J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Songs in Lexington (and One Particular Song from Castle Island)

This Friday, 22 October, the Lexington Historical Society will host a reception celebrating the release of a new C.D. from Diane Taraz called Songs of the Revolution. Taraz will be joined by Jonathan Gilbert on vocals, recorder, and mandolin, and by the Lexington Historical Society Colonial Singers. The organization’s announcement says, “Drop in anytime between 7 and 9 pm,” and promises refreshments as well as music.

One song on Taraz’s album is “The Castle Island Song,” so named in Frank Moore’s Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution, published in 1856. Using the tune of “Derry Down,” that song has become a staple of Americana since being widely republished during the Bicentennial. I was already looking into its history when I saw Taraz’s C.D. for sale.

Moore stated:

These verses appeared in a broadside, a short time after the “massacre of the fifth of March,” 1770, as a “new song much in vogue among the friends to arbitrary power, and the soldiery at Castle Island, where it was composed, since the troops have evacuated the town of Boston.”
Loyalists didn’t describe themselves that way, of course; only Whigs would have called them “friends to arbitrary power.” Some historians even say the whole song was composed by Whigs as a provocation. The lyrics certainly are provocative:
You simple Bostonians, I’d have you beware,
Of your liberty Tree, I would have you take care,
For if that we chance to return to the town,
Your houses and stores will come tumbling down,
Derry down, down, hey, derry down.

If you will not agree to Old England’s laws,
I fear that King Hancock will soon get the yaws.
But he need not fear, for I swear we will,
For the want of a doctor, give him a hard pill.

A brave re-inforcement we soon think to get;
Then we will make you, poor pumpkins, to sweat;
Our drums they’ll rattle, and then you will run
To the devil himself, from the sight of a gun.

Our fleet and our army, they soon will arrive,
Then to a bleak island, you shall not us drive.
In every house, you shall have three or four,
And if that will not please you, you shall have half a score.
Derry down, down, hey, derry down.
My questions about this song start with the fact that nobody appears to have found that broadside besides Moore. It’s not mentioned in Broadsides, Ballads, &c. Printed in Massachusetts, 1639-1800 (1922) or Massachusetts Broadsides of the American Revolution (1976). No copies are reproduced in the Archive of Americana or American Memory databases.

I associate the phrase “King Hancock” with the mid-1770s, and the lyrics about “Our fleet and our army” and “In every house” seem to reflect understandings dating from years or decades after 1770. “The Castle Island Song” can be lovely music, but I suspect it really belongs in the category of “remembering the Revolution.”

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

My suspicion was wrong. I found a version of this song published in the Boston Gazette in March 1770. The headline is somewhat different from what Moore quoted but still clearly implies the verses were composed by soldiers from the regiments just ordered out of Boston.