A Schoolboy's Daydreams in the American Revolution

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Dec. 5 2012 8:30 AM

A Patriotic Song of the Revolutionary War, Hidden in a Schoolboy's Book

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Young John Barstow must have found it difficult to concentrate on sums with the American Revolution under way.

His math exercise book, held at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York, contains math problems, conversion tables, and other study aids. Sandwiched between these pages is a blank leaf filled with Barstow’s transcription of what must have been a popular patriotic song. (We know Barstow didn’t make it up because a slightly different transcription of the same song, dated 1775, also exists.) The leaf is dated Jan. 2, 1777.

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The song is bloody and brash, and you can imagine how its high drama would have appealed to young tastes. Titled  “The Amaricans Challings” (“The Americans’ Challenges”), it calls Americans to arms, reassures them of the nobility of their cause, and threatens “Fatal Overthrow” to the British.

A few lines:

“Drums A Beating[,] Colours Flying[,] Cannons Roaring[,] Tories Dying

These are The Noble Efects of war, Hozah Brave Boys”

“We will make The haughty Tories know, The Sorrows They must undergo

When they Engage Their mortal Foe, Hozah Brave Boys”

The myriad spelling mistakes aren’t an indication that Barstow daydreamed as much during spelling lessons as he did during math class. Creative spelling was common in the colonies in the 18th century.

You can read a complete transcript of the song, and more about this story, at the Gilder Lerhman Institute’s website.

Thanks to Sandra Trenholm of the Gilder Lehrman Institute.

A page from John Barstow's math book

GLC09051 John Barstow, [Patriotic Verse in schoolboy exercise book], 1777. (Courtesy of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.)

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