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Gaspee 'Song'

The discussion below has been excerpted from: Tales of an Old Sea Port by Wilfred Harold Munro. Princeton University Press:  1917

Left: Early publication of the Gaspee Song.  Click image to enlarge

The burning of the Gaspee took place on June 20, 1772.  The only "lyric" to commemorate the affair came from the pen of Captain Thomas Swan of Bristol, one of those who took part in it.  His effusion has never appeared in any history of American literature, for good and sufficient reasons, but it is printed in full in Munro's History of Bristol.

In January 1881, Bishop Smith of Kentucky, born in Bristol in 1794 and a graduate of Brown in 1816, wrote to me calling my attention to a slight difference between the "Swan Song", as I had given it in my History of Bristol, and a version pasted upon the back of a portrait of Thomas Swan's father by Thomas Swan himself.  Captain Swan was Bishop Smith's uncle.  The Bishop wrote, "I should not have troubled you on so inconsiderable point had not the tradition in our family been that the Bristol boat was manned by men in the disguise of Narragansett Indians."

When Bishop Smith penned these lines several men were living in Bristol who had heard the story from Captain Swan's own lips.  He delighted in telling it and was accustomed to give the names of Bristol participants.  Those names have unhappily escaped the memory of his auditors.
From:  The History of Bristol, R.I.- The Story of Mount Hope Lands. by W.H. Munro. Prov. 1860
The following song composed at the time of the burning of the Gaspee, is attributed to Capt. Thomas Swan, of Bristol, one of the participants in the affair:

was in the reign of George the Third,
Our public peace was much disturbed
By ships of war that came and laid
Within our ports, to stop our trade.

Seventeen hundred and seventy-two,
In Newport Harbor lay a crew
That played the parts of pirates there,
The sons of freedom could not bear.

Sometimes they weighed and gave them chase,
Such actions, sure, were very base.
No honest coaster could pass by
But what they would let some shot fly;

And did provoke, to high degree,
Those true born sons of liberty;
So that they could no longer bear
Those sons of Belial staying there.

But 'twas not long 'fore it fell out,
That William Dudingston, so stout,
Commander of the "Gaspee" tender,
Which he has reason to remember,

Because, as people do assert,
He almost had his just desert;
Here, on the tenth day of last June,
Betwixt the hours of twelve and. one,

Did chase the sloop, called the "Hannah",
Of whom one Lindsay was commander.
They dogged her up Providence Sound,
And there the rascal got aground.

The news of it flew that very day
That they on Namquit Point did lay.
That night after half past ten
Some Narragansett Indian men,

Being sixty-four, if. I remember,
Which made the stout coxcomb surrender;
And what was best of all their tricks,
They in his breech a ball did fix;

Then set the men upon the land,
And burnt her up, we understand;
Which thing provoked the King so high
He said those men shall surely die;

So if he could but find them out,
The hangman he'll employ, no doubt;
For he's declared, in his passion,
He'll have them tried a new fashion,

Now, for to find these people out,
King George has offered very stout,
One thousand pounds to find out one
That wounded William Dudingston.

One thousand more, he says he'll spare,
For those who say sheriffs were;
One thousand more there doth remain
For to find out the leader's name;

Likewise, five hundred pounds per man
For any one of all the clan.
But let him try his utmost skill,
I'm apt to think he never will
Find out any of those hearts of gold,
Though he should offer fifty fold.


See Gaspee Song in .pdf for class work

Of the author of this song, Judge Staples says, in his Documentary History of the Destruction of the Gaspee; "He richly deserves the thanks, not only of his contemporaries, but of posterity; not so much for the sweet poetry of his song, as for the ballad shape in which he invested the. transaction.  Undoubtedly some tune was found at the time to match it, notwithstanding the limping gait of some of the stanzas; and as it was sung in the circle of boon companions, they recalled the light of the burning Gaspee to their recollection, and hailing it as being, what subsequent events have shown it to be, the dawning light of freedom, whose mid-day effulgence now overspreads the land."
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 1997    Last Revised 06/2013  Song.html