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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Friday, November 28, 2014

A New Song: “The British Steel”

Earlier this year Michael Laird Rare Books of Texas offered for sale a rare chapbook printed in Newcastle, England, titled A Garland, Containing Four New Songs.

One of those songs, “The British Steel,” is still new to the standard databases, as is the little book itself. The title page has no date, but that song is all about the American War, so we can date the publication to the very end of 1776 or the first months of 1777.

The song extols British victories at Québec and New York. It even refers to “Undaunted Hessian heroes” and the Americans’ notorious “rifled guns.” The lyrics drop the names of several British commanders, including Guy Carleton, Allan Maclean, Henry Clinton, Percy, and John Burgoyne, but not that of Adm. Richard Howe and Gen. William Howe. Since those brothers were the commanders in America, and their name is easy to fit into verse, I wonder if their omission was intentional.

Here are the last two verses, with the error-ridden typography intact:
See yond, see yond, to yonder comes the great Burgoyne,
His well displin’d troops proclaim is warlike skills,
Curse Hancock and his Congress crew, who us into rebellion drew,
And caus’d great George our sovereign Lord our blood to spill.

A boon, a boon, these ungrateful monster’s cry,
Pardon your deluded sons long time been led astray,
By wandering dreams of liberty, henceforth good subjects will be,
And as in duty bound we will for ever pray.
John Overholt of the Harvard University library system tweeted this week that his institution had acquired the book, so it should soon be available to researchers there.

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