"To Anacreon in Heaven"
Ames, David. The Top Hits of 1776. AD 4106. Adelphi Records, 1976. LP 371

A New Song

Taking their name from the lightweight oversized paper on which they were printed, broadside ballads served as inexpensive and quick tools for disseminating news of current interest. These songs reported on battles, political events, notorious crimes, and natural disasters and served as propaganda to advance various viewpoints. Employing a technique known as parody, authors set new text to traditional or well-known folk tunes, hymns, and anthems. During the Revolutionary and Federalist periods, many conflicts played out in the broadsides, as both sides resorted to irony and satire to further causes and attack enemies. Wedding American patriotic sentiments to well-known English tunes only increased the force of the satire in their combination of the familiar and the new.

A New Song, Called The Endymion's Triumph

A New Song, Called The Endymion's Triumph. [London?]: J. Pitts, [1815?].

From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

The ephemeral nature of the broadside format meant that ballads with lasting appeal only survived through inclusion in larger collections. Consider for example the American National Songster and the British Calliope, both of which are displayed here.

In January 1815, while in command of the frigate President, Commodore Stephen Decatur encountered a squadron of British ships. Unaware that the War of 1812 had ended, he defeated the Endymion. Nonetheless, after losing a large part of his crew, Decatur was forced to surrender to the British commander of the squadron. This British broadside demonstrates a typical use of irony in proclaiming a triumph for the vanquished ship.

Hail Columbia [and] A Federal Ode

[Hopkinson, Joseph]. Hail Columbia [and] A Federal Ode. Boston: Sold by J. White [1798?].

From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.

Joseph Hopkinson wrote "Hail Columbia" to mend a political rift caused by rival sympathies for England and France. Hopkinson used the tune from the "Presidents March," which had accompanied Washington's 1789 inaugural journey to New York.

On July 4, 1801, "Hail Columbia" made history. Captain Thomas Tingey's rendition of the piece at President Thomas Jefferson's first reception at the President's House marked the first known vocal performance at a "White House" event.

To Anacreon in Heaven

[Anacreontic Society]. "To Anacreon in Heaven." Calliope: or, The Musical Miscellany. A Select Collection of the Most Approved English, Scots, and Irish Songs, Set to Music. London: Printed for C. Elliot and T. Kay, 1788. 5-7.

Members of the Anacreontic Society, a popular London men's club, wrote "Anacreon in Heaven." The club's namesake, a sixth-century Greek writer of erotic poetry and drinking songs, inspired the members' dedication to "wit, harmony and the god of wine." As early as 1798, the tune appeared in American newspapers with various lyrics, including Robert Treat Paine's popular "Adams and Liberty." Francis Scott Key immortalized the melody when he used it in September 1814 as the music for his "In Defense of Fort McHenry," better known today as "The Star Spangled Banner."

Defence of Fort M'Henry

Key, Francis Scott. "Defence of Fort M'Henry." National Songster; or, A Collection of the Most Admired Patriotic Songs. Hagerstown, MD: Printed by John Gruber and Daniel May, 1814. 30-31.

From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.

The Star Spangled Banner

F[rancis Scott]. The Star Spangled Banner. [New York?: Swain, typ., 1850?].

From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.