MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada

Lake Erie

Mike Roarke NFLD 2 Tape 13 Track 2
Mall Bay Audio:

LEACH: All right, just sing it
LEACH: All right. Go ahead.

You sons of freedom pay attention and you’ll all…..

(Speaks) I, ah, l can't sing it.
LEACH: What?
ROARKE: l can’t sing it...I can’t sing it low. I got to go into...someplace.
LEACH: All right.
Roarke: (sings)

For as sad and mournful story as was ever told you’Il hear
Hull you knew his troops surrendered and defenceless left the west
And Captain Kerry he then commanded the invaders to resist

All the troops that marched to Erie And the Kingston Volunteers
Captain Kerry he then commanded
To protect our west frontiers
And dismal was the scenes at parting
Mothers wrung their hands and cried
Maidens wept for their swains in secret
Fathers strove their tears to hide

But there was one among the number
Tall and graceful was his mean
Firm his step and his look undaunted
Scarce a nobler youth was seen
One sweet kiss he snatched from Mary
Craved his mother' prayer once more
Shook his father's hand and parted
For Lake Erie's distant shore

(Speaks) It don't mean, you know better'n don't mean distant:
any distance. It means distant: lonesome. 'Twas a lonesome shore in them days -1812.

Soon they 'rrives where Captain Kerry
Had assembled all his fleet

(Speaks) Two brigs a corvette and a schooner

Twas there that gallant boy enlisted
Hoping soon the foe to meet
But where is Bird? The battle rages.
Is he in the strife or no?
Now the cannon roared tremendous
There he meets the hostile foe
Look behold him see him Kerry
In that same self ship he fight
And though his messmates faIl around him
Not'ing can his soul affright
But behold a ball has struck him
See his crimson blood do flow
Leave the deck exclaimed brave Kerry
No said Bird l will not go

For here on deck l took my station
And never will Bird fly his colours fly
I’ll stand by you gallant Captain
Till we conquer or I’ll die
Still he fought though faint and bleeding
While the stars and stripes we flew
Vict'ry once more crowned our efforts
All triumphant o'er our foes

But did Bird receive a pension
Was he to his friends restored
Ah no no never to his bosom
Pressed the maid his heart afford
But there came most dismal tidings
From Lake Erie's distant shore
Twas better for that Bird had perished
Amidst the cannon's awful roar

Dearest mother said the letter
This will give sad news to you
But never mourn for your best beloved
Though he brings his last adieu
For I must suffer for deserting
From the brig, "Niagara"
Read this letter brothers, sisters
Tis the last you'll hear from me

Sad and ______ was the morning
When Bird was ordered out to die
There's not one ________ that was there to pity(?)
But for him would heave a sigh
See _________________________
Hushed the ___________ upon the air
_____________ he remained manly
And in his grace never harboured fear

See him kneel upon his coffin
Sure his death can do no good
Spare him! Hark! Oh God they shot him.
See his bosom streamed with blood
Ah farewell Bird, farewell forever
Friends nor home you'll see no more
Your mangled corpse lies buried
On Lake Erie’s distant shore.

LEACH: How does that begin again?
LEACH: How does it begin?
ROARKE: What verse?
LEACH: The beginning, the first verse again.

LEACH: Could you sing the first verse over again? The machine didn't pick it up
LEACH: The first verse...yeah.
ROARK: (sings)

You sons of freedom pay attention
And you daughters lend an ear
For a sad and mournful story
As was ever told you'll hear

FEMALE VOICE: That was very good
ROARKE: You see that-


Sources : Laws A5 (James Bird); Roud 2204; an extensive bibliography can be found at the Traditional Ballad Index (

History:   The singer dates these events to the war of 1812.   According to the Traditional Ballad Index (, the text was written by James Miner and it was first published in the newspaper The Gleaner in 1814.   The song refers to the execution of James Bird for desertion during the September 1813 Battle of Lake Erie between the Americans and the British.   Birds' was execution was carried out at Erie, Pennsylvania in October 1814.   This version of the song does not make it clear that it was actually not desertion in battle, but rather disregard for his garrison duties, which resulted in the charge. Bird had begun his military career in the army but then switched to the navy.

The Battle of Lake Erie was an unforeseen victory for the Americans.   Their recruits were unproven but at the end of the skirmish Captain Perry produced the to-be-famous quote of "We have met the enemy and they are ours."  The American general Harrison then, on the advice of his Native allies, went on to win a battle at Moravian Town on the Thames River in southern Ontario. This victory resulted in Harrison later becoming President.

Text: A solider goes to the battle front at Lake Erie. Despite his captain's orders to leave the ship Bird refuses to go. He then writes a letter home explaining that he is to be executed for desertion.

Tune: The text is through composed and the melody repeats with each verse. The last word is spoken. Speaking, instead of singing a final word or phrase is generally thought to indicate Irish influence on the singer or song. The singer uses extensive vocal ornamentation. The meter is in 3 /4. The key is E-flat with a range of a major 10 th from E-flat to G.

All material on this webpage is copyright © 2004, Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland. No unauthorized copying or use is permitted. For more information, follow this link.