Wednesday, December 29, 2010

'Tis The Season

now 1787 is Ended,
it happy is if we are mended,
God grant if not we may be.

Martha Ballard's diary, December 31, 1787

Christmas in colonial America was far different from Christmas as we now know it.  Almost all of our present-day customs--Santa Claus, caroling, gift-giving, the tree and extensive decorating, and even the sacred celebration of the birthday of Christ--were Victorian innovations.

Before the 19th century, Christmas was a minor religious holiday. Many Christian sects didn't celebrate it at all, partly because the actual day wasn't specified in the Bible, and also, as the Puritans put it, the season promoted drinking and debauchery. (The Puritans, in fact, outlawed Christmas.) Most stores and markets were open on the 25th. At first, only Catholics held services. Protestant churches joined in after many of their congregants began attending the Catholic masses to hear the special music of the day.

How was the season observed?  The wealthy threw elaborate dinner parties.  Poorer classes, knowing the rich were congregating for the Yule, went door-to-door, asking for money or food and drink in return for a wassail (that is, a toast to the health of the host and his family, often sung).  Servants and workers were given coins by their employers and patrons.  Some people observed customs brought over from Europe--mistletoe, the making of mince pies, a Yule log, perhaps modest decoration of the mantel with things like leaves, pine cones, or a few apples, to be eaten during the season.  No one would have wasted food, let alone something like a pineapple, which very few could afford, by nailing it over the door.  A poor man would have stolen the fruit before the night was out, to feed his family.  In the taverns, a bowl of special punch might be prepared.  And now that the harvest was done, if the roads were frozen enough for mudless travel, visiting neighbors and relatives was common.  Time to hear stories (ghost tales were popular in the long nights), to sing and catch up on news and gossip.

Most Americans now consider Thanksgiving through December 25th as the Christmas season, but that's a recent development, defined by 20th century merchants.  Traditionally, Yuletide is December 25th through January 6th (Epiphany--the day the Magi visited Christ).  In early America, since many people were farmers whose calendars were determined by the solstices and equinoxes, Yuletide began for some on December 21.

January 6th--also called "Old Christmas"--was the 12th day of the Yuletide (you know, 12 drummers drumming?).  Both its eve and the night of Epiphany have been called Twelfth Night.  In colonial America, Twelfth Night was a traditional time for weddings, and for a final party before the Yule came to a close.

As for music, many lyrics of our traditional carols, such as Joy To The World, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, and While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night, were sung to earlier tunes.  The American composer Williams Billings wrote several fun-to-sing Christmas songs, including A Virgin Unspotted and Methinks I See A Heavenly Host.  And of course, the wassails mentioned above were very popular, most using some variation of the words

God bless the Master of this House
The Mistress also
And all the little children
That 'round the table go.

One of Historical Harmonies favorite Yuletide songs is the shape-note hymn Milford, which was published in 1802 and most often attributed to James Stephenson.  In the video, Colonial Reveler tenor Jason Gagliardi performs all 4 parts.  We hope you enjoy it.

Happy Yuletide to all!

Your humble servants,

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Now We Are Met - Rounds & Canons

No music is so satisfying as the singing of a round.  Everyone gets to sing the melody, yet the harmonies can be as full and beautiful as a large chorus.

The harmonies of a round result when different voices begin and end the melody at different times.  If the voices begin at different times yet end together on a final chord, the song is called a canon.  Rounds and canons were very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in a variety of settings--from William Billings's sacred "When Jesus Wept" to Henry Purcell's bawdy "I Gave Her Cakes."   They can be as long as a full verse of a song, or as short as 2 or 3 phrases.  Colonial Revelers begins each of their concerts with the round "Now We Are Met," composed by Samuel Webbe (1740-1816), as heard in the video above.

The oldest surviving printed example of an English round is "Sumer is A Cumen In," thought to be written in the 13th century.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, books of rounds or catches, as they were also called, were extremely popular, though most people learned the rounds by ear, whether while sitting in a church pew, around a tavern hearth, at home, or even on the march during the Revolution.

The easiest way to learn a round is to sing one part over and over until you've got it, then move on to the 2nd part, then the 3rd.  You might, for instance, sing only "Row, row, row your boat," over and over, while your friends sing all the way through the round.  Next time you'd sing "Gently down the stream," until you're sure of those notes.  Then "Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily," and so forth.  Eventually, you've got the whole melody.

