The Hunters of Kentucky

Words by Samuel Woodworth; music by George Colman, 1822

This is a song about the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. What was ironic about the Battle of New Orleans? It was fought in 1815 after the Treaty of Ghent called a truce between the US and Great Britain. Why was the battle fought after the treaty was signed? With slow communications, word of the peace hadn't reached either side yet. Which side won the Battle of New Orleans? The U.S. won in a rout.

Who "won" the War of 1812? No one; the Treaty restored the borders to where they were before the war.

Why was "victory" in a battle fought after the war ended so important that songs were written about it (even a popular hit song in the 1950s!)? The US trounced the British (after not performing so well through most of the war); it won respect for the U.S. in the world community; it was all fought by volunteer militia.

Who sings this song? The US soldiers who fought in the battle. What do they call themselves? The Hunters of Kentucky. Why were they so proud of this title? They were volunteers, not professional soldiers.

Who was the US general in this battle? Andrew "Hickory" Jackson. What happened to him later? He became president. This was a campaign song during his election. What made it such a good campaign song? Showed him as a fearless leader admired by his men.

Why were bragging songs so important after the War of 1812? They put a positive spin on the war and built pride in the new nation surviving its first war.

"Hunters of Kentucky" performed by Oscar Brand on Election Songs of the United States, Folkways [0280], provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, © 1960. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

The performer on this recording, Oscar Brand (1920–2016), sang folk songs since the 1950s. Accompanied by banjo he tells the tale of how the Kentucky riflemen supported Jackson.

View the lyrics for "Hunters of Kentucky"

View the published score.

Broadside Hunters of Kentucky
[JACKSON, Andrew.] Broadside: [WOODRUFF, Samuel]. The Hunters of Kentucky; or the Battle of New Orleans. Chambersburg [Pennsylvania], J. Pritts, Printer, n.d. [ca. 1815-1816].

Samuel Woodworth was a well-known writer of comic operas who also wrote the lyrics to many popular songs that were set to music by other composers. This song was set to the tune of "Miss Bailey's Ghost," a ballad by George Colman, an eighteenth-century composer of ballad opera.

Woodworth wrote the lyrics to "The Hunters of Kentucky" shortly after the Battle of New Orleans. This song served later as a campaign song for Andrew Jackson, and was highly popular during his administration (1829–37).

The song did more than promote Jackson's election; it also called attention to those Americans living in the rural states who had a stake in the success of their country. Along with the regular US army troops, those who fought the British under Major General Andrew Jackson also included Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana militia; free Black soldiers; Choctaw warriors; and Baratarian pirates.

This song was a source of pride for these men, who were not taken seriously as soldiers until the Battle of New Orleans.

Pakenham: Commander of the British forces during the Battle of New Orleans.

Compare this song to:

"Happy Days Are Here Again," a campaign song from another period (Unit 6).



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