Entries in Ben Cotton's musical catalogue are concentrated in a twenty year period, roughly between 1855 and 1875. This is when the printed record of his music was accumulated. The materials include a number of different media, including songsters and song sheets that reproduced the lyrics. The song sheets (also called broadside ballads) are printed on one side only. The songsters were multipage booklets. Credit for compostion is rarely acknowledged. The songs are often implicitly understood to be the original work of others, but credited only "as sung by Ben Cotton." This phrase may also signal the addition or subtraction of orginal lyrics - in other words, a customization by the singer.
Only a small percentage of Cotton's surviving repetoire bears musical notation. This sheet music probably brought minstrelsy into the living rooms of middle class homes. Venues for minstrelsy were not patronized by large numbers of women. The male audiences were too rough and unruly for most females. The sheet music allowed women to vicariously enter a dangerous space and simultaneously tame it.