Some of Colonial Revelers' favorite rounds and canons:

Now We Are Met (Webbe, late 18th century)
Sweet Sir Walter (Purcell, 1733)
I Gave Her Cakes (Purcell, 1731)
He That Will an Alehouse Keep (Ravenscroft, 1611)
Banberry Ale (Ravenscroft, 1609)
Christchurch Bells (Aldrich, 1673)
The Sports of May (Warren, 1775)
When Jesus Wept (Billings, 1770)
Canon (Billings, 1770)

You can hear these rounds on either the Down Among the Deadmen or Revelry, Reflection & Revolution CDs.

As ever, your humble servants,

Saturday, November 13, 2010


We must not omit here to thank the Publick for the gracious and
kind Encouragement they have hitherto given us.
Poor Richard's Almanack, 1737, paraphrased

Saturday, December 4, 11 am - 3 pm

The Mill at Anselma
1730 Conestoga Road
Chester Springs, PA 19425

Our Victorian Carolers ensemble will regale vistors to the mill with traditional holiday songs from Charles Dickens's England.

Anselma Mill on Pickering Creek was operated as a grist mill from 1725 to 1982 and retains its original Colonial era power train.  In 1982, the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust took over the property who did some early restoration and stabilize the buildings.  In 1998, a new organization, The Mill at Anselma Preservation and Educational Trust began a full restoration.  In 2005, the Mill at Anselma was designated a National Historic Landmark.  Today, it's the most complete known example of a custom grain mill in the United States.

For further information about the mill or this event, call them at 610-827-1906, email or click here for their website.

Saturday, December 4,  4-7 pm

"Deck the Alley"
Elfreth's Alley
2nd St., between Race & Arch Sts.
Philadelphia, PA

After enjoying Victorian Carolers at Anselma Mill, head down to Olde City Philadelphia, where Colonial Revelers will be strolling along Elfreth's Alley, singing 18th century holiday carols, wassail songs, and other music of the period.

Elfreth's Alley has been a residential street continuously since 1702.  The 32 houses there today were built between 1720s and 1830s.  The alley is a National Historic Landmark District.  Numbers 124 and 126 are open to the public year-round as a museum of life in early Philadelphia.  Guidebooks and cellphone tours of the alley are available.

During the "Deck the Alley" event, many of the narrow street's residents open their houses for tours.  Refreshments  will be available. For ticket information about the events, call 215-574-0560 or click here for their website.

Saturday, December 11, 4-6 pm

Marshallton Tree Lighting
Village of Marshallton
559 Northbrook Rd
West Chester, PA 19382

Colonial Revelers will return to Martin's Tavern to provide holiday music for the lighting of the village tree.

As stated last month, Martin's Tavern, also called Center House, was built in 1764.  The inn played a prominent role during the Battle of Brandywine in 1777.  The restored ruins of the tavern form Marshallton's village square, where a large evergreen tree is decorated with lights each year.  Refreshments will be served.  Find out about Martin's Tavern events:

Sunday, December 19, 6-8 pm

The "March-In"
Valley Forge National Historical Park
1400 N. Outer Line Dr.
Valley Forge PA 19406

Colonial Revelers will be stationed in the Visitor Center, singing 18th century wassail songs, Christmas hymns and other period music to commemorate the day the Continental Army arrived at Valley Forge in 1777.  Come for the party!

Valley Forge National Historical Park is the site of the Continental Army's winter encampment, from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778.  Park rangers and Friends of Valley Forge will be on hand for candlelight tours, a "march" up to Muhlenberg's huts, and other 18th century festivities.  Refreshments, holiday shopping and free gift wrapping will be available at the Encampment Store at the Visitor Center.  Free and open to the public. Information and directions at

Your humble servants,

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jefferson & Liberty

"Let foes to freedom dread the name;
But should they touch the sacred tree,
Twice fifty thousands swords would flame
For Jefferson and liberty."
--campaign song from the election of 1800.

In America's first two presidential elections, George Washington was the unanimous choice, both by popular vote and by the new, cumbersome Electoral College system.  But come 1796, when Washington politely but firmly stepped aside, the election wasn't quite so easy.  Thirteen men received electoral votes, including two for Washington.  The winner was John Adams with 71.  Thomas Jefferson came in a mere 3 votes behind Adams, with 68.  At the  time, the runner-up became Vice President, so Jefferson served in that office.

