“Mary Had a Little Lamb”, our beloved American nursery rhyme of the nineteenth century is not based on fictional characters; it’s in fact about a Boston girl called Mary Sawyer whose lamb followed her to school one day in 1816!
Here’s the story.
As published in the book “Mary and her Little Lamb”, Mary was Mary Sawyer who was born in Boston in 1806. The whole story that led to the song started on a cold, March morning: (the article continues after the ad)
“I went out to the barn with father; and after the cows had been fed, we went to the sheep pen, and found two lambs which had been born in the night. One had been forsaken by its mother, and through neglect, cold and lack of food was nearly dead. I saw it had still a little life, and asked to take it into the house; but father said, No, it was almost dead, anyway, and at the best could live but a short time. But I couldn’t bear to see the poor little thing suffer, so I teased until I got it into the house. Then I worked upon mother’s sympathies. At first the little creature could not swallow, and the catnip tea mother made it could not take for a long time.”
And then the two became close friends:
“I got the lamb warm by wrapping it in an old garment and holding it in my arms beside the fireplace. All day long I nursed the lamb, and at night it could swallow just a little. Oh, how pleased I was! But even then I wasn’t sure it would live; so I sat up all night with it, fearing it wouldn’t be warm enough if there was not someone at hand to look out for its comfort. In the morning, much to my girlish delight, it could stand; and from that time it improved rapidly. It soon learned to drink milk; and from the time it would walk about, it would follow me anywhere if I only called it.”
And that’s why, one day, the lamb followed her to school:
“The day the lamb went to school, I hadn’t seen her before starting off; and not wanting to go without seeing her, I called. She recognized my voice, and soon I heard a faint bleating far down the field. More and more distinctly I heard it, and I knew my pet was coming to greet me. My brother Nat said, “Let’s take the lamb to school with us.”
When they went to the school, Mary put the lamb into a blanket at her feet and tried to keep it hidden, but a bleat alerted the teacher who laughed and took it outside for Mary to take home at lunch.
While the lamb was outside the class, John Roulstone, a young man who had newly arrived in Boston in order to study and prepare for college, witnessed the event and wrote a poem about it:
Mary had a little lamb;
Its fleece was white as snow;
And everywhere that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go.
It followed her to school one day,
Which was against the rule;
It made the children laugh and play
To see a lamb at school.
And so the teacher turned it out;
But still it lingered near,
And waited patiently about
Till Mary did appear.
If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: This Is Why Beatle’s I Am The Walrus Was Intentionally Written With Meaningless Lyrics
Photo: Wikimedia, Luke Walker / Flickr
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Sources: Mary Had a Little Lamb – Yes, There was a Mary and She Did Have a Little Lamb | Mary and her Little Lamb | Was There Really a Mary Who Had a Little Lamb?