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, April 20, 2012

“With Blood the ground is dyed”

This posting concludes Ebenezer Stiles’s “Story of the Battle of Concord and Lexinton and Revear’s ride Twenty years ago”, a poetic narration of the Battle of Lexington and Concord from 1795.

Yesterday’s installment left off as Patriot militiamen were massing above the North Bridge in Concord.
The British troops with victory flushed
In wars by sea and land
Scorned their foe the often crushed
Deemed naught could them withstand
They’d fain repet to their farmer foe
The lesson taught that morn
That George’s vengeance is never slow
To who treat his laws with scorn

The Patriots gathered from Hill and Dale
They come from cottage and farm
By Highway and Stream from Hamlet and Vale
Each bringing his polished arm
They formed in companys on the hill
Where the plough was latly used
The vandals troops are lacking still
The scene new courage infused

With steady step and scowling brow
Each man his rifle grasped
And down the hill to meet the foe
Five hundred patriots passed
With five hundred guns and powder horns
To brave great Britains power
Her trained Brutes her statemens scorn
And the threatened trators dower

They marched with firm determined tread
As did ever greek or Trojen
And scorned to think of fear or dread
The steel of the British legion
One volley from their guns they fired
With true and steady aim
Duble quick the troops retired
And left the bridge to them

On we pushed across the stream
The Redcoats before us flew
As though they waked from horred dream
Retreat their bugles blew
Their Flag that never knew defeat
Tho oft in Foregne wars tried
Is trampled now beneath our feet
With Blood the ground is dyed

They tried to rally—scatered, fled
With panic stricken feer
The ground is covered with their dead
No reinforcements near
For every tree contains a gun
Behind each fence a foe
The Wiley fox’s race is run
The Tyrant’s got to go
And the poem ends there. Perhaps Stiles felt that the Americans’ (“us”) victory at the North Bridge provided a good narrative ending by tying up the fatal fight at Lexington in the first part of his poem. Or perhaps he planned to go on and narrate the rest of the battle in further, unpreserved verses. In any event, he made his political positions perfectly clear.


Joseph M. Adelman said...

Thanks for these posts, the poem is great.

Do you know anything more about Stiles? Do we know, for example, whether he's any relation of Ezra Stiles? (The first time I tweeted the poem, I accidentally attributed it to Ezra out of a simple brain malfunction from seeing E + Stiles and assuming too much.)

J. L. Bell said...

I did my usual poking around to try to blow the lid off this “Eb. Stiles,” and found nothing solid. Unfortunately, the name Ebenezer was quite common in the 1700s, and the poem takes such a wide view of the event that this Ebenezer Stlles could have come from almost anywhere in New England.

One of my theories is that Stiles wrote the poem for some private gathering of veterans, and it came to the Rev. Jeremy Belknap’s attention, prompting him to ask Revere for his famous look back on that night. But that’s based on the idea that it entered the M.H.S. collections very early, and I’m not 100% sure about that.

steenkinbadges said...

The poem is bloody awful. It's like fingernails screeching on the blackboard of history....

J. L. Bell said...

It doesn’t reach the inspired depths of William Topaz McGonagall, but it comes close.

Charles Bahne said...

If I read J. L.'s introduction correctly, the Stiles manuscript is dated 1795, but no part of it was published until 1878 -- or 17 years after the publication of Longfellow's famous poem. Do we know anything about what happened to the manuscript in the intervening 83 years? How many people were aware of the poem's very existence?

The Stiles manuscript, if dated correctly, also predates Revere's own description of his ride, published in 1798.

It's interesting that Stiles makes the same errors that Longfellow did. Is there any evidence that Longfellow was aware of Stiles' previous effort?

My own research has documented that Longfellow had a copy of Revere's description of the ride in his personal library, and he almost certainly used Revere's text as a source for his own poem in 1860. It's also easy to see how Longfellow took poetic license and changed the storyline to fit his own needs, and to adapt the story to existing 19th-century mythology (as created by R. W. Emerson).

Personally, I'm starting to smell a hoax here. Is there any possibility that the Stiles manuscript was written AFTER Longfellow's poem became popular, and backdated to 1795?

J. L. Bell said...

I think it comes down to the M.H.S.’s provenance. If this document entered the collection through the Rev. Jeremy Belknap, then it predates Longfellow’s poem and may have been the impetus for Belknap’s inquiry to Revere. The poem might not have been published until after Longfellow made Revere famous because it didn’t seem to have historical or poetic merit on its own.

If the manuscript’s not documented until 1878, then the popularity of Longfellow’s poem might have influenced its creation. But it’s hard to figure out why a forger trying to create an “authentic” but folksy account of the battle would get so much wrong by 1870s standards.

Longfellow was a member of the M.H.S., so it’s conceivable that someone showed him, as the poetry expert, this verse. But I’ve never heard of any evidence for that.