Verse > Anthologies > Hamilton Fish Armstrong, ed. > The Book of New York Verse
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Hamilton Fish Armstrong, ed.  The Book of New York Verse.  1917.
 
The Tomb of the Patriots
By Philip Freneau
 
          Occasioned by the general procession of many thousands of the citizens of New York on the 26th of May, 1808, to inter the bones and skeletons of American prisoners who perished in the old Jersey, and other prison ships, during the Revolutionary War; and which were now first discovered by the wasting of the shores and banks on Long Island, where they had been left.


  BRITAIN! we cite you to our bar, once more;
What but ambition urged you to our shore?—
To abridge our native rights, seven years you strove;
Seven years were ours your arm of death to prove,
To find, that conquest was your sovereign view;        5
Your aims, to fetter, humble, and subdue,
To seize a soil which not your labour till’d
When the rude native scarcely we repell’d.
When, with unbounded rage, their nations swore
To hurl the out-law’d stranger from their shore,        10
Or swell the torrent with their thousands slain.
No more to approach them, or molest their reign.—
 
  What did we ask?—what right but reason owns?
Yet even the mild petition met your frowns.
Submission only to a monarch’s will        15
Could calm your rage, or bid your storm be still.
 
  Before our eyes the angry shades appear
Of those, whose relics we this day inter:
They live, they speak, reproach you, and complain
Their lives were shorten’d by your galling chain:        20
They aim their shafts, directed to your breast,—
Let rage, and fierce resentment tell the rest.
 
  These coffins, tokens of our last regard
These mouldering bones your vengeance might have spared.—
If once, in life, they met you on the main,        25
If to your arms they yielded on the plain,—
Man, once a captive, all respect should claim
That Britain gave, before her days of shame.
How changed their lot! in floating dungeons thrown,
They sigh’d unpitied, and relieved by none:        30
In want of all that nature’s wants demand,
They met destruction from some traitor’s hand,
Who treated all with death or poison here,
Or the last groan, with ridicule severe.
 
  A sickening languor to the soul returns        35
And kindling passion at the motive spurns:
The murders here, did we at length display
Would more than paint an Indian tyrant’s sway:
Then hush the theme, and to the dust restore
These, once so wretched near Manhattan’s shore.        40
 
 
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