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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Third Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor
Hypertext Instructor's Guide

Patriot and Loyalist Songs and Ballads

Contributing Editor:
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, Thomas Jefferson, 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.

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