In 1798, the Adams administration passed four controversial acts:

1.  The Naturalization Act.  Aliens had been required to live in the United States 5 years before they could become citizens.  This act extended the period to 14 years.

2.  The Alien Friends Act gave the president the power to deport any alien considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States."

3.  The Alien Enemies Act gave the president power to apprehend and deport any aliens whose home countries were at war with the United States.  (This act is still in force today.)

4.  The Sedition Act made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials.  (Freedom of Speech?  Who needs it?)

Vice President Jefferson and his followers argued that the acts violated the Constitution.  In November 1798, a group in Dedham, Massachusetts set up a liberty pole with the words, "No Stamp Act, No Sedition Act, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax, downfall to the Tyrants of America; peace and retirement to the President; Long Live the Vice President."  The group's leader, David Brown was arrested and tried in 1799.  When the judge wanted Brown to name everyone who'd helped him or subscribed to his writings, Brown refused.  He was sentenced to 18 months in prison (and prisons were pretty horrendous back then).

In the 1800 election, Adams' Federalist party used the Sedition Act to try to stifle the opposition, but Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans continued to publish and voice their criticisms, such as the campaign song "Jefferson & Liberty."  Here are two verses:

"The gloomy night before us flies,
The reign of terror now is o'er;
It's gags, inquisitors and spies,
It's herds of harpies are no more.
"Let strangers from a thousand shores
Compelled by tyranny to roam
Shall find amidst abundant stores
A nobler and a happier home."

For an idea of the mud-slinging and name-calling, watch this video, courtesy of ReasonTV:

The 1800 election was one of the hardest fought in American history.  The results?

Thomas Jefferson: 73 electoral votes
John Adams: 65
Aaron Burr (another Democrat-Republican):  73
Charles C. Pinckney (a Federalist): 64
John Jay: 1

Because Jefferson and Burr were tied for the lead, the House decided the election, giving Jefferson the presidency and Burr the vice-presidency.

"Rejoice, Columbia's sons, rejoice!
To tyrants never bend the knee,
But join with heart and soul and voice,
For Jefferson and liberty!"

Please vote on November 2nd.

Your humble servants,

Friday, October 15, 2010

Colonial Revelers November Events

Now some with feasts do crown the day,
Whilst others loose their coyn in play...
--from an American almanac, 1714

Friday, November 5, 2010

Phoenixville First Friday
Bridge Street,

Phoenixville, PA
Colonial Revelers will be performing at Phoenixville's First Friday cultural event.  We'll be the ones dressed like refugees from Valley Forge, 1777.  We'll also be the ones singing the best drinking songs of the evening.

For more information and a map of the street, go to their website.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Greenbank Mills Tavern Night Fundraiser
500 Greenbank Road
Wilmington, DE 19808
Time: 7 to 10 pm - Adults only

 $35 for Members reserved before October 23
 $50 for Non-members before October 23
 $60 - All Tickets after October 23

Proceeds benefit Greenbank Mill's Operations Fund.

Colonial Revelers will provide tavern music for this night of 18th century food, drink, dancing and games.  Participation will be encouraged in all the amusements of the evening.

For information on the menu and planned activities, download the Tavern Night event brochure.

The current gristmill at Greenbank was built in the 1760s as a merchant mill, to export flour.  In 1777, when Washington arrayed his troops across Delaware in an effort to stop the British from invading Philadelphia, it's said that the general posted a guard at Greenbank to protect the provisions.  Improvements to the mill in the 19th century kept production flourishing until the 1960s, when an arson fire devastated the business.  The  non-profit Greenbank Mill Associates formed and began restoration in 1987.  The site is now open to the public as a living history museum.

For more information about Greenbank Mill and its history, click here  or call 302-999-9001.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Brandywine Battlefield Patriots Day
1491 Baltimore Pike
Chadds Ford, Pa 19317

Time: 10am to 4 pm

Adults: $6, Seniors: $4, Youth/Student: $3, Under 5: Free
10% holiday discount in the Museum Shop
Colonial Revelers will sing and stroll the grounds for this all-day event.  Living history regiments will present firing and medical demonstrations, 18th century sutlers will sell all sorts of goods and baked items, plus you can tour the historic buildings and museum.  Chadds Ford Rotary will provide food and refreshments.

