The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Children, Go Where I Send Thee

Alternate Title: The Holy Baby

African-American Traditional Collected by Jean Ritchie
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

1. Children, go where I send thee
How shall I send thee?

    I'm gonna send thee one by one:
    One for the little bitty baby.
Born, born
Born in Bethlehem.

2. Children, go where I send thee
How shall I send thee?

    I'm gonna send thee two by two:
    Two for Paul and Silas,
    One for the little bitty babe.
Born, born
Born in Bethlehem.

3. Children, go where I send thee
How shall I send thee?

    I'm gonna send thee three by three:
    Three for the Hebrew children,
    Two for Paul and Silas,
    One for the little bitty baby.
Born, born
Born in Bethlehem.

Four for the four that stood at the door...

Five for the gospel preachers...

Six for the six that never got fixed...

Seven for the seven that never got to heaven...

Eight for the eight that stood at the gate...

Nine for the nine all dressed so fine...

Ten for the ten commandments...

Eleven for the eleven de riders...

Twelve for the twelve Apostles...

Neil Lomax, Folk Songs of North America (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Dolphin Books, 1975):

The version collected by J. and A. Lomax in 1942 is substantially similar, with the exception of the first verse:

1. Children, go and I will send thee
How shall I send thee?
Lord, I shall send thee one by one,
Well, one was the Holy Baby
Was borned by the Virgin Mary,
Was wrapped in the hollow of a clawhorn,
Was laid in the hollow of a manger,
Was born, born, Lordy, born in Bethlehem.

The remaining verses have only minor differences to the version reproduced above:

2. Well, two was the Paul and Silas,

3. Three was the Hebrew Children,

4. Well four was the four come a-knockin' at the door,

5. Five was the Gospel writers,

6. Six was the six that couldn't get fixed,

7. Seven was the seven came down from Heav'n,

8. Eight was the eight that stood at the gate,

9. Nine was the nine that dressed so fine,

10. Ten was the Ten Commandments,

11. Eleven was the 'level deriders,

12. Twelve was the twelve Disciples,

William L. Simon, ed., Readerís Digest Merry Christmas Songbook (1981)

Jean Ritchie, best-known member of the Ritchie Family of Kentucky, who have been singing authentic folk songs for generations, made this charming carol known to the world. It had been discovered in Kentucky in a country school for black children, where it may have been sung for the past three centuries. The verses, which sound like a childís counting game, actually tell the children of God how to go about preaching the gospel Another version of this same carol also exists, thought to have been brought to the United States by Cornishmen who worked in the copper mines along Lake Superior.

From: The Digital Tradition

This file is a summary of postings to the Internet whenever this song re-surfaces for discussion. I have always been intrigued by the mix of references to the Bible and to the constellations and wonder if the verses are a blending of an astronomical version and a biblical version.


Alternate Titles:
- Children Go Where I Send Thee
- I'll Sing You One Oh
- The Carol Of The Twelve Numbers
- The Twelve Apostles
- The Dilly Song

Unrelated Song:
- Green Grow The Rashes-o (Robert Burns)
- Often confused because of the title


One is one and all alone:
- God, or Jesus Christ

Two, two, the lily-white boys (babes), clothed all in green-ho
- God and Jesus
- Or: Jesus Christ and John the Baptist
- Or: the constellation Gemini (the twins) (a sign of spring?)

Three, three, the rivals
- The Trinity (God, Jesus, The Holy Ghost)
- This explanation does not explain the term "rivals"

Four for the gospel makers:
- The Four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John)

Five for the symbols at your door
- The five books of Moses
- Or: a pentagram, a common motif on doorposts (why?)

Six for the six proud Walkers (or: charming waiters):
- "Walkers" may be a corruption of "waters"
- The six water-pots used in the miracle of Cana
- Where Jesus changed water into wine at a wedding

Seven for the seven stars in the sky:
- The seven stars in the constellation Ursa Major (The Big Dipper)
- Or: the seven visible stars in the constellation Pleiades
- From: (catherine yronwode), 16 Feb 1996

Eight for the April rainers:
- The constellation Hyades (eight stars)
- Also called "The Rainy Hyades"
- Rise heliacally with the sun in the month of Arpil
- Or: Gabriel and the Archangels

Nine for the nine bright shiners:
- The Muses (does not fit with biblical or astronomical theme)
- Suggests another constellation

Ten for the ten commandments:
- Self-explanatory

Eleven for the eleven who went to heaven:
- The eleven apostles minus Judas

Twelve for the twelve apostles:
- Self-explanatory


English Country Songs:
- Editor: Lucy Broadwood
- Leadenhall Press, London, 1893

[Ed. Note: This reference is said to be incorrect, according to one sharp-eyed visitor.  He indicated that the correct title should be "English County Songs."  Thanks, Chris!]

One Hundred English Folk Songs:
- Editor: Cecil Sharp
- New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1975
- ISBN: 0-486-23192-5
- From: (David Wald), 18 Dec 1994
- Also mentioned by Holly Tannen (see: Sing Out)

Sing Out Magazine (39-4, page 105):
- From: (Holly Tannen), 4 Jan 1996
It has been collected in the southern mountains, the north atlantic states, Ohio, Michigan, and in Canada. These versions trace back to Cornwall and the west country of England, where it was popular as a Christmas carol and as a harvest song.

Journal of American Folklore:
- V.62 no. 246, Oct-Dec 1949 (Leah Yoffie)
- Songs of the Twelve Numbers and the Hebrew Chant of Echod Mi Yodea The song was well known in many sections of Europe as early as the sixteenth century, when it first appeared as an addition to the German Jewish Passover Haggadah, and may have existed as a Jewish folk song some time before it was printed. A Latin version from a 1630 manuscript lists two testaments, three Patriarchs, four evangelists, five books of Moses, six vessels (of Cana) etc.


This is one of many "counting" songs among the hymns and carols of Christmas. See the notes to the Twelve Days of Christmas

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