The discussion below has been excerpted from: Tales of an Old Sea Port by Wilfred Harold Munro. Princeton University Press: 1917
The burning of the Gaspee took place on June 20, 1772. The only "lyric" to commemorate the affair came from the pen of Captain Thomas Swan of Bristol, one of those who took part in it. His effusion has never appeared in any history of American literature, for good and sufficient reasons, but it is printed in full in Munro's History of Bristol.
In January 1881, Bishop Smith of Kentucky, born in Bristol in 1794 and a graduate of Brown in 1816, wrote to me calling my attention to a slight difference between the "Swan Song", as I had given it in my History of Bristol, and a version pasted upon the back of a portrait of Thomas Swan's father by Thomas Swan himself. Captain Swan was Bishop Smith's uncle. The Bishop wrote, "I should not have troubled you on so inconsiderable point had not the tradition in our family been that the Bristol boat was manned by men in the disguise of Narragansett Indians."When Bishop Smith penned these lines several men were living in Bristol who had heard the story from Captain Swan's own lips. He delighted in telling it and was accustomed to give the names of Bristol participants. Those names have unhappily escaped the memory of his auditors.
|From: The History of Bristol, R.I.- The Story of Mount Hope Lands. by W.H. Munro. Prov. 1860|
|The following song composed at the time of the burning of the Gaspee, is attributed to Capt. Thomas Swan, of Bristol, one of the participants in the affair:|
'Twas in the reign of George the Third,
Our public peace was much disturbed
By ships of war that came and laid
Within our ports, to stop our trade.
|Of the author of this song, Judge Staples says, in his Documentary History of the Destruction of the Gaspee; "He richly deserves the thanks, not only of his contemporaries, but of posterity; not so much for the sweet poetry of his song, as for the ballad shape in which he invested the. transaction. Undoubtedly some tune was found at the time to match it, notwithstanding the limping gait of some of the stanzas; and as it was sung in the circle of boon companions, they recalled the light of the burning Gaspee to their recollection, and hailing it as being, what subsequent events have shown it to be, the dawning light of freedom, whose mid-day effulgence now overspreads the land."|
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