Check out the battlefield calendar for more info.

On September 11, 1777 at Brandywine, Washington's troops met the British and Hessians under General Howe for the largest battle of the Revolution.  For more information about the battle and the park, go to the Friends of Brandywine Battlefield website,  call 610-459-3342 x3001, or check them out on Facebook.

Your humble servants,

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hymns for the American Patriot

There have been as great Souls unknown to fame
as any of the most famous.
Poor Richard, 1734

Dear Reader,

For this year's celebration of our Independence, we offered a short biography of Mr. William Billings.  We  told of his talent at musical composition, his prolific body of work, and his ability to eke a living from his craft, despite being self-taught and physically impaired.  Yet in addition, Mr. Billings ought be remembered for siring the American patriotic hymn.

One of his first musical works was titled America.  Indeed, many hymn tunes were named for places, but this composition paid tribute to the country as well.  Mr. Billings had decided to set the poem The New England Hymn by Rev. Dr. Mather Byles, Sr. (1706-1788) of South Boston.  Here is the first verse:

To Thee the tuneful Anthem Soars.
To thee, our Father's God, and ours;
This wilderness we chose our Seat:
To Rights Secured by Equal Laws
From Persecution's Iron Claws,
We here have sought our calm Retreat.

Mr. Billings chose an old melody, popular since the 1640s when the Puritans were warring with the Anglican church.  He wrote a new version of the tune, to fit Dr. Byles lyrics, and set the song for four-part harmony.  The result was a blend of patriotic sentiment and sacred praise.  America was published in October of 1770, the first full hymn in Billings's The New-England Psalm-Singer.

In that same volume was a hymn called Chester (likely named for Chester, MA) with Billings's own lyrics:

Let tyrants shake their Iron rod
And slavery Clank her galling Chains
We fear them not, we trust in god
New England's god forever reigns.

When New England militias marched into battle five years later, Chester became their rallying cry.  As the Revolution progressed, other American soldiers adopted Chester as a marching song.  In 1778, Billings modified the original and added more verses, such as

When God inspired us for the fight
Their ranks were broke, their lines were forced
Their ships were shattered in our sight
Or swiftly driven from our shores.

The song quickly grew in popularity, rivaling only Yankee Doodle among the troops.  Chester has been called America's first national anthem. With these first patriotic hymns, Billings began a tradition that came to include The Battle Hymn of the  Republic, America The Beautiful, and God Bless America.

Chester can be heard on Colonial Revelers' CD Revelry, Reflection & Revolution. To hear a sample, watch the video.

As always, your servants,

Monday, September 13, 2010

Colonial Revelers Events

We of Colonial Revelers are yet again pleased to present our music at some of the Delaware Valley's most historic venues.

Our calendar for
October, 2010:

Saturday the 2nd
Fall Harvest Festival at
Newlin Grist Mill Park
219 South Cheyney Road
Glen Mills, PA 19342

Time: 10-4 -- FREE

In this historic setting, Colonial Revelers will present concerts at 11:30 and 1:30.  We'll stroll around singing the rest of the time.

Newlin Mill is the oldest operating grist mill in Pennsylvania.  It was built by Nathaniel  Newlin in 1704, the third mill built on the site by the Newlin family, who had come to  America in 1683.  The mill was run by the Newlins until 1817, then by other owners through 1941.  A descendent of the Newlin family bought it in 1958 and began restoring it to its 18th century appearance.  Besides the mill, this living history site has two houses, an office, a barn and a grain storage building.

For more information about the park, its history, and this event click here , email or call 610-459-2359.

* * *

Saturday the 9th
Downingtown Friends Meeting
Fall Festival
800 East Lancaster Avenue
Downingtown, PA 19335
Time: 9-4 -- FREE

Colonial Revelers will present a concert at noon.  Homemade soups, chili, funnel cake and other foods will be available for purchase.  Come for lunch and music!

In 1774, John Downing donated land for the Lionville Friends to build a school.  Friends around "Downing's Town" were granted permission to meet at the school in 1784.  In 1806, Jenu Roberts donated land for the building of a meetinghouse for Downingtown Friends.

