Believe what snopes says is true. It doesn’t matter. We know it was a jingle by Blackbeard, to alert others that he was taking on crew.

      • I’m not sure why you keep insulting me the way you are. I apologize if I came across as trolling, and I didn’t mean to be insulting of you. I honestly thought I was sharing helpful information when I informed you of what I found on the subject. If you wish to continue an intelligent and respectful conversation about it, I will gladly do so. Otherwise, I’m not going to continue in what is becoming a pointless internet argument.

        • When you live in a 4th World country, as Jamaica is considered, people assume you don’t know anything, even about your own history/geography. The fact that the meaning of this rhyme was known to my Grandparents, (pre-dating Snope) and if you read the rhyme, you would see certain facts/hints.

          I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, cause in RL I am not. it is just that this has happened to me, ad infinitum, ad nauseum where some one will tell me that…They “read that Jamaica…” and what they read overwrites whatever I know, saw, did, was….

          Just two months ago a guy in NY was telling me about something that happened in Kingston. I was physically present when the event occurred but he was in NY and he knew more than me.

          Snopes can pretty much write that Jamaica was settled by the Dutch or the French and people will believe it. So I guess my response is to shrug.

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