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Unit 2: New Nation

"God Save the Thirteen States"

by Gina Sharpe



“God Save the Thirteen States”

Anonymous, c. late 18th century. 

“The World Turned Upside Down”


Although, some credit Declaration of Independence signer, Thomas Heyward Junior, of SC with writing the lyrics shortly after his release from imprisonment at St. Augustine, FL in 1781.  It is said he penned the words to celebrate Independence Day.

Like a lot of American music of the time, “God Save the Thirteen States” was only American in theme, but British in music.  Performed to the melody of the English tune, “God Save the King,” it had the advantage of familiarity within the colonies.  “God Save the King” was first published in 1745 and used as a rallying cry to unite members of the British Empire.  However, with the growing conflict between England the colonies, many used the melody with different lyrics – mostly patriotic and calling for independence. 

The first stanza gives a plea, a prayer for God’s protection.  The second stanza references the heroes of the war: George Washington, John Stark, and Richard Montgomery.  The third and fourth stanzas summaries the conflict between the states and the “Mother Country.”  England’s role as the “oppressor” is made clear.  Lastly, the hymn ends with a final patriotic call to defend “mutual rights.”

Despite the disagreement between historians of who actually wrote “God Save the Thirteen States,” it can be agreed upon that this song is an example of music meant to unite the colonists while mocking England. After all, what better way to mock your parent, but to twist their words to fit your means.  

Scope and Sequence

This lesson is designed for an 8th grade U.S. History class, and would be taught within the unit on the American Revolution.  It is important to discuss with students the idea that colonial songs are great primary sources to study, because they were reflections of the ever-changing political climate.  The unit begins with “God Save the King” as a prelude, and a way to remind students that the colonists once thought of themselves as “good British citizens.”  While going over early causes of conflict between Great Britain and America - specifically the Proclamation of 1763, the Sugar Act of 1764, and the Stamp Act of 1765, let students listen to, read, and analyze “The Old Woman Taught Wisdom,” also known as “The World Turned Upside Down.” This provides students with an example of a plea for England and America to settle their differences.  At the end of the unit to review the causes, students would then listen to and read “God Save the Thirteen States” as a means of summing up/clarifying information.


  • George Washington
  • John Stark and the Battle at Bennington
  • Richard Montgomery

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think “God Save the Thirteen States” was performed to the tune of “God Save the King?” The tune would familiar to many people, and therefore easy to remember.  In addition , using a melody that was used to praise King George to instead call for revolution, could be seen as a way to mock the British Crown.
  2. How is this song a hymn? It is a prayer to God to bless the thirteen colonies in their fight for independence
  3. What is the purpose of each stanza? 1st -  Plea for God’s protection; 2nd  - Honor heroes; 3rd –  Sums up the reasons for revolution; 4th – Calls on the colonists to be brave; 5th – Final call to defend rights
  4. In the third stanza, it states “[Britain]…turned a deaf ear.”  Elaborate on what this means. Great Britain not allowing American representation, ignoring other means of peace (Olive Branch), and non-negotiation
  5. What are other songs, besides “God Save the King/Queen” are written to this tune? “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee”), Rights of a Woman


  • In a well-thought out essay, use the three songs “God Save the King”, “The World Turned Upside Down,” and “God Save the Thirteen States” to trace the evolution of the conflict between the United States and Great Britain.
  • Create a picture book that accurately reflects the acts/laws that led up to the War.
  • “The World Turned Upside Down” compares Great Britain and America to having a Mother-Daughter relationship. Write a dialogue between a mother and daughter that captures the essence of the song.  This skit can be performed.
  • Using the same tune, write a hymn that unites people for a valuable, present-day cause.