After Jane McCrea had been captured, killed and scalped by Indians allied to General John Burgoyne's army in 1777, following the taking of Fort Ticonderoga, a ballad was supposedly written about the incident. Numerous websites state that a ballad recounting the episode was written, 'possibly' by the poet Henry William Herbert, but none of them seems to be able to quote the ballad's verses or chorus.
A transcription of the ballad is found in the book, Songs Of '76, by Oscar Brand. The text of the ballad, as presented by Mr. Brand, as with all of his transcriptions, is footnoted with the copyright: "New music and edited text...". One wonders why Mr. Brand felt the need to edit the text of the ballads ~ perhaps only so that he could copyright what was previously public domain material.
The following transcription is derived from the book, The Life Of Jane McCrea: With An Account Of Burgoyne's Expedition in 1777, published in 1853 by D. Wilsox. According to that author, the poem was indeed originally penned by Henry William Herbert. Although it would have been set to music, the tune is no longer known.
It was brilliant autumn time - The most brilliant time of all, When the gorgeous woods are gleaming, Ere the leaves begin to fall;
When the maple bows are crimson, And the hickory shines like gold, And the noons are sultry hot, And the nights are frosty cold.
When the country has no green. Save the sword-grass by the rill, And the willows in the valley, And the pine upon the hill;
When the pippin leaves the bough, And the sumach's fruit is red. And the quail is piping loud From the buckwheat where he fed.
When the sky is blue as steel, And the river clear as glass; When the mist is on the mountain, And the net-work on the grass;
When the harvests all are housed, And the farmer's work is done, And the stubbles are deserted For the fox-hound and the gun.
It was brilliant autumn time - When the army of the North, With its cannon and dragoons, And its riflemen, came forth;
Through the country all abroad There was spread a mighty fear Of the Indians in the van, And the Hessians in the rear.
There was spread a mighty terror, And the bravest souls were faint; For the shaven chiefs were mustered. In their scalp-locks and their paint;
And the forest was alive - And the tramp of warrior men Scared the eagle from his eyry. And the gray wolf from his den.
For the bold Burgoyne was marching - With his thousands marching down, To do battle with the people - To do battle for the crown.
But Starke he lay at Bennington, By the Hoosick's waters bright, And Arnold and his forces Gathered thick on Behmus' height.
Fort Edward on the Hudson, It was guarded night and day, By Van Vechten and his woodmen - Right sturdy woodmen they!
Fort Edward on the Hudson, It was guarded day and night, Oh! but in the early morning It saw a bitter sight!
A bitter sight, and fearful, And a shameful deed of blood! All the plain was cleared around. But the slopes were thick with wood
And a mighty pine stood there, On the summit of the hill, And a bright spring rose beneath it, With a low and liquid trill;
And a little way below. All with vine-boughs overrun, A white walled cot was sleeping - There that shameful deed was done!
Oh! it was the blythest morning In the brilliant autumn time; The sun shone never brighter. When the year was in its prime.
But a maiden fair was weeping In that cottage day by day, Wo she was, and worn with watching For her truelove far away.
He was bearing noble arms, Noble arms for England's king! She was waiting, sad and tearful. Near the pine tree, near the spring.
Weary waiting for his coming - Yet she feared not; for she knew That her lover's name would guard her. That her lover's heart was true.
True he was; nor did forget, As he marched the wildwoods through, Her to whom his troth was plighted By the Hudson's waters blue.
He bethought him of the madness And the fury of the strife; He bethought him of the peril To that dear and precious life.
So he called an Indian chief, In his paint and war-array - Oh! it was a cursed thought. And it was a luckless day.
" Go!" he said, "and seek my lady, By Fort Edward, where she lies; Have her hither to the camp; She shall prove a worthy prize!"
And he charged him with a letter, With a letter to his dear. Bidding her to follow freely, And that she should nothing fear.
Lightly, brightly, rose the sun; High his heart, and full of mirth; Gray and gloomy closed the night; Steamy mists bedewed the earth.
Thence he never ceased to sorrow. Till his tedious life was o'er - For that night he thought to see her But he never saw her more.
By the pine tree on the hill, Armed men were at their post, While the early sun was low, Watching for the royal host.
Came a rifle's sudden crack! Rose a wild and fearful yell! Rushed the Indians from the brake! Fled the guard, or fought and fell!
Fought and fell, and fiercely o'er them Rose the hideous death-halloo! One alone was spared of all - Wounded he, and pinioned too!
He it was the deed that saw, As he lay the spring beside - Had his manly arm been free, He had saved her, or had died!
By the hill he saw them lead her, And she followed free from fear - And her beauty blazed the brighter, As she deemed her lover near -
He could read the joyous hope Sparkling in her sunny eyes - Lo! the sudden strife! the rage! They are battling for the prize!
Guns are brandished - knives are drawn! Flashed the death-shot, flew the ball! By the chief, who should have saved her. Did the lovely victim fall.
Fell, and breathed her lover's name, Blessed him with her latest sigh, Happier than he surviving. Happier was she to die.
Then the frantic savage seized her By the long and flowing hair, Bared the keen and deadly knife, Whirled aloft the tresses fair -
Yelled in triumph, and retreated, Bearing off that trophy dread - Bearing off that trophy dread - Who received it - reeking red!
He received it, cold as stone. With a ghastly stupid stare, Shook not, sighed not, questioned not - Oh! he knew that yellow hair!
And he never smiled again, Nor was ever seen to weep; And he never spoke to name her, Save when muttering in his sleep!
Yet he did his duty well. With a chill and cheerless heart; But he never seemed to know it. Though he played a soldier's part.
Years he lived - for grief kills not - But his very life was dead; Scarcely died he any more When the clay was o'er his head!
Would ye farther learn of her? Visit then the fatal spot! There no monument they raised. Storied stones they sculptured not;
But the mighty pine is there - Go, and ye may see it still, Gray and ghostly, but erect, On the summit of the hill:
And the little fount wells out, Cold and clear, beneath its shade, Cold and clear, as when beside it Fell that young and lovely maid.
These shall witness for the tale, How, on that accursed day, Beauty, innocence, and youth Died in hapless Jane McRea!