Songs of the Revolution
GRADE LEVEL: 6-12
SUGGESTED TIME: 2 days
Students will be able to...
- Analyze songs of The American Revolution to gain insight to public thought and sentiment of that period.
- Analyze a primary source to gain meaning and historical context.
- Create songs/verses that reflect public thought from Pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary America.
The following verses were actual songs sung by common people and the military prior to and during the Revolutionary War. Many of them were sung as "drinking songs" at taverns or bars. They represent typical sentiment of the "rebels," as well as, sentiment of Tories (loyalists). Commoners and lyricists would frequently write new words to old tunes. For example, the piece "God Save the King," the tune which we now know as "America," (or "My Country 'Tis of Thee") is now the English National Anthem. In this rendition, the first verse is in compliance with the original British verse. The next three verses are quite the opposite as it blesses "the commonwealth," "Great Washington," and acclaims the independent "free states." By studying these songs, students will also understand that not all colonists were rebels. Approximately two-thirds of people living on American soil were either ambiguous or remained loyal to the crown.
Students will realize that common sentiment can be traced through the songs of the time. One can compare these songs to the Vietnam protest (folk) songs that promoted peace in the 1960s and 1970s, or, more recently, to the songs that were written expressly for September 11, 2001 by popular music artists today. This exercise also relays to the students the fact that history is not always found in just record keeping books and diaries; history can be found anywhere; and an effective historian looks everywhere for history.
Working in Groups
Split the class into small groups and assign each of them a song. Each group must complete the following requirements.
I. Analysis: Ask them to analyze the song, answering the following questions. Encourage the students to look up in the dictionary any words they do not know, explaining that Old English is different from "American."
- Who are the people that the song represents?
- How do you think the singers felt when singing this song?
- Is there a particular event to which the song is referring?
- What is the meaning of the song and how is it significant to the American Revolution?
II. The Last Verse: Ask each group to create a last verse that complies with the rest of the song. Make sure they pay attention to the tone and the mood of the song.
III. Poster: Ask them to create a collage of pictures and drawings that represent their song. Remind them to be both creative and accurate.
IV. Presentation: Each group must come to the front of the class and present their analysis, poster, and a reading of the last verse to the class. Points should be given for preparation, creativity, participation (each member should have a part), and content.
V. Extra Credit: The students may sing their song with the last verse to the class. They may also record it on a tape and present it with the rest of the presentation. If their song does not come with a tune, they can make one up or decide to rap the song.
Give each student a packet of all the songs. For homework, ask them to analyze one or two songs of their choice using the questions in Analysis above. In class the following day, form a discussion circle and review each of the songs making sure that everyone speaks about at least one song. Extra Credit — Each student or a group of students can make a recording of a song with a made-up last verse. They may sing the original tune of the song, or they may make up one.
SONG 1. The Battle of the Kegs
Twas early day as poets say, just when the sun was rising,
A soldier stood on a log of wood and saw a sight surprising
A sailor too in jerkin blue this strange appearance viewing
First damned his eyes in great surprise, then said "Some mischief's brewing."
These kegs now hold the rebels bold, packed up like pickled herring
And they're come down to attack the town in this new way of ferrying
Therefore prepare for bloody war, these kegs must all be routed
Or surely we despised will be, and British courage doubted.
The cannons roar from shore to shore, the small arms make a rattle
Since war began I'm sure no man ere saw so strange a battle.
These kegs 'tis said, though strongly made of rebels staves and hoops, sir
Could not oppose their powerful foes, the conquering British troops, sir!