For more information about Downingtown Friends and this event, click here , phone 610-269-4223 or email
* * *

Saturday the 23rd
Marshallton Ghost Walk & Family Fun Night
Village of Marshallton
559 Northbrook Rd
West Chester, PA 19382
Time: 5-8 pm -- FREE

Colonial Revelers will sing throughout the evening at the historic ruins of Martin's Tavern.  Friends of Martin's Tavern will provide hot cider, cookies and other food.  The event involves the whole town, including all kinds of activities for kids, so park at the United Methodist Church at 1282 W. Strasburg Road and follow the signs.

Martin's Tavern, also called Center House, was built in 1764.  The inn played a prominent role during the Battle of Brandywine in 1777.  Much of the original tavern was lost over the years, but the ruins were restored and form the centerpiece of Marshallton's public square (really more of a triangle).

Click here for a look at last year's poster, which will give you an idea what to expect.

Find out about the Friends of Martin's Tavern:

For more information, contact West Bradford Township at 610-269-4174.

Your humble servants,

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Law Against Peace

"Be at War with your Vices,
at Peace with your Neighbours..."
Poor Richard's Almanack, 1755
September 1777

The Redcoats were headed for Philadelphia. On August 23rd, the British ships were sighted in the Chesapeake.  They were coming from the southwest, from Maryland.  While Washington arrayed his troops in an arc across Delaware, a panicky Continental Congress debated how they might make Philadelphia (and more to the point, themselves) safe.

Therefore, on August 28th, they resolved to arrest prominent Quakers.

Say what?

What did the Quakers do to make Congress so afraid of them?  Yes, many members of the Society of Friends had loyalist leanings, but then, so did quite a few other colonists at the time.  The majority of Americans were against the war on some level, most simply wanting to be left alone.  And loyalists in some colonies formed their own militias to fight against Washington.

The Quakers, however, did literally nothing.  Unlike other colonists, they couldn't be persuaded to donate or even sell food or blankets to the American army.  They took their pacifism seriously, believing that if they gave supplies to soldiers who then went and killed human beings, the blood would be on their own hands.  Friends caught disobeying this central belief could be shunned from their meetings.  After some members left  to form the Free Quakers, who did support and fight in the Revolution, traditional Friends' Meetings communicated with each other about the necessity to stand firm and not give in.

Congress, unfortunately, viewed this with a "if you're not for us, you must be against us" attitude.  Pennsylvania had already passed a law in February 1777 that stated in part,

"...if any person or persons, within this state,
publicly and deliberately speaking or writing against our public
defense,...or shall ...discourage the people from enlisting into
the service of the commonwealth;...or oppose and endeavor to
prevent the measures carrying on in support of the freedom and
independence of the said United States; every such person...shall
be adjudged guilty of misprision of treason..."

The Supreme Council of Pennsylvania and, by extension, Congress, came to believe that the Quakers with any wealth would ride out to meet General Howe and give him support.  Not understanding the Friends' religion, they couldn't fathom that the Quakers would never give aid to either side.

So, on September 1, prominent Quaker men were arrested, placed under house arrest and all their papers plus a good percentage of their wealth seized.  On September 4, the men were imprisoned at Masonic Hall (mainly because the Third Street Jail was already full).

On September 11th (ironic, isn't it?) Washington's troops met General Howe's forces at Brandywine Creek, in what would be the largest clash of troops in the Revolution.  That same day the Quaker prisoners were being transferred by wagon over 200 miles across what was still wilderness to Winchester, Virginia, where they would be kept until the following spring, when the British finally abandoned the Philadelphia area.  Some of the prisoners were elderly.  Most were wearing summer clothes when arrested, and were not given blankets and warmer clothing for weeks, even though the weather turned suddenly cold.  One man died from the ordeal.

This earlier 9-11 marked the day that Americans created their first internment camp.  And the first time Americans persecuted a group of people for their religious beliefs.  Might do well for us to remember this at our 9-11 observances this year.

Music-wise, because of the Misprision of Treason act and others like it, you won't find Revolution era equivalents of "Blowin' in the Wind."  Protest songs did exist, however, though they were mainly sung by folks in England, protesting a war that was draining their economy, or by women, lamenting that their husbands and sons were once more being called to arms.

One such song, "Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier," can be heard on the Colonial Revelers' Revelry, Reflection & Revolution CD.  To hear a sample of it, click here.

