Expedition to Rhode Island | American Revolution War Song

About the author

Frank Moore
Frank Moore

Frank Moore was a journalist and Revolutionary historian. He published a number of books on the American Revolution during his career in the mid-19th century, including Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution, Diary of the American Revolution and The Patriot Preachers of the American Revolution.

This humorous ballad commemorates the attempt made upon Rhode Island, by the combined forces of Count D’Estaing, with the French fleet, and General Sullivan, in command of the American forces, during the month of August, 1778.

Expedition to Rhode Island

FROM Lewis, Monsieur Gerard came,1
To Congress in this town, sir,
They bow’d to him, and he to them,
And then they all sat down, sir.

Begar, said Monsieur, one grand coup,
You shall bientot behold, sir;
This was believ’d as gospel true,
And Jonathan felt bold, sir.

So Yankee Doodle did forget
The sound of British drum, sir,
How oft it made him quake and sweat,
In spite of Yankee rum, sir.

He took his wallet on his back,
His rifle on his shoulder,
And veow’d Rhode Island to attack,
Before he was much older.

In dread array their tatter’d crew,
Advanc’d with colors spread, sir,
Their fifes played Yankee doodle, doo,
King Hancock at their head, sir.2

What numbers bravely cross’d the seas,
I cannot well determine,
A swarm of rebels and of fleas,
And every other vermin.

Their mighty hearts might shrink they tho’t,
For all flesh only grass is,
A plenteous store they therefore brought,
Of whiskey and molasses.

They swore they’d make bold Pigot squeak,3
So did their good ally, sir,
And take him pris’ner in a week,
But that was all my eye, sir.

As Jonathan so much desir’d
To shine in martial story,
D’Estaing with politesse retir’d,4
To leave him all the glory.

He left him what was better yet,
At least it was more use, sir,
He left him for a quick retreat,
A very good excuse, sir.

To stay, unless he rul’d the sea,
He thought would not be right, sir,
And Continental troops, said he,
On islands should not fight, sir.

Another cause with these combin’d,
To throw him in the dumps, sir,
For Clinton’s name alarmed his mind,5
And made him stir his stumps, sir.

  1. Monsieur Gerard came. M. Gerard was the first ambassador from any nation to the United States. The following minute account of his reception by the Continental Congress, at Philadelphia, appeared in the papers of that period. “On Thursday, the sixth of August, 1778, the day appointed by the Congress for the reception of the minister, Richard Henry Lee, delegate from Virginia, and Samuel Adams, delegate from Massachusetts Bay, waited upon his Excellency, in a coach and six, provided by Congress, at his house. In a few minutes, the minister and the two delegates entered the coach, Mr. Lee placing himself at the minister’s left hand on the back seat; Mr. Adams occupying the front seat. The minister’s chariot being behind received his secretary. On the arrival of the carriages at the State House, the two members of Congress, placing themselves at the minister’s left hand, a little before one o’clock, introduced him to his chair in the Congress Chamber; the President and Congress sitting. The chair was placed fronting the President. The minister being seated, he gave his credentials into the hands of his secretary, who advanced and delivered them to the President. The secretary of Congress then read and translated them, after which Mr. Lee announced the minister to the President and Congress. At this time, the President, the Congress, and the minister rose together. He bowed to the President and Congress, and they bowed to him, whereupon the whole seated themselves. In a moment, the minister rose and made a speech to the Congress, they sitting. The speech being finished, the minister sat down, and giving a copy of his speech to his secretary, he presented it to the President. The President and Congress then rose, and the President pronounced the answer to the speech, the minister standing.The answer being ended, the whole were again seated, and the President giving a copy of the answer to the secretary of Congress, he presented it to the minister, The President, the Congress, and the minister then rose together. The minister bowed to the President, who returned the salute, and then to the Congress, who also bowed in return. And the minister having again bowed to the President, and received his bow, he withdrew, and was attended home in the same manner in which he had been conducted to the audience.””Thus has a new and noble sight been exhibited in this new world. The Representatives of the United States of America, solemnly giving public audience to a minister plenipotentiary from the most powerful prince in Europe. Four years ago, such an event, at so near a day, was not in the view even of imagination. But it is the Almighty who raiseth up. He hath stationed America among the powers of the earth, and clothed her in robes of sovereignty.”

    Rivington, in the Royal Gazette of the eleventh of November, 1778, says: “A correspondent observes, that after all the pageantry and parade exhibited last summer at Philadelphia, with Monsieur Gerard, he is assured by recent accounts from thence, that, instead of an ambassador from the court of Versailles, he proves in reality nothing more than an agent from the Fermiers Generaux for the collection of an immense heavy debt, due to them from the rebel chiefs.” Rivington concludes with the remark that Gerard is “a driver, a mere tobacco-droger he.”

  2. King Hancock at their head. John Hancock took the command of the second line of Massachusetts militia, in this movement. The advance of the American army was commanded by Colonel Livingston, the right wing by General Greene, and the left by the Marquis de la Fayette.
  3. Bold Pigot. Sir Robert Pigot commanded the British forces in Rhode Island.
  4. D’Estaing with politesse retir’d. Count D’Estaing was censured very severely for the conduct of the French fleet in this expedition. On the day after he arrived at Newport, Lord Howe, with the British fleet, came in sight. D’Estaing went out to meet him, and after a sharp conflict, with some injury to the shipping of both sides, they separated. The British fleet went to New York; and the French returned to Newport. D’Estaing thought it necessary to go to Boston with his fleet to repair, and two days after set sail, notwithstanding the earnest protestations of the officers of the American land forces, who had been dispatched from the main army to assist in the expedition. Under these circumstances, the militia, who had volunteered with great eagerness to co- operate with their new allies, went home disgusted and disheartened. and General Sullivan ordered a retreat. So the expedition failed.
  5. Clinton’s name alarmed his mind. Sir Henry Clinton did not arrive in the neighborhood of Rhode Island until some time after D’Estaing had left it.

This song was written in Philadelphia, but the author is unknown. Rivington published it in the Royal Gazette, at New York, on the third of October, 1778, without comment. It also appeared in the English newspapers, during the early part of the year following.

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