The Battle of the Kegs was one of the more interesting "battles" of the Revolutionary War. The British naval fleet held some of their ships in the Delaware River during the occupation of Philadelphia in 1778. The Rebels, who had no way of causing damage to these ships because of low funds, concocted a plan to fill kegs, or barrels, with explosives and send them downstream, in the middle of the night, to detonate near the British ships and hopefully sink one or two. With scattered organization the Rebels managed to release a few kegs a little later than they planned. However, due to some ice in the river, the British decided to pull their ships closer to the wharfs that night. The next morning, a soldier happened to see some kegs and other driftwood floating harmlessly past the ships. Suspecting that rebels were actually inside the barrels, armed and ready to attack, the British navy decided to fire their cannons and rifles at the kegs. Not knowing the rebels intentions, Philadelphia citizens watched as the British navy destroyed, what appeared to be, trash.
This song tells the tale of the Battle of the Kegs from the point of view of a British loyalist. Francis Hopkinson, who attended the First Continental Congress, wrote the lyrics and used adjectives such as "strange," and a sight "surprising." He used sarcasm to convey the ridiculousness of the situation and the colonists, and wrote about preparing for "bloody war," and that if the kegs are not rerouted downstream, "British courage" will be "doubted."
SONG 2. Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier
(Verse I, All): Here I sit on Buttermilk Hill, who could blame me cry my fill?
And every tear would turn a mill. Johnny has gone for a soldier.
(Chorus, All): Shule, shule, shulagra, sure and sure and he loves me.
When he comes back we'll married be, Johnny has gone for a soldier.
(Verse II, Men): Me, oh my, I love her so, Broke my heart, I had to go
And only time will heal my woe. Johnny has gone for a soldier.
(Verse III, Women):I'll sell my rod, I'll sell my reel, likewise I'll sell my spinning wheel.
And buy my love a sword of steel. Johnny has gone for a soldier.
(Repeat Chorus, All)
(Verse IV, Men): With fife and drum I marched away, I could not heed what she did say,
I'll not be back for many a day. Johnny has gone for a soldier.
(Verse V, Women): I'll die [sic] my dress, I'll die it red, and through the streets I'll beg for bread,
The lad that I love from me has fled. Johnny has gone for a soldier.
(Repeat Chorus, All)
Except for the first verse, this song has been sectioned off with two male verses and two female verses. It is a lament about having to go away to war and leave the women behind. Of course, during any war, separation between family members is inevitable, and couples part each other not knowing when or if they will see each other again. As this song states, men and women may not have liked it, but most felt it was their duty to support the war and their country. Men showed their support by fighting as soldiers, and women by sacrificing their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. Many families became destitute without the man as provider of the main source of income. One could easily change some of the period rhetoric and apply this song to other wars in World History.
SONG 3. Free America
Sorry, no sheet music available.
Lift up your hands ye heroes and swear with proud disdain
The wretch that would ensnare you shall lay his snares in vain.
Should Europe empty all her force, we'll meet her in array,
And fight and shout and shout and fight for North America!
Torn from a world of tyrants beneath this western sky.
We form a new dominion, a land of liberty.
The world shall own we're masters here, then hasten on the day.
Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah, huzzah for free America!
Some future day shall crown us the masters of the main.
Our fleet shall speak in thunder, to England, France, and Spain.
And the nations o'er the oceans' spread shall tremble and obey,
The sons, the sons, the sons, the sons of brave America!
This song would have been sung heartily with the same strong conviction as one would sing at a current day high school football game (i.e. "fight and shout and shout and fight"). The word "huzzah" was used as a celebratory exclamation in colonial America (and in England), and in this context would be like yelling, "Go America!" The last verse refers to the desire to dominate ("the masters of the main") and to be recognized as a free and strong country, similar to the reputation of England, France, and Spain at that time.
SONG 4. The Congress
Ye, Tories all rejoice and sing, success to George our gracious King.
The faithful subjects tribute bring, and execrate the Congress.
These hardy knaves and stupid fools, some apish and pragmatic mules,
Some servile acquiescing tools, These compose the Congress.
Then Jove resolve to send a curse, and all the woes of life rehearse
Not plague, not famine, but much worse, He cursed us with a Congress.
