The White Cockade

Atop Punkatasset Hill on the morning of April 19, 1775, Colonel James Barrett’s militiamen watched anxiously as smoke rose from the houses in their town below. They did not know that the cause of the flames was an accidental spark and that even as they gazed down, Concord citizens and British regulars had begun a bucket brigade to save the meeting house. In any case the effect on the nearly three hundred provincials was electric: the waiting game was over, the time had come, the British troops must be engaged immediately. Lieutenant Joseph Hosmer, one of Barrett’s junior officers, turned to his commander and spat, “Will you let them burn the town down?” The order to load muskets was given.

In an orderly column of twos the inexperienced militiamen moved to engage Captain Walter Laurie and his three companies positioned at the North Bridge. They marched to the fife of Luther Blanchard, a young minuteman from Acton, whose unit had joined others from Littleton, Chelmsford, Carlisle, Westford, Groton, and Stow to stand that morning with their Concord neighbors. He played a favorite of his beloved commander, Captain Isaac Davis, a skilled gunsmith who had insured that his Acton men were the best-equipped Americans on the field. The inevitable shots were fired, and