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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Battle of the Kegs

By Francis Hopkinson (1737–1791)

[From “Translation of a Letter, written by a Foreigner on his Travels.” The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq. 1792.]

  • 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 wharfs and shipping, and discharged their small-arms and cannons at everything they saw floating in the river during the ebb-tide.—Author’s Note.

  • 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 damned his eyes, in great surprise,

    Then said, “Some mischiefs brewing.

    “These kegs, I’m told, the rebels hold,

    Packed up like pickled herring;

    And they’re come down to attack the town,

    In this new way of ferrying.”

    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,

    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;

    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 dreamed of harm as he lay warm,

    In bed with Mrs. Loring.

    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?”

    At his bedside he then espied,

    Sir Erskine at command, sir,

    Upon one foot he had one boot,

    And th’ other in his hand, sir.

    “Arise, arise,” Sir Erskine cries,

    “The rebels—more’s the pity,

    Without a boat are all afloat,

    And ranged before the city.

    “The motley crew, in vessels new,

    With Satan for their guide, sir,

    Packed 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,

    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.

    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,

    With rebel trees surrounded,

    The distant woods, the hills and floods,

    With rebel echoes sounded.

    The fish below swam to and fro,

    Attacked from every quarter;

    Why sure, thought they, the devil’s to pay,

    ’Mongst folks above the water.

    The 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 to night these men of might

    Displayed amazing courage;

    And when the sun was fairly down,

    Retired to sup their porridge.

    A 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 these wicked kegs, sir,

    That years to come, if they get home,

    They’ll make their boasts and brags, sir.