A Loyalist Call to Arms – Military Inspiration

1779 America's Historical Imprints

This is the cover page of a book of 105 songs and poems supporting the loyalists and English cause in 1779. The writing reveals that it was printed in New York by James Rivington, the owner and publisher of the Rivington Royal Gazette, a newspaper that supported the loyalist cause during the war. The page also sports a quote from Alexander Pope’s “Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day,” which reads,

But when our Country’s Cause provokes to Arms, /

How martial Music every Bosom warms.

The reference to Pope’s poem reveals the importance of songs and poetry as pieces of propaganda and as a source of morale for the soldiers. In the case of this book, the subject matter that creates this is “naval and military” glory.

1779 America's Historical Imprints
1779 America's Historical Imprints


The two above images are the first pieces found in Rivington’s book. Both of them incorporate the glory of being the ruling nation into their images of military victory. The book opens with “Rule Britannia” where England gains a divine right to rule the colonies and any other conquered lands, “When Britain first at Heaven’s command, / Arose…And guardian Angels sung the strain, / Rule, Britannia, Britannia rule the waves.” Similarly in the song that follows, “God Save the King,” the glory of King George derives from God as the speaker asks God to “save great George our King” and proclaims boldly “O Lord our God arise.”

Unlike some of the poems and songs already examined in the previous posts, these loyalist texts make no attempt to sympathize with the colonies by pleading as a loving parent for them to return to their rule obediently. Instead, they play off the ideas of glory and military triumph for the English crown, in particular for King George who reappears in the poem below in an image of power and glory.

1779 America's Historical Imprints

Though printed in the same year as the book of loyalist songs, as well as being published in New York City, the center for loyalist activity in the colonies, this poem was not included in the anthology Rivington published. Still, it plays off of the same themes found in “God Save the King.”

Here, the speaker turns King George into Saint George who joins in with other saints to defend the great nation of England. The poem describes his victories and strength that will allow England to win the war against the colonies. Stanzas IX and X in particular seem to raise up George as the nation’s defender and denounce the colonies as weak more than the other parts of the poem. George, “The Guardian of England was clever” and “Tho’ Knaves do combine” in the colonies to fight him “With Belzebub,” “By George’s fam’d Shield, / We never will yield.” This sends a clear message that, one, the English have no plans of backing down anytime so long as their great defender King George stands behind him and that two, the colonists will surely lose because not only are they merely knaves in the first place, but they consort with the devil who will be defeated by George’s sainthood and heavenly qualities.

Colonial poetry in favor of separating from England would take similar approaches to their poetry and music as far as using military imagery goes, but rather than glorifying a monarchy sent from God, colonial poetry seems to play more to the ideas of Liberty and Freedom as their own higher power that allows their cause to win the war.


One comment on “A Loyalist Call to Arms – Military Inspiration

  1. Sorry about the text after the two middle images Professor Cohen, I could not get the beginning of the sentence “The two above images are the first pieces found in” to appear with the rest of the paragraph for some reason.

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