As always, your humble servants,

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Methinks One Tooth is Dry

Give me yesterday's Bread, this Day's Flesh, and last Year's Cyder.
Poor Richard's Almanac, 1744

On 23 August 1775, King George III declared the American colonies to be in "open and avowed Rebellion" and issued a "Proclamation For suppressing Rebellion and Sedition."

Yet at the time General Washington had other than Rebellion on his mind.  An epidemic of dysentery raged through his camp.  As this coincided with the pressing of the first apple harvest, he made the connection and issued his own Proclamation:

"As nothing is more pernicious to the health of Soldiers, nor more certainly productive of the bloody-flux; than drinking New Cyder: The General in the most possitive manner commands, the entire disuse of the same..."
George Washington, August 28, 1775

Cyder in the 18th century meant unfiltered hard cider--a popular and very common drink.  (If you wanted it with no alcohol, you requested sweet cider.)  Every farm and estate in America (and England) had an apple orchard, and nearly everyone else with a bit of ground near their houses kept a few apple trees.  Communities had cider mills where you could bring your apples to be pressed if you couldn't do it yourself.

So it's interesting that the drinking songs of the era, while extolling the virtues of beer, wine and whisky, fail to mention cider.  Perhaps because after beer or wine, at least, you can still hold a quill to write a song.

Still, each New Year the apple trees were blessed so they'd bring a good harvest in August, along with the assurance of cider to last the winter through.

As for General Washington's dilemma, he'd likely have done better to forbid the drinking of water.

TRUDGE away quickly and fill the black bole,
Devoutly as long as wee bide,
Now welcome, good fellows, both strangers and all,
Let madness and mirth set sadness aside.

Masters, this is all my desire,
I would no drink should pass us by;
Let us now sing and mend the fire,
For still me thinks one tooth is drye.

from Thomas Ravenscroft's A Brief Discourse, 1614
(This song can be heard on Colonial Revelers'

Your humble servants,

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Williams Billings & Independence

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another...a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.


Upon this both solemn and happy Occasion of the Anniversary of our Independence, Colonial Revelers is pleased to perform Music by Mr. William Billings at St. Matthews United Methodist Church of Valley Forge on July Fourth, at half past nine in the Morning.

Mr. William Billings grew up in Boston, poor and uneducated, untidy in dress, described by some as a gargoyle, due to a short leg, a withered arm, and one blind eye. He became a tanner, yet also took up music at a young age and taught choral singing by the age of 22.

At age 24, he published "The New-England Psalm-Singer," a collection of choral works, and the first book of entirely American music. His friend Paul Revere engraved the book's frontispiece. Five more volumes followed. Within 30 years, Mr. Billings's music had become vastly popular and he was able to earn his bread and butter as a composer, the first American to do so.

His music combines traditional sacred hymn and classical styles, the new American choral-singing movement, and his own political fervor. His hymn "Chester" was considered the original National Anthem.

"I think it best for every composer to be his own carver."
William Billings

Your humble servants,

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Midsummer Revelry

The Sun never repents of the good he does, nor does he ever demand a recompense.
Poor Richard, 1735
If ye Planting be not done, get to it. Midsummer Day is nearly upon us or, as some prefer, St. John's Eve on the twenty-third. Bonfires shall be lit and Folk shall gather to dance 'neath Sun and Stars.

So shall Colonial Revelers gather a fortnight hence on Sunday, June 27th at half past one in the afternoon to present a Concert of Colonial Music to all, free of charge.

The program is part of the weekend long "Once Upon a Time in Montgomery County" sponsored by the W.S. Hancock Society, taking place from 9 am, June 26 through 3 pm, June 27 at the East Norriton Township Facility, 2501 Stanbridge St., East Norriton, PA 19401.

For more information go to

Your humble servants,

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bringing in the May

'Twas on a bright morning,
A morning in May,
When all the lads and lasses,
They all came out to play.

On Saturday, May 8th, we of the Colonial Revelers will forsake 18th century America to don the traditional white clothes and flowers of 19th century England as we dance around the Maypole. Join us at The Piazza at Schmidt's, 1050 North Hancock Ave., in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia. Shows at 11, noon, 1 and 2.

The ancient Celts celebrated eight holidays. Four were the solstices and equinoxes. The other four were halfway between each solstice and equinox. Of these, only Lughnasadh, the August 1 "first harvest" celebration has fallen pretty much by the wayside.

