The earliest known published version of it comes from a manuscript dated to around 1730 (but it differs in referring to “nine” rather than “seven” wives). The modern form was first printed around 1825.
There are a number of places called St Ives in England and elsewhere. It is generally thought that the rhyme refers to St Ives, Cornwall, when it was a busy fishing port and had many cats to stop the rats and mice destroying the fishing gear, although some people argue it was St Ives, Huntingdonshire as this is an ancient market town and therefore an equally plausible destination. (source)
As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives.
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits.
Kits, cats, sacks, wives,
How many going to St. Ives?
Here’s the answer to the riddle:
Only one person was going to Saint Ives. If he or she crossed the path of the seven wives, then the kittens, cats, sacks, and wives were all going in a different direction! (If everyone was going in the same direction, however, the answer would be 2,801 (7 wives, 49 sacks, 343 cats, and 2,401 kittens equal 2,800. Then you have to add one more for the person speaking the words of the riddle.) (source)
Extras for Plus Members
- Chant, Original tune with chords, Orff arrangement
- MIDI file