The Burning of Charlestown | 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.

During the battle, upon this hill, the village of Charlestown was destroyed. The subjoined lyric, commemorating the event, has been attributed to Joel Barlow. He composed various patriotic songs, many of which are familiar. On entering the army, he wrote, “I do not know, whether I shall do more for the cause in the capacity of chaplain, than I could in that of poet; I have great faith in the influence of songs; and shall continue, while fulfilling the duties of my appointment, to write one now and then, and to encourage the taste for them which I find in the camp. One good song is worth a dozen addresses or proclamations.”1

The Burning of Charlestown

PALMYRA’S prospect, with her tumbling walls,
Huge piles of ruin heap’d on every side,
From each beholder, tears of pity calls,
Sad monuments, extending far and wide.

Yet far more dismal to the patriot’s eye,
The drear remains of Charlestown’s former show,
Behind whose walls did hundred warriors die,
And Britain’s centre felt the fatal blow.

To see a town so elegantly form’d,
Such buildings graced with every curious art,
Spoil’d in a moment, on a sudden storm’d,
Must fill with indignation every heart.

But when we find the reasons of her fate
To be but trifling – trifling did I say ?
For being noble ! daring to be great,
Nor calmly yielding to tyrannic sway!

To see the relics of that once famed place,
Pointing to Heaven, as ’twere in ardent cry,
By lawless power robb’d of every grace,
Yet calling bolts of vengeance from on high:

To find, I say, such dealings with mankind,
To see those royal robbers planted near
Those glorious buildings, turning into wind,
And loath to mingle with the common air.

And such chastisement coming from a state
Who calls herself our parent, nurse, and friend
Must rouse each soul that’s noble, frank, and great,
And urge us on our lives and all to spend !

Oh ! spot once graceful; but, alas ! no more;
Till signs shall end, and time itself shall cease,
Thy name shall live, and on fame’s pinions soar,
To mark grim blackness on Great Britain’s face.

Nor shall the blood of heroes on the plain,
Who nobly fell that day in freedom’s cause,
Lie unreveng’d, though with thy thousands slain,2
Whilst there’s a King who fears nor minds thy laws.

Shall Cain who madly spilt his brother’s blood,
Receive such curses from the God of all?
Is not that Sovereign still as just and good,
To hear the cries of children when they call ?

Yes, there’s a God whose laws are still the same,
Whose years are endless, and his power is great;
He is our God: Jehovah is his name;
With him we trust our sore oppressèd state.

When he shall rise (oh, Britain, dread the day,
Nor can I stretch the period of thy fate);
What heart of steel, what tyrant then shall sway,
A throne that’s sinking by oppression’s weight?

Thy crimes, oh North, shall then like spectres stand,
Nor Charlestown hindmost in the ghastly roll,
And faithless Gage, who gave the dread command,
Shall find dire torments gnaw upon his soul.

Yea, in this world, we trust that ills so dread,
Which fills the nation with such matchless woes,
Shall fall with double vengeance on thy head,
Nor ‘scape those minions which thy court compose.

  1. Curiosities of American Literature, by Rufus W. Griswold.
  2. “Thy thousands slain.” Shortly after the battle of Breed’s Hillthe following epigram appeared on a large handbill:The modern veni, vidi, vici.We came, we saw, but could not beat,
    And so we sounded a retreat;
    On Roxbury Hill again we saw ’em,
    And did, like devils, clapper-claw ’em;
    But warlike casuists can’t discuss,
    If we beat them, or they beat us;
    We swear we beat, they swear we lie,
    We’ll tell you more on’t bye and bye.”

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