Did you know that this rhyme is based on a true incident?
Mary Elizabeth Sawyer was born and lived in a farmhouse about one mile from the center village of Sterling,
One spring morning about 1816, Mary and her father found newborn twin lambs in the sheep pen. One had been rejected by the mother and was nearly dead. Mary asked and received permission to try to save the lamb. She cared for the animal, and as it grew it became both her pet and constant companion.
One day when Mary and her brother, Nathaniel, went across the fields to school they discovered the lamb following them. Nat, as always ready for a prank, suggested they take the lamb into the schoolhouse. Mary put the lamb under her desk and placed her shawl over her pet. All was fine until Mary was called to the front of the room to recite. Much to her embarrassment and the pupil's delight, the lamb trotted after her. The children and the teacher, Miss Rebecca Kimball, all had a good laugh. At the suggestion of the teacher, also known as "Polly" Kimball, Mary put
the animal into an outside shed until noontime.
The incident might have been forgotten had it not been for a visitor, John Roulstone. He was living with his uncle, Rev. Lemeul Capen, preparing for entrance to Harvard University, as was the custom at that time. The next day young John rode horseback across the fields and handed Mary a slip of paper on which the first three stanzas of the poem had been written.
There has long been a controversy concerning the author.In 1830, the original poem with three more versus was
published in a volume titled "Poems for Our Children" by Sarah Josepha Hale. The consensus of opinion now gives
credit to John Roulstone for the first twelve lines, and Mrs. Hale for the additional stanzas. They are a different
style and give a moral lesson. The rhyme later appeared as a lesson in the old MacGuffey Reader.