OMIE WISE (POOR OMIE/NAOMI WISE) (trad./CLARENCE TOM ASHLEY/DOC WATSON)

Song lyrics on these pages only for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis


This murder ballad (related in theme to Banks of the Ohio and The Lone Green Valley) recalls the murder of Naomi Wise by her lover Jonathan Lewis in Deep River, Randolph County, NC, in 1808. A romantic and moralistic article by "Charlie Craven" (pseudonym for Braxton Craven, president of Trinity College, Randolph County, NC) appeared in the Greensboro "Patriot"; a version of the ballad "Poor Naomi" was printed along with the Craven article in the 29 Apr 1874 issue.
The song was also covered by Bob Dylan in the early stages of his career.


DOC WATSON: This ballad was written about a tragedy which took place in the spring or summer of 1808. Naomi Wise, a little orphan girl, was being brought up by Squire Adams, a gent who had a pretty good name in the community as a morally decent human being. Omie, however, was seeing a ne'er-do-well named John Lewis, who never meant anything about anything serious, except some of his meanness. John Lewis courted the girl, seemingly until she became pregnant, and he decided that he'd get rid of her in some secret sort of way. He persuaded her to skip off with him and get married, then pushed her into the water and drowned her. Everyone knew that he had been mean to Omie, and when the body was taken out of the water, there was evidence that she had been beaten quite a lot.

I learned the song from my mother and some verses from my father-in-law, Gaither Carlton. Later, a distant cousin of mine who lives nearby, Dolly Greer, put the final touches on it by helping me with some verses that I had forgotten.

As reprinted in "The Songs of Doc Watson,", New York, NY, 1971, p. 40


Lyrics as performed by Doc Watson and reprinted ibid., pp. 40-41.


Oh, listen to my story, I'll tell you no lies,
How John Lewis did murder poor little Omie Wise.

He told her to meet him at Adams's Springs.
He promised her money and other fine things.

So, fool-like she met him at Adams's Springs.
No money he brought her nor other fine things.

"Go with me, little Omie, and away we will go.
We'll go and get married and no one will know."

She climbed up behind him and away they did go,
But off to the river where deep waters flow.

"John Lewis, John Lewis, will you tell me your mind?
Do you intend to marry me or leave me behind?"

"Little Omie, little Omie, I'll tell you my mind.
My mind is to drown you and leave you behind."

"Have mercy on my baby and spare me my life,
I'll go home as a beggar and never be your wife."

He kissed her and hugged her and turned her around,
Then pushed her in deep waters where he knew that she would drown.

He got on his pony and away he did ride,
As the screams of little Omie went down by his side.

T'was on a Thursday morning, the rain was pouring down,
When the people searched for Omie but she could not be found.

Two boys went a-fishin' one fine summer day,
And saw little Omie's body go floating away.

They threw their net around her and drew her to the bank.
Her clothes all wet and muddy, they laid her on a plank.

Then sent for John Lewis to come to that place --
And brought her out before him so that he might see her face.

He made no confession but they carried him to jail,
No friends or relations would go on his bail.


RALPH RINZLER: Tom Ashley groups this song with the other songs which he accompanies on the five string banjo tuned in "sawmill" tuning... under the term "lassy making tunes", because it was these songs that he performed when entertaining neighbors and family who assembled in Autumn for the boiling of cane to make molasses ("lasses"). Tom does not remember his source for this song.
Liner notes for " OLD TIME MUSIC AT CLARENCE ASHLEY'S, VOL. 2" (FOLKWAYS FA 1963, 1963), p.11.
Song omitted on Smithsonian Folkways CD Reissue.


Lyrics as performed by Clarence "Tom" Ashley, vocal and banjo, Doc Watson, guitar, Chicago, IL, Feb 1962, and reprinted in liner notes for " OLD TIME MUSIC AT CLARENCE ASHLEY'S, VOL. 2" (FOLKWAYS FA 1963, 1963), p.11.


Poor Omie, poor Omie, poor little Omie Wise,
How she was deluded by John Lewis's lies.

He promised to meet her at Adams's Spring.
He would bring her some money, some other fine things.

He brought her no money but he flattered the case,
"We will go and get married, it will be no disgrace."

She jumped up behind him and away they did go,
Till they come to the river where deep waters flow.

"John Lewisie, John Lewisie, will you tell me your mind?"
"My mind is to drown you and leave you behind."

"Take pity on my infant and spare me my life.
I'll go and confess that I'm not your wife."

He kicked and he choked her, and he turned her around.
Then he threw her in deep water where he knew she would drown.


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