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This was written by the American songwriter Stephen Foster, who first published it in 1850. Like Foster's "Oh! Susanna
," it's a minstrel song, making fun of black people in America. While this seems horribly racist, songs like this were common at the time and were usually performed at minstrel shows with performers in blackface, notably by The Christy Minstrels. In modern times, any racial overtones have been stripped from the song and it remains a popular tune, especially with children.
There really is a Camptown; it's in Bradford county, Pennsylvania, and isn't too far from the Pittsburgh area where Foster grew up. The song, however, refers to "Camp Towns," which were hobo communities. In the song, the people in these transient communities bet on horse races to try and make some money.
The original title was "Gwine to Run All Night," which mocks the southern black dialect. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 3)
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