“Songs Attributed to Negroes”

The Luzerne Gleaner, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was a weekly newspaper whose articles were often republished by the newspapers of larger cities.  Early in the war, it sought to demonstrate that all in the United States was not consistent with the Bill of Rights.  Its persona, the Old Man of the Mountains, visits various places in the United States and reports on what he sees, including  hearing this song by a negro somewhere in the South:

Sad and hungry–all forlorn,
Negro work from early morn:
Drear the day and sad the night
Negro’s woes find no respite.
If I toil I nothing gain,
Joy ne’er comes to pay fer pain:
Master whip me when he like;
Kill me if I dare to strike.
I love Dinah–she love me;
We had little children three;
Dinah’s sold–and we must part,
O it breaks poor Sambo’s heart!
White men talk of liberty!
Why not negro too be free?

The Gleaner also published the following song, which was originally published in the Albany Argus, having been sung at the Albany theater by an actor in the character of a black sailor.  The Gleaner’s editor introduces it this way:  “I publish the following song for two reasons; one is–the song has much  humour; the other is–two respectable friends, whom I shall always take a pleasure in obliging, expressed a desire to see it in the Gleaner.”

Tune–Boyne Water

Back side Albany stan lake Champlain,
One littel pon half full o water;
Platabug dare too close pon de main;
Town small–he grow bigger do herater.
O lake Champlain uncle Sam set he boat
And Massa M’Donough he sail ’em
While general M’Comb, make e Plattebug he home,
Widd de army whose courage neber fail him.
On elebenth day of September,
One tousan eight hundred and fourteen,
Gubenor Probose and de British soger come
To Plattebug a Tea-Party courtin.
And he boat come too arter uncle Sam’s boat;
Massa Donough look ship out e winder;
And General M’Comb, ah! he always at home;
Cath e fire too just like a tinder.
Bang! bang! bang! den e cannon ‘gan to road
In Plattebug and all about dat quarter.
Gubenor Probose try e hand upon de shore,
While he boat take he luck upon de water.
Massa M’Donna nock de boat in de head,
Brake he heart–scrape he shin–tore he calf in;
While General M’Comb, he start old Probose home;
Tot my soul–den I must die a laffin.
Old Probose scare so dat he left all behind:
Powder,  ball cannon, sea-pot and kittle,
Some say he catch e case–got trouble in he mind,
Case he eat so much raw and cold vittel.
Uncle Sam berry sorry to be sure for his pain;
Wish he nurse he self up well and hearty,
For General M’Comb and Massa Donough home,
When he notion for unoder tea-party.

The next song was published in the Baltimore Patriot on April 19, 1815,  which reprinted it from the American Volunteer.  It was introduced with the following remarks:  “The following Song, composed by one of the ‘brave black patriots,’ who so nobly ‘volunteered’ their services, under the redoubtable admiral Cockburn, in the Chesapeake Bay last summer, is intended to be sung in character, with unbounded applause at the next opening of the Theatres Royal, Covent Garden and Drury Lane.

Tune–Great Way off at Sea, or Love & Whiskey

When me leetle boy, den me cum from Guinea,
Buckra man teal me,  bring me to Virginia;
Dare me very much work,
Great big fenc-rail toat-e–
But British man, he come,
He give me fine red coat-e.

Chorus–Ri tol la ral la
Ti tol la ral la de
Ri tol la ral la
Ta ral a ral la de

Captain money give, very much I tak he,
But de sojer man call me dam black Yankee!
Admiral clever, good
He give me pork and bean-e
I go long wid him,
For take New Orlean-e

Chorus–Ri tol la ral la  &c.

When we come ashore, great big gun we shut-e,
For make Yankee run, den we could get de ‘booty.’
But de backwood Yankee
He not much good nater
He say he ‘one half horse,
Half an aligator!’


General he much swear, make de mortar thunder,
Old hickory man for scare, till we get de plunder;
Den wid pretty girl,
We’ll have plenty funee-
But Old Hickory man
Devil a step would run-e!
Admiral now get mad, call ‘Yankee sons o’bitch-e,’
Yankee man no care, he make one big ditch-e
But when British man
He go up  to storm-e
How de Yankees shoot-e!
O Lord ha’ mercy on me!!


General all get kill, Yankee man he shoot-e,
He give Rifle Pill, dat no very good ‘booty!’
Den de Curnel stamp
And swear-d like a nation,
“Dis a debil way
For make one ‘demonstration !’

 Black man all come off, much white man lay behind-e
Some get good deal hurt, some dey could no fine-e.
Cuffee dey bring here,
Make sugar in Jamaica–
Me wish me were at home
A eating nice hoe-cake-a

Chorus–ri tol la ral la
ti tol la ral la de
ri tol la ral la
ta ral a ral la de


About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden