The Rebels

Words by Captain Smyth; tune "Black Joke," 1778

What is the nationality of the singers of this song? British. What are the clues? Who were the rebels (remember this was written in approximately 1750)?

Why would this song be sung in America? Americans at the time were British subjects. Who brought it with them? British colonists. Which side were the colonists who sang this song on? British.

What is a "rebel"? Who uses the word "rebel" usually? Do people apply it to themselves? What do people usually call themselves when the powers that be are calling them "rebels"? Freedom fighters, patriots, revolutionaries.

What language do people today use to refer to their political opponents?

How have the singers in this song used language to show their political points of view? Underline the words and phrases that are politically motivated.

Look at the line "Haughty Spain and faithless France." Why would British subjects sing this about these nations?

What was "haughty" about Spain and "faithless" about France from the British point of view in 1778?

What more recent songs have the same theme as this one? Compare the lyrics. What similar verbal tactics do the songs use? How do their tactics differ? How do their musical styles compare?


"The Rebels" performed by Arthur F. Schrader on American Revolutionary War Songs to Cultivate the Sensations of Freedom, Folkways [05279], © 1976. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

In this recording, "The Rebels" is performed by solo male voice as an angry tirade against the revolutionaries. His anger grows until the final verse where the text turns into a vindictive outburst and culminates at the end with "God Save the King."

View the music and lyrics for "The Rebels."

The tune "Black Joke" was an eighteenth-century dance tune, and although used for many different song texts, it was not often used for political purposes as it is here. This is a Loyalist song first published in the Pennsylvania Ledger on January 7, 1778, written by a Captain Smyth of the Queen's Rangers, who published many other compositions during the war.

The reference to the "hunting shirts" illustrates how the Loyalists often made fun of the shabby or non-existent uniforms and equipment of the colonial soldiers. This song also reminds us that not everyone was in favor of independence; some "brave" and "honest" subjects would have preferred to maintain British citizenship. The descriptions of the Yankees, conversely, are quite graphic and not very complimentary.Etching showing atrocities against Loyalists. The Patriots are depicted as savages

William Humphrey. “The savages let loose, or The cruel fate of the Loyalists.” 1783. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/97515386/>.

nervous: Sinewy and strong.

tatterdemalions: Ragamuffins.

pettifoggers: Unscrupulous lawyers.

banditti: Bandits, robbers.

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