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Mary's lamb really had a fleece as white as snow

While most nursery rhymes had bleak origins that are quite unsuited for children, Mary Had a Little Lamb is actually based on the truth. It was a country-side poem that ended up in controversy so deep that it took great personalities to resolve the issue.

In 1815, a young girl of nine, Mary Sawyer, found a sickly new born lamb on her father's farm and decided to look after it till it was healthy. The lamb recovered and learned to follow Mary everywhere. One day, it went with her to school and came out of its hiding place when Mary went up to the front to recite something in class. It is believed that the nursery rhyme was born from this incident, when Mary's classmate, John Roulstone penned the day's events in verse.

A schoolhouse representation of Mary's little lamb Image source: wikimedia commons

Many years later, the little lamb gave birth to some of her own, but was gored to death by a farm cow. Unfortunately, and rather mysteriously, John Roulstone was also found dead quite suddenly at the age of 17. His little rhyme, somehow found a way out of the country, and a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale published it with her own collection of poems in 1830. This is when the poem gained a lot of attention. Mary Sawyer questioned Hale's poem and even produced proof of it being Roulstone's work, but she refused to admit that it was plagiarised.

Henry Ford, the man behind the automobile industry at the time, got involved in this spat after Mary Sawyer's death. He took her side in the matter and bought the little country house, where the poem was kept as a memory. Later, Thomas Edison recorded a reading of this poem on his instruments and it remained in the popular form we know it as.

Keywords: Mary, Lamb, Roulstone, Rhyme, Ford, Edison


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