The November 1 "final harvest" holiday of Samhain is familiar to us now as Halloween/All Saints/All Souls Day. Imbolc, the February 1 holiday meant to hurry spring along, became the sacred holiday of Candlemas but retained its secular roots in the observance of Groundhog's Day.

Beltane, May 1st, was the Celts' second most important holiday, and has been known and celebrated as May Day for at least a thousand years. This served as a nice break after the back- breaking jobs of plowing and sowing. Once your seeds are the ground, you also want to assuage the powers that be to make your seeds grow, so the holiday was a fertility festival, a notion being helped along by the rebirth of spring, when all wild green plants bud, and birds and animals give birth. Humans welcomed a day to sing, dance, flirt and otherwise frolic with members of the opposite sex.

The Sports of May, a canon from Thomas Warren's Collection (1775), can be heard on Colonial Revelers CD Revelry, Reflection & Revolution. The single MP3 is available at .

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

APRIL: Yankee Doodles

Tradition has it that, on April 18, 1775, British troops on the road to Lexington and Concord, marched to a popular tune that was later published in London as "The Lexington March." We know the song as "Yankee Doodle."

by Elena Santangelo
Brother Ephraim sold his cow
And bought him a commission,
And then he went to Canada
To fight for the nation;
But when Ephraim, he came home,
He proved an arrant coward,
He wouldn't fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devoured.

During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), a new fiddle tune reached hit parade status when British troops put words to it that made fun of the Colonial militias fighting alongside them. The verse above has been attributed to British army surgeon Dr. Richard Schuckburg and may be the earliest rendering of the song.

Soon colonial versions of the song cropped up, this one from the early 1770s:

There is a man in our town,
I'll tell you his condition,
He sold his oxen and his cow
To buy him a commission.
Corn-stalks twist your hair off,
Cart-wheel frolic round you,
Old fiery dragon carry you off,
And mortar pessel pound you.

A few years later, a verse popular with the Tories:

Yankee Doodle's come to town
For to buy a firelock,
We will tar and feather him,
And so we will John Hancock.

Edward Bangs was a Minuteman believed to have participated in the April 1775 battles. He wrote the most widely known version of the song, though no one knows when, but it had to be before July 1775 when Washington went from Captain to General. In all, he wrote 14 verses.

Father and I went down to camp
Along with Captain Gooding;
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.
Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy,
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy.

And there we saw a thousand men
As rich as Squire David,
And what they wasted every day,
I wish it could be saved. (chorus)

Many versions of "Yankee Doodle" were ballads commemorating battles and events. In January 1778, during the British occupation of Philadelphia, David Bushnell (the inventor of the submarine) came up with the idea of floating incendiary mines (made from powder kegs) downstream to the British warships anchored in the Delaware River. On January 9th, the New Jersey Gazette reported that the Regulars had been mustered to fire upon the kegs:

"Every chip or stick that floated by was a target for the vigor of the British arms. The action commenced about sunrise and lasted until noon, when the kegs were ... put to flight .... The British withdrew and celebrated the occasion as a great victory, receiving congratulations for their bravery and valor!"

Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, immortalized the events in a parody called "The Battle of the Kegs." (11 verses)

Gallants attend, and hear a friend
Trill forth harmonious ditty,
Strange things I'll tell, which late befell,
In Philadelphia city.
'Twas early day, as poets say,
Just as the sun was rising,
A soldier stood on a log of wood
And saw a thing surprising.

As in amaze he stood to gaze,
The truth can't be denied, sir,
He spied a score of kegs or more
Come floating down the tide, sir.
A sailor, too, in jerkin blue,
This strange appearance viewing,
First damned his eyes in great surprise,
Then said, "Some mischief's brewing."

In 1780-81, British General Cornwallis took the war into the Carolinas and Virginia, followed by American General Nathaniel Greene who used guerilla tactics to wear down the British troops. A version of Yankee Doodle titled "Cornwallis' Country Dance" resulted. (7 verses)

Cornwallis led a country dance,
The like was never seen, sir,
Much retrograde and much advance,
And all with General Greene, sir.
They rambled up and rambled down,
Joined hands, then off they run, sir,
Our General Greene to Charlestown,
The earl to Wilmington, sir.

Hundreds of other lyrics were concocted during the war, on both sides of the Atlantic. However, the one where the feather in the hat becomes "macaroni" wasn't published until 1852 and probably wasn't sung during the Revolution.

