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Chapter 7 - Exiled Patriots Hatch a Plot

The experiment of tying kegs together and sending them down the Delaware River to sink the British fleet moored in Philadelphia seems outlandish and silly in modern terms.

But back then, in 1778, it stoked the imagination and pride of the fighting colonists who were looking for any way possible to win the war.

Francis Hopkinson wrote this humerous song-poem about the indicent and called it "The Battle of the Kegs."

Many Revolutionary War battles were recounted, not only in news articles and letters, but in songs and poems as well.

* * *

The Battle of the Kegs

By Francis Hopkinson

(Sung to the tune of "Yankee Doodle")

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 mischief's brewing.

"These kegs, I'm told, the rebels hold,
Packed 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 scared almost to death, sir,
Wore out their shoes to spread the news,
And ran till out of breath, sir....

Sir William, he, snug as a flea,
Lay all this time a-snoring;
Nor dreamed of harm, as he lay
In bed with Mrs. [Loring].

Now in a fright, he 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 tither 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
Ere saw so strange a battle....

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 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.

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