God Damn them all! I was told
We'd cruise the seas for American gold,
We'd fire no guns, shed no tears -
Now I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier,
The last of Barrett's privateers.
Barrett's Privateers is a song by Canadian musician Stan Rogers
released in 1976 on the album Fogarty's Cove. The song has a story to
it and its details are simple (and mostly fictional): a young man sets
sail aboard the Antelope, a dubious looking sloop captained by the
infamous Elcid Barrett. With a letter of marque authorizing the crew to
pirate American merchant vessels, they set off for Jamaica with high
hopes, finally encountering a target (a "Yankee lay low down with
gold") after 96 days at sea. The Antelope, however, has no match for
its artillery and, after a long chase, the first defensive
volley does them in, with none but the narrator surviving to tell the
tale. Or, to let the song speak for itself:
The Antelope shook and pitched on her side.
Barrett was smashed like a bowl of eggs,
And the maintruck carried off both me legs.
Fiction though it is, Rogers is spot-on about most of the
historical details. Even the date he begins the song with - 1778 - is a
good fit; during the American Revolution, many Nova Scotians were
incited to privateering against the yanks in response to coastal
raids. Dan Conlin, who seems to have done his Master's Thesis on
Canadian privateering has a fantastic line-by-line analysis of the
song's historical authenticity availible
here. Highly recommended.
this only holds true in Canada, but Barrett's Privateers is one hell
of a popular drinking song. Like all good shanties, it's simple and
it's catchy; the sort of thing you don't need musical accompaniment to
belt out. I grew up in Saskatchewan and it doesn't get any more
landlocked than that, but I've still heard at least a couple local
bands churn out a cover, always to much applause.