Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Battle of the Kegs

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

Middle States: Philadelphia, Pa.

Battle of the Kegs

By Francis Hopkinson (1737–1791)

  • (Excerpt)
  • 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 cannon at any thing they saw floating in the river during the ebb tide.

  • GALLANTS, 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,

    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 mischief ’s 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 quakéd;

    And girls and boys, with hideous noise,

    Ran through the streets half naked.


    From sleep Sir William starts upright,

    Awaked by such a clatter;

    He rubs his 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 t’ 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 stomachs 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

    Ere 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, ’t is 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

    Displayed amazing courage;

    And when the sun was fairly down,

    Retired 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.