(Source: SONGS OF THE REVOLUTION, compiled and edited by Irwin Silber, Stackpole Books, 1973)

The Edward Bangs version of Yankee Doodle, with one additional verse, can be heard on Colonial Revelers's CD, REVELRY, REFLECTION & REVOLUTION.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fish and Tea and Taxes

Ne'er let Corruption taint the Patriot's Name.
Poor Richard, March 1759

And so we come to March, with spring less than two fortnights hence. For many, thoughts need focus upon the year's planting, with little time left to ponder the philosophies of men.

Yet, 'twas in March 1775 that Mr. Patrick Henry spoke the words "Give me liberty or give me death!" The sentiment is not often echoed by American patriots in our own times. Indeed, Mr. Franklin would remind us that those unwilling to give up personal safety for liberty are not deserving of it.

This month, too, our thoughts turn to taxes. As well, in those the early months of 1775, in New England, an anonymous author penned these words to "Derry Down," a popular fiddle tune of the day:

What a court hath olde England of folly and sin,
'Spite of Chatham and Camden, Barre, Burke, Wilkes and Glynn!
Not content with the Game Act, they tax fish and sea,
And America drench with hot water and tea.

The names mentioned were all members of Parliament who were sympathetic to the complaints of the colonies. The complaint, of course, was against the taxation of fishing and tea, because those taxed were given no representation within the British government.

Note should be made that, unlike those who lately associate "tea party" with a desire for no taxes at all, American colonists of 1775 were not against taxes. They understood that for the British government to serve and protect them, and to encourage their economy--especially from an ocean's distance away, considering the costs of shipping--taxes were a necessary evil. They merely objected to having no say in where those tax revenues would originate. The tea parties of America in 1775 were a protest not against taxes, but against a lack of representation in Parliament.

The song "Fish and Tea" can be heard on Colonial Revelers CD Revelry, Reflection and Revolution.

Your humble servants,

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Midwinter & The General's Birthday

"If February give much snow
A fine Summer it doth foreshow."

The winter is half done, and despite what the wild creatures foretell, with their thick coats and tails, and the doubtful viewing of their shadows in the dawn hour, spring shall follow in less than four fortnights' time.

This month, General Washington shall observe the anniversary of his birth. In the year of his birth, England and her colonies still employed the Julian calendar, and the anniversary then fell upon February 11. In 1752, England converted to the Gregorian calendar, and the date converted to February 22.

This year, we shall celebrate the day 'twixt old and new calendars -- on Monday, February 15. Colonial Revelers cordially bids you to join us at the visitor center at Valley Forge National Historical Park on that day, for song and a slice of Mrs. Washington's famed Great Cake.

Children may engage in crafts and learn colonial dances, and the General himself will be present to lead young troops in marching and maneuvering.

The revelry shall begin at 10 in the morning and proceed until 3 in the afternoon. You may learn more at

Click on the 15th.

Your humble servants,

Monday, January 4, 2010


by Elena Santangelo

The title track in DOWN AMONG THE DEADMEN, Colonial Revelers second CD, almost sounds like it was composed for a Pirates of the Carribean movie, but actually it's 300 years old, dating from the reign of Queen Anne of Britain. (Some sources attribute the lyrics to John Dyer, and he may have contributed verses, but he would have been 14 when Queen Anne died, so chances are, some version of the song was already in circulation).

The original opening lines were
Here's a health to the Queen
And a lasting peace,
May faction end and wealth increase.

At the time, many factions were warring for control of Britain, especially since Anne had no children and did indeed die in 1714 leaving no heir to the throne. Later in the century, during the American Revolution, the song became popular with Loyalists on both sides of the Atlantic. "King" was substituted for "Queen" but the sentiments were the same--a plea for all sides to make peace and bring back prosperity instead of throwing money after costly wars (a lesson we could still learn today).

The verse goes on to urge

Come, let's drink while we have breath,
For there's no drinking after death.

But you might argue, what about the refrain? Isn't that a threat?

And they that won't with us comply,
Down among the deadmen let them lie.

Not much of one, it turns out. The "deadmen" were the empty bottles that piled up on the floor under tavern tables. The lyrics go on to toast women, food, drink and Bacchus, the god of pleasure himself. This isn't a song of war but of merrymaking.
ELENASANTANGELO is the principal music researcher and arranger for Colonial Revelers.

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