- The Chesapeake and the Shannon
- Now the Chesapeake so bold, sailed from Boston, we've been told,
For to take the British frigate neat and handy, O!
The people of the port all came out to see the sport,
And the bands were playing Yankee doodle dandy, O!
The British frigate's name, which for the purpose came
To cool the Yankee courage neat and handy, O!
Was the Shannon, Captain Broke, all her men were hearts of oak,
And in fighting, was allowed to be the dandy, O!
The fight had scarce begun when they flinched from their guns
which at first they started workin' neat and handy, O!
Then brave Broke he waved his sword, crying, "Now, my lads, aboard,"
And we'll stop their playing Yankee doodle dandy, O!
They no sooner heard the word, when they quickly jump'd aboard,
And hauled down the Yankee colors neat and handy, O!
Notwithstanding all their brag, now the glorious British flag
At the Yankee mizzen-peak was quite the dandy, O!
Here's a health brave Broke to you, to your officers and crew,
Who aboard the Shannon frigate fought so handy, O!
And may it ever prove that in fighting, and in love,
The British tar will ever be the dandy, O!
--Broadsheet ballad by Unknown Author
I had just finished listening to The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian, when I heard this song come on my random shuffle. It took me only a moment or two to realize that it was talking about the very battle I'd just heard about in the story. The British Navy had suffered a string of defeats against the large new American frigates, and Captain Broke of the Shannon, after blockading Boston, burning captured merchant vessels rather than making prize of them to keep his crew intact, and nearly running out of supplies, was forced to make the decision to return to Halifax for supplies. He knew that when he returned, the Chesapeake would have left Boston harbor, and would be free to prey on more British vessels, so he sent in a letter with some prisoners challenging Lawrence, the American Captain to a fair fight. The Chesapeake came out of the harbor before the letter reached it with the same idea in mind. The people in town went out onto the headland to watch. The battle was fierce, but the Shannon was dismasted, and her captain was mortally wounded. His last words were, "Don't give up the ship!" When the British boarded, however, they were forced to strike their colors.
I find that I am a bit conflicted when I hear stories like this. I like for the British navy to win battles, since in the novels I read, they're generally the heroes. At the same time, I am an American, and like to hear about American bravery and Victory. I imagine that many of the people in the colonies during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 were similarly conflicted.
If you're interested in the tune, you can hear it here.