Then peace forsook this hopeless shore, Then cannons blazed with horrid roar,
We hear of blood, death, wounds, and gore, The offspring of the Congress.
Prepare, prepare, my friends prepare, For scenes of blood, the field of war
To royal standard we'll repair, And curse the haughty Congress.
Huzza! Huzza! And thrice Huzza! Return peace, harmony, and law!
Restore such times as once we saw, And bid adieu to Congress.
"The Congress" generates from the Tory, or loyalist, contingent rejoicing "the gracious King." The lyricist called the members of Congress "knaves," "stupid fools," and "servile acquiescing tools," worse than the "plague," and "famine." The writer makes it clear that if Congress did not convene, peace, harmony, and law would be restored.
It is important for students to realize that not all Americans were rebels. Many, in fact, including some in Congress, desired only to rehabilitate their relationship with the mother country. One could compare the Revolutionary War with a fictitious current day secession of any state. It could also be compared with the American Civil War, both in fact, being civil wars. And as many Southerners fought for the North during the Civil War, and vice versa, many native-born Americans fought on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War.
SONG 5. Chester
Let tyrants shake their iron rods. And slavery clank her galling chains.
We fear them not, We trust in God. New England's God forever reigns.
The foe comes on with haughty stride, our troops advance with martial noise,
Their veterans flee before our youth, and generals yield to beardless boys
What grateful offerings shall we bring, what shall we render to the Lord,
Loud Hallelujahs let us sing, and praise His name on every chord.
Chester was a popular tune written by William Billings. It eventually became the anthem for the Continental Army. One can conclude that this was not a song to be sung in taverns. Notice the piety and solemnity of the words and tune, as it trusts in God to win the war. "Slavery clank her galling chains, we fear them not, we trust in God." Men might have marched off to battle singing or humming this patriotic tune. Note that the slavery referred to in this song is not about African chattel slavery, as practiced in the Colonies, but rather a slavery to the British crown. This is a good opportunity to discuss the dual notions of slavery in early America.
SONG 6. God Save the King
God save great George our King,
Long live our noble King, God save the King
Send him victorious, happy and glorious.
Long to reign over us, God save the King
God bless the Commonwealth,
May it increase in strength, Its foes annoy
That George is now no more king of this fertile shore,
From whence he drew his store, Completes our joy!
God save great Washington,
Virginia's war-like son, And make him brave
Defend him from all the blows of Howe and all his foes
Guard him where'er he goes, Washington save.
Free states attend the song,
Now independent from the British throne
To earth's remotest bound, echoing skies resound,
The sweet melodious sound. Liberty's our own!
This patriotic tune originated in Britain and remains the United Kingdom's national anthem today. We borrowed the melody for the song "America" (i.e., "My Country Tis of Thee"). An unknown rebel lyricist changed the words as a mockery of British patriotism. Most likely it was sung without the first verse during the Revolution, but in this version it represents the change in sentiment and shows the origin of a tune many thought was written for the United States. This is a great song to sing as a class.
SONG 7. Come Let Us Drink About
Come let us drink about and drive away our sorrows (repeat)
Forhaps we may not, forhaps we may not, forhaps we may not drink again tomorrow.
Wine, wine it cures the gout, the colic and the tizzy (repeat)
And is to all men, and is to all men, and is to all men, the very best of physic.
He that drinks good ale, goes to bed mellow (repeat)
Lives as he ought to do, lives as he ought to do, lives as he ought to do, and dies a happy fellow.
He who drinks small beer goes to bed sober (repeat)
Falls as the leaves do, falls as the leaves do, falls as the leaves do, he'll rot before October.
(Repeat Verse One)
As one would imagine, this song was typically sung by those who frequented taverns. The singers prepare for war realizing that many of them will not return home "to drink again tomorrow." The words speak for themselves as the men encourage each other to drink as much as they want because it might not matter, and they may as well die "happy fellow[s]."
SONG 8. Revolutionary Tea
There was a rich lady lived over the sea,
And she was an island queen.
Her daughter lived off in the new country,
With an ocean of water between
With an ocean of water between, with an ocean of water between.
The old lady's pockets were filled with gold,
Yet never contented was she
So she ordered her daughter to pay her a tax,
Of thrupence a pound on the tea.
Of thrupence a pound on the tea, of thrupence a pound on the tea.
"Oh mother, dear mother," the daughter replied.
"I'll not do the thing that you ask.
"I'm willing to pay a fair price for the tea,
But never a thrupenny tax,
But never a thrupenny tax, but never a thrupenny tax,
"You shall!" cried the mother, and reddened with rage.
"For you're my own daughter you see.
"And it's only proper that daughter should pay
Her mother a tax on the tea,
Her mother a tax on the tea, her mother a tax on the tea.
She ordered her servant to come up to her
And to wrap up a package of tea.
And eager for threepence a pound she put in
Enough for a large family,
Enough for a large family, enough for a large family
The tea was conveyed to her daughter's own door,
All down by the Oceanside.
But the bouncing girl poured out every pound
On the dark and the boiling tide,
On the dark and the boiling tide, on the dark and the boiling tide.
And then she called out to the island queen
"Oh mother, dear mother," called she.
"Your tea you may have when 'tis steeped enough.
But NEVER a tax from me,
But NEVER a tax from me, but NEVER a tax from me.
Revolutionary Tea is one of the best songs to truly represent the relationship between England and the colonies: it was a mother-daughter relationship. This song also tells the story of the Tea Tax, which was imposed upon the colonists without a voice in British parliament. Tea was a widely used beverage in Britain and the colonies. Most Colonists drank tea. A note of contempt is clear as England is portrayed as a rich, old queen who only wanted to become wealthier. The rebellious young daughter who is attached to her "dear mother" is willing to pay for the tea, but not a "thrupenny tax." Knowing that her daughter is being rebellious the mother sends a significant amount of tea to her daughter who promptly throws it into the ocean (The Boston Tea Party), and again declares to her "dear mother" that she will never pay a tax on tea. This is a great and hardy song for a class to sing together provided that the "NEVER" in the last line of the seventh verse is yelled with fists in the air.
SONG 9. Address to the Ladies
Young ladies in town, and those that live round
let a friend at this season advise you;
Since money's so scarce, and times growing worse,
Strange things may soon surprise you;
First then throw aside your high top knots of pride,
Wear none but your own country linen;
Of economy boast, let your pride be the most,
To show clothes of your own make and spinning.
What if homespun they say is not quite so gay,
As brocades, yet be not in a passion;
For when once it is known this is much worn in town
One and all will cry out 'tis the fashion!
No more ribands wear, not in rich dress appear,
Love your country much better than fine things;
Begin without passion, it will soon be the fashion,
To grace your smooth locks with a twine string.
These do without fear, and to all you'll appear Fair,
Charming, true, lovely, and clever,
Tho' the times remain darkish, young men may be sparkish,
And love you much stronger than ever.
Then make yourselves easy, for no one will tease ye,
Nor tax you, if chancing to sneer,
At the sense-ridden tools, who this us all fool;
But they'll find the reverse far and near.
This "cry out" to the ladies before and during the Revolution rallied them to stop buying goods made in or shipped from Britain. They are being asked to make sacrifices of money and fashion, and not to buy any clothing or other goods from Englans. The song pleads with the women to "love your country much better than fine things," and in turn the young men will "love you much stronger than ever" because you will "appear fair, charming, true, lovely, and clever." This address can compare with recent advertisement campaigns to encourage people to buy American-made products. The same as it does now, it helped boost the American economy, and it told England that the colonies were rebelling in every way. This song helps students understand that it was not only men supporting and perpetuating the war movement, but women, too, came together to help in ways that were socially acceptable for them at that time.