The Battle Of The Kegs

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   A song, Maggie Lawder, was a Scottish song which was quite popular in America prior to the American Revolutionary War. A number of poems were written as lyrics which were then set to this tune.

   The Battle Of The Kegs was written by Francis Hopkinson, who is often recognized as America's first native composer. He immortalized the "Battle of the Kegs" by writing these lyrics and setting them to the rollicking Scottish tune of Maggie Lawder.

   The "Battle of the Kegs" occurred in 1777 at Philadelphia. David Bushnell, who was interested in underwater travel and the inventor of a submarine, proposed floating a group of kegs filled with gunpowder into the British fleet anchored in the Delaware River. The idea was that when the kegs floated against the British ships, they would explode and destroy some of the ships. The plan was embraced by the Patriot army stationed at Philadelphia, and in the autumn of 1777 a number of gunpowder filled kegs were set adrift upstream from the British ships. None of the kegs met their intended marks, but did explode nearby. One of the explosions resulted in the deaths of four sailors. The British troops on board the ships did not know where the explosions were coming from; with both cannon and small arms, they started shooting in all directions. The Americans found the whole episode very amusing; the British were not so amused.

   The verses for the song, The Battle Of The Kegs, are as follows:

Gallants attend, and hear a friend, Trill forth harmonious ditty,
Strange things I'll tell, which late befell In Philadelphia City.
'Twas early day, as poets say, 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,
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, Then said, "Some mischief's brewing."
These kegs now hold the rebels bold, Pack'd up like pickled herring;
And they're come down t'attack the town, In this new way of ferrying.
The soldier flew, the sailor too, And, scar'd almost to death, sir,
Wore out their shoes, to spread the news, And ran til out of breath, sir.
Now up and down, throughout the town, Most frantic scenes were acted:
And some ran here, and some ran there Like men almost distracted.
Some fire cry'd, which some deny'd, But said the earth had quaked:
And girls and boys, with hideous noise, Ran through the town half naked.
Sir William he, snug as a flea, Lay all this time a-snoring,
Nor dreamt of harm, as he lay warm In bed with Mrs. Loring.
Now in affright, he starts upright, Awak'd by such a clatter;
He rubs both eyes, and boldly cries, "For God's sake what's the matter?"
At his bed side, he then espy'd Sir Erskine at command, sir,
Upon one foot he had one boot, and t'other in his hand, sir.
Arise! Arise! Sir Erskine cries: The rebels - more's the pity -
Without a boat, are all on float, And rang'd before the city.
The motley crew, in vessels new, With satan for their guide, sir,
Pack'd up in bags, or wooden kegs, Come driving down the tide, sire.
Therefore prepare for bloody war; These kegs must all be routed;
Or surely we despis'd shall be, Amd British courage doubted.
The royal band now ready stand, All rang'd in dread array, sir,
With stomach stout, to see it out, And make a bloody day, sir.
The cannons roar, from shore to shore: The small arms make a rattle:
Since wars began, I'm sure no man E're saw so strange a battle.
The rebel dales, the rebel vales, With rebel trees surrounded,
The distant woods, the hills and floods, With rebel echoes sounded.
The fish below swam to and fro, Attack'd from every quarter;
Why sure, thought they, the devil's to pay, 'Mongst folks above the water.
These kegs, 'tis said, though strongly made, Of rebel staves and hoops, sir,
Could not oppose their powerful foes, The conquering British troops, sir.
From morn till night, these men of might Display'd amazing courage;
And when the sun was fairly down, Retir'd to sup their porridge.
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, Against those wicked kegs, sir,
That years to come, if they get home, They'll make their boasts and brags, sir.


   Note: The midi file linked to this page was sequenced by Lesley Nelson, whose website is located at: