Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
The Battle of the Kegs
By Francis Hopkinson (1737–1791)
GALLANTS 1 attend, and hear a friend,
  Trill forth harmonious ditty,
Strange things I ’ll tell which late befell
  In Philadelphia city.
’T was early day, as poets say,        5
  Just when the sun was rising,
A soldier stood on a log of wood,
  And saw a thing surprising.
As in amaze he stood to gaze,
  The truth can’t be denied, sir,        10
He spied a score of kegs or more
  Come floating down the tide, sir.
A sailor too, in jerkin blue,
  This strange appearance viewing,
First damn’d his eyes, in great surprise,        15
  Then said, “Some mischief’s brewing.
“These kegs, I ’m told, the rebels bold,
  Pack’d up like pickled herring;
And they ’re come down t’ attack the town,
  In this new way of ferrying.”        20
The soldier flew, the sailor too,
  And scared almost to death, sir,
Wore out their shoes, to spread the news,
  And ran till out of breath, sir.
Now up and down, throughout the town        25
  Most frantic scenes were acted;
And some ran here, and others there,
  Like men almost distracted.
Some fire cried, which some denied,
  But said the earth had quaked;        30
And girls and boys, with hideous noise,
  Ran through the streets half naked.
Sir William he, snug as a flea,
  Lay all this time a snoring,
Nor dream’d of harm, as he lay warm,        35
  In bed with Mrs L——g.
Now in a fright he starts upright,
  Awaked by such a clatter;
He rubs both eyes, and boldly cries,
  “For God’s sake, what ’s the matter?’        40
At his bedside he then espied
  Sir Erskine at command, sir,
Upon one foot he had one boot,
  And the other in his hand, sir.
“Arise, arise,” Sir Erskine cries,        45
  “The rebels—more ’s the pity,
Without a boat are all afloat,
  And ranged before the city.
“The motly crew, in vessels new,
  With Satan for their guide, sir.        50
Pack’d up in bags, or wooden kegs,
  Come driving down the tide, sir.
“Therefore prepare for bloody war,—
  These kegs must all be routed,
Or surely we despised shall be,        55
  And British courage doubted.”
The royal band now ready stand,
  All ranged in dread array, sir,
With stomach stout to see it out,
  And make a bloody day, sir.        60
The cannons roar from shore to shore,
  The small arms make a rattle;
Since wars began I ’m sure no man
  E’er saw so strange a battle.
The rebel dales, the rebel vales,        65
  With rebel trees surrounded;
The distant wood, the hills and floods,
  With rebel echoes sounded.
The fish below swam to and fro,
  Attack’d from every quarter;        70
Why sure, thought they, the devil ’s to pay,
  ’Mongst folks above the water.
The kegs, ’t is said, though strongly made,
  Of rebel staves and hoops, sir,
Could not oppose their powerful foes,        75
  The conquering British troops, sir.
From morn to night these men of might
  Display’d amazing courage;
And when the sun was fairly down,
  Retired to sup their porridge.        80
An hundred men with each a pen,
  Or more, upon my word, sir.
It is most true, would be too few,
  Their valor, to record, sir.
Such feats did they perform that day,        85
  Against these wicked kegs, sir,
That years to come, if they get home,
  They ’ll make their boasts and brags, sir.
Note 1. This ballad was occasioned by a real incident. Certain machines, in the form of kegs, charged with gunpowder, were sent down the river to annoy the British shipping then at Philadelphia. The danger of these machines being discovered, the British manned the wharves and shipping, and discharged their small arms and cannons at everything they saw floating in the river, during the ebb tide. [back]

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