It was the Stately Southerner that carred the Stripes and Stars,
The whistling wind from west-nor'west blew through her pitch-pine spars,
With her starboard tacks aboard, my boys, she hung up to the gale,
'Twas an autumn night we raised the light on the Head of old Kinsale.
It was a clear and cloudless night; the wind blew steady and strong,
As gaily over the sparkling deep our good ship bowled along,
With the fiery foam beneath her bows the white wave she did spread,
And bending low her bosom in snow, she buried her lee cathead.
There was no talk of short'ning sail by him who walked the poop,
And 'neath the press of her ponderous jib the boom bent like a hoop,
And the groaning waterways told the strain that held her stout main-tack,
But he only laughed as he gazed abaft at the white and glist'ning tack.
What looms upon our starboard bow, what hangs upon the breeze?
'Tis time out good ship hauled her wind, we're abreast the old Saltees,
For by her ponderous press of sail and by her stunted spars,
We saw that our morning visitor was a British man-o'-war.
Up spake our noble Captain then, as a shot ahead of us passed,
"Haul snug your flowing courses, lay your topsails to the mast."
Those Englishmen gave three loud hurrahs from the deck of their covered ark,
And we answered back by a solid broadside from the deck of our patriot bark.
"Out booms, out booms", our skipper cried, "Out booms and give her sheet,"
For the swiftest keel that ever was lauched in all of the British fleet
Came bearing down upon us, with the white foam at her bow,
"Out booms, out booms, and give her sheet, spare not your canvas now."
But a swifter keel was 'neath our feet, nor did our sea-boys dread
When a star-spangled banner was hoisted, to the mizzen-peak was spread,
And amid a thundering shower of shot with the stunsails hoisting away,
Down the North Channel Paul Jones did steer just at the break of day.
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Source: Alan Lomax, The Penguin Book of American Folk Songs, Penguin, 1964
Swift American privateers, captained by daredevil Yankee commanders, played an important part in winning the Revolutionary War. The Scot-American captain, John Paul Jones, snatched prizes from beneath the noses of British men-of-war all round the coasts of England; and this rousing sea-ballad commemorates one of his forays into the Irish Sea in 1778. In later years the song became a favourite of British as well as American seamen.
Roud: 625 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six