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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Saturday, December 16, 2017

The “Rally, Mohawks” Song of the Tea Party

In an address titled “Reminiscences of the Green Dragon Tavern,” delivered to the St. Andrew’s Lodge in 1864 and published in 1870, Charles W. Moore stated:
I have looked in vain for a copy of an old revolutionary song said to have been written and sung as a “rallying song” by the “tea party” at the Green Dragon. The following fragment, though probably not in all respects an exact transcript of the original, will indicate its general character:—
Rally, Mohawks!—bring out your axes!
And tell King George we’ll pay no taxes
On his foreign tea!
His threats are vain—and vain to think
To force our girls and wives to drink
His vile Bohea!
Then rally boys, and hasten on
To meet our Chiefs at the Green Dragon.

Our Warren’s there, and bold Revere,
With hands to do and words to cheer
For Liberty and Laws!
Our country’s “Braves” and firm defenders,
Shall ne’er be left by true North-Enders,
Fighting Freedom’s cause!
Then rally boys, and hasten on
To meet our Chiefs at the Green Dragon.
I regret not being able to give the balance of this song, but perhaps some curious antiquary may hereafter discover it, if it ever appeared in print. I am inclined to think, however, that it was a doggerel made for the occasion, and passed away when it ceased to be of use, or appropriate. The two stanzas I have re-produced, are given as nearly as my memory serves, as they were often recited more than a third of a century ago, by the late Bro. Benjamin Gleason, who, born near the time, was curious in gathering up interesting reminiscences of the revolutionary period of our history.
No other verses ever surfaced, nor any earlier printed source. Nonetheless, these lyrics were reprinted in Drake’s Tea Leaves, Goss’s Revere, Porter’s Rambles in Old Boston, and many later books to this day.

But are they authentic? Moore could trace them only to “more than a third of a century ago,” or about 1830—still more than fifty years separated from the Tea Party. Moore’s source, Benjamin Gleason, was a Grand Lecturer for the Freemasons. He was born in Boston in 1777—four years after the Tea Party. So what we have here is at least third-hand, passed on orally.

The internal evidence gives good reason to doubt that the men involved in destroying the tea sang these words that night. Why would people before or shortly after committing an illegal act declaim where they were meeting (“at the Green Dragon”) and who their leaders were (Dr. Joseph Warren and Paul Revere)?

There are more anachronisms:
  • As I wrote back here, it took years for Americans to make “Mohawks” the standard label for the tea destroyers.
  • In the Revolutionary turmoil, Boston’s political leaders tried to tamp down rivalries between different parts of the town, so they would discourage mentioning “true North-Enders” alone.
  • The American Patriots didn’t treat “King George” as their main villain until 1776.
The lyrics strongly hint that they were written decades after the Revolution, when Warren and Revere’s memory had eclipsed those of William Molineux, Dr. Thomas Young, and other street leaders of 1773. The Freemasons in the Green Dragon Tavern had particular reason to honor Warren and Revere, who had been leaders of their lodge.

As shown by John Johnson’s picture of the Green Dragon above, Boston’s post-Revolutionary Freemasons celebrated the link between their lodge and the destruction of the tea. Older members of that lodge knew Warren, and even younger men like Gleason probably knew Revere, who lived to 1818. And I think one of those men composed this song to honor their forebears’ actions—not to rally men behind them in 1773.

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