Castle Island Song

or, A New Song (Lately compos’d on Castle Island)
At present said to be much in Vogue among the Caledonians.

Simmering resentment between colonists and British troops in Boston reached a boiling point on March 5, 1770, in an incident known as The Boston Massacre. Initiated by a quarrel between workmen and soldiers, the incident escalated three days later into a confrontation that left five Americans dead and six wounded. Citizens throughout the colonies were outraged, and the contentious climate that had existed for some time on the city streets suddenly turned dangerous. Governor Thomas Hutchinson displayed remarkable courage in immediately addressing angry crowds from the Custom House balcony and remarkable diplomacy in jailing Captain Thomas Preston and the eight men of the Twenty-ninth Infantry involved in the fray, both to protect them and to appease vengeful Bostonians. Yielding to the pressure of a Boston town meeting and the advice of his own council, he also reluctantly ordered Colonel Dalrymple to evacuate two full regiments to a barracks on Castle Island in Boston Harbor. Although tempers cooled somewhat as a result, tension remained high.

Glorification of the victims and the continued incitement of revolutionary fervor by “Sam Adams’ Regiments” kept Loyalists and soldiers wary of the “disorders” of the Boston scene. The frustration of the banished troops seethes in “Castle Island Song,” published anonymously in the Boston Gazette on March 26 with the introduction, “A New Song Much in Vogue Among the Friends to Arbitrary Power, and the Soldiery at Castle Island Where It was Composed, Since the Troops have Evacuated the Town of Boston.” To retreat before an unruly mob of “simple Bostonians” was clearly a matter of honor to these hardened professional soldiers, and to submit to the lawlessness of the scene and suffer exile to a “bleak isle,” an irksome duty. Hints of violent retribution extend even to “King Hancock,” a favorite target of Loyalist resentment, so there is no mistaking the threat of sweeping destruction to come. As a Parthian shot, the final stanza promises a return in full force to the very thresholds of Boston and accurately predicts the fourth Coercive Act, which in 1774 amended the Quartering Act of 1765 to empower military leaders to house soldiers even in private households. The melody is a variation of an old English folksong alternately known as “Derry Down,” “King John and The Abbot of Canterbury,” and “A Cobbler There Was.” Of unknown origin, the tune was much used for ballads and political commentary. Here its chorus and minor key create an appropriately menacing air. “Castle Island Song” is an ominous expression of teeth-gnashing and muscle-flexing, and the colonists had good reason to beware.

Castle Island Song

You simple Bostonians I’d have you beware,
Of your liberty Tree I would have you take care,
For if ever we chance to return to the town,
Your houses and stores will come tumbling down,
Derry down, down, down, derry down.


If you’ll not agree to Old England’s laws,
I fear that King Hancock will soon get the yaws,
But he need not fear, for I swear we will
For the want of a doctor give him a hard pill,
Derry down, down, down, derry down.


A brave reinforcement we soon think to get,
Then we will make you poor pumpkins to sweat,
Our drums they will rattle and then you will run,
To the devil himself, from the sight of a gun,
Derry down, down, down, derry down.


Our fleet and our army they soon will arrive,
Then to a bleak island you shall not us drive,
In every house you shall have three or four,
And if that does not please you, you’ll have half a score,
Derry down, down, down, derry down.