Patriot and Loyalist Songs and Ballads
Rosalie Murphy Baum
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Most students enjoy Patriot songs and ballads but approach Loyalist
works with shyness and curiosity. Their studies in elementary, middle,
and high school have led them to think of the Revolutionary War as a completely
justified and glorious chapter in American history; they tend not to be
aware of the Loyalist (Tory) view of the conflict. At the same time, however,
their consciousness of recent American history and international events
(e.g., the Vietnam War, the Iran-Iraqi conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian
struggles) have made them increasingly aware of the complexity of historical
events and of the need to understand both sides of issues. The fact that
the songs and ballads reflect and articulate two conflicting American
views about a momentous period can be of great interest to students once
they overcome their qualms about literature that questions or criticizes
national decisions and actions.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Reading the Patriot and Loyalist songs and ballads provides a glimpse
of the popular sentiments being expressed in newspapers, periodicals, ballad-sheets,
and broadsides during the Revolutionary period. The selections in the text
represent various forms: the song and the ballad, the selection addressed
to the public at large and the selection addressed to the child, the work
expressing the Patriot or Loyalist position and the work commemorating
the life of a particular hero. The usual themes of the Patriot and the
Loyalist writers are summarized in the introduction to the selections.
A good glossary of literary terms can offer students information about
the usual form and conventions of the song and ballad. Students should
anticipate uneven work in popular songs and ballads, written in haste and
for immediate practical purposes. At the same time, however, they may wish
to examine what in these works accounted for their great popularity during
the period and their survival through the years. Of particular interest
might be an imaginative reconstruction of the response of both Patriot
and Loyalist to either a Patriot or a Loyalist song.
Probably the most important facts students need to consider before reading
Patriot and Loyalist songs and ballads are (a) at the time of the Revolutionary
War, the Loyalists were Americans just as much as were the Patriots (Rebels
or Whigs); (b) the Loyalist group included some of the leading figures
in the country at the time (e.g., Chief Justice William Allen, Rev. Mather
Byles, Samuel Curwen, Joseph Galloway, Governor Thomas Hutchinson, Rev.
Jonathan Odell, Chief Justice Peter Oliver, Rev. Samuel Seabury, Attorney
General Jonathan Sewall), figures whom students tend not to recognize because
of the usual emphasis in the classroom upon only Patriot figures; (c) whatever
knowledge the students have of Loyalists probably comes from the remarks
and writings of Patriots and thus is heavily slanted. The classroom emphasis
on Patriot leaders and Patriot arguments, of course, distorts the political
complexion of the time and does not help the student to appreciate the
complex issues and emotional turmoil of a period in which it is believed
that about one-third of the people were Patriots, one-third Loyalists,
and one-third neutrals, with Loyalists being especially strong in Delaware,
Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
The sentiments of these works, both Patriot and Loyalist, can be compared
very successfully with the ideas expressed by prose writers like John
Adams, Benjamin Franklin,
and Paine, Patriots who
are frequently anthologized. Students, however, may also be interested
in reading a few of the Loyalist prose writers, such as Rev. Samuel Seabury
("A View of the Controversy Between Great Britain and Her Colonies")
and Joseph Galloway ("Plan of a Proposed Union Between Great Britain
and the Colonies" or "A Candid Examination of the Mutual Claims
of Great Britain and the Colonies"). Students interested in popular
culture may wish to pursue the difficult question of what characteristics
distinguish popular literature, like these songs and ballads, from serious
literature, like the poems of William
Cullen Bryant, Whitman,
or Emily Dickinson.
There could be considerable controversy about where the poetry of Freneau
should fit in such a comparison.
Approaches to Writing
Some students may simply wish to report on additional Patriot and Loyalist
songs and ballads and can consult Frank Moore's Songs and Ballads of
the American Revolution (1855, 1964) for the most complete collection.
Other students may wish to consider the degree to which the Revolutionary
War was very much a civil war. They might compare such a struggle to the
conflict between the disparate cultures of the whites and Indians reflected
in Puritan literature, or draw parallels between the civil conflict in
America and similar hostilities in countries throughout the world today.
Two kinds of information can be particularly useful for students or
instructors in studying the Patriot and Loyalist songs and ballads. The
introductions to Prose and Poetry of the Revolution (1925, 1969),
edited by Frederick C. Prescott and John H. Nelson, and to The World
Turned Upside Down (1975), edited by James H. Pickering, give excellent,
brief overviews of the period and of the literature.
William H. Nelson's The American Tory (1961) offers an excellent
discussion of Loyalist views.
Wallace Brown's The King's Friends (1965) attempts to identify
who the Loyalists were and to determine their motives for remaining loyal
to the king.