The First National Anthem

In 1776 there was no official national anthem, but two songs were popular with the troops and became our unofficial anthems as we forged a new nation on the battle field.

Yankee Doodle was perhaps the more popular. Although it remains the anthem of Connecticut ... its origins make it unsuitable for our national anthem - it was written by the British to mock Americans. We've since made it our own, but ...

The other option was Chester by William Billings, which is first recorded in 1770 although the current lyrics date to 1778. The words are a little more serious, and the martial elements our troops' victories:

Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And Slav'ry clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England's God forever reigns.
Howe and Burgoyne and Clinton too,
With Prescot and Cornwallis join'd,
Together plot our Overthrow,
In one Infernal league combin'd.
When God inspir'd us for the fight,
Their ranks were broke, their lines were forc'd,
Their ships were Shatter'd in our sight,
Or swiftly driven from our Coast.
The Foe comes on with haughty Stride;
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their Vet'rans flee before our Youth,
And Gen'rals yield to beardless Boys.
What grateful Off'ring shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud Halleluiahs let us Sing,
And praise his name on ev'ry Chord.

The music was used as the theme for the HBO series John Adams. They did not use the lyrics, but the beat is clearly good for marching

1 comment:

  1. I don't think "Chester" is used in the theme music, but it is used in the scene when Adams and family are in church. You can hear a midi version of the melody http://tinyurl.com/mja84v.

    The other interesting piece of music that was big--played by the Brits as they surrendered--was "The World Turned Upside Down".

    David Fisher
    Maui, Hawaii


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