Lake Erie (MacEdward Leach)

You sons of freedom, pay attention,
And you daughters, lend an ear,
For a sad and mournful story
As was ever told you'll hear;
Hull, you know, his troops surrendered
And defenceless left the west,
And Captain Perry he then commanded
The invaders to resist.

All the troops that marched to Erie,
And the Kingston Volunteers,
Captain Perry he then commanded
To protect our west frontiers;
And tender was the scenes at parting,
Mothers wrung their hands and cried,
Maidens wept for their swains in secret,
Fathers strove their tears to hide.

But there was one among the number,
Tall and graceful was his mein,
Firm his step, and his look undaunted,
Scarce a nobler youth was seen;
One sweet kiss he snatched from Mary,
Craved his mother's prayers once more,
Shook his father's hand and parted,
For Lake Erie's distant shore.

Mary tried to say, "Farewell, James,"
Wav'd her hand but nothing spake,
Good bye, Bird, may heaven protect you,
From the rest at parting broke;
Soon they came where noble Perry
Had assembled all his fleet,
There the gallant Bird enlisted,
Hoping soon the foe to meet.

But where is Bird? The battle rages.
Is he in the strife or no?
Now the cannon roared tremendous,
There he meets the hostile foe;
Look! Behold him, see him, Perry,
In that same self ship he fights,
And though his messmates faIl around him,
Nothing can his soul affright.

But behold a ball has struck him
See his crimson blood do flow,
"Leave the deck," exclaimed brave Perry,
"No," said Bird, "I will not go.
Here on deck I took my station,
Ne'er will Bird his colours fly,
I'll! stand by you, gallant Captain,
Till we conquer or we die."

But did Bird receive a pension?
Was he to his friends restored?
Ah, no, no, never to his bosom
Pressed the maid his heart adored;
But there came most dismal tidings,
From Lake Erie's distant shore,
'Twas better for that Bird had perished,
Amidst the cannon's awful roar.

"Dearest mother," said the letter,
This will give sad news to you,
But never mourn for your best beloved,
Though he brings his last adieu;
For I must suffer for deserting,
From the brig, Niagara,
Read this letter brothers, sisters,
'Tis the last you'll hear from me."

Sad and gloomy was the morning,
When Bird was ordered out to die,
There's not one breast that was there to pity,
But for him would heave a sigh;
See him march and hear his fetters,
Harsh they clank upon the ear,
But his step is firm and manly,
For his heart ne'er harboured fear.

See him kneel upon his coffin,
Sure his death can do no good,
Spare him! Hark! Oh, God! They shot him,
See his bosom streamed with blood;
Ah, farewell, Bird, farewell forever,
Friends nor home you'll see no more,
Your mangled corpse lies buried,
On Lake Erie's distant shore.

####.... James Miner. Variant of a native American ballad, James Bird [Laws A-5] Native American Balladry, pp.164-165 (G Malcolm Laws, 1950/1964). Variant of an American broadside ballad, Mournful Tragedy Of James Bird, sold by L Deming, wholesale and retail, No62, Hanover Street, 2d door from Friend Street, Boston, and Middlebury, Vermont, and archived at the American Song Sheets Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress shelfmark: as100590 ....####
Collected in 1951 from Michael (Mike) Rourke [1874-?] of Mall Bay, NL, and published in MacEdward Leach And The Songs Of Atlantic Canada © 2004 Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA).

First published in 1814 in The Gleaner. The song refers to the execution of James Bird for desertion during the September 1813 Battle of Lake Erie between the Americans and the British. James Bird was executed in October of 1814 at Erie, Pennsylvania, for desertion while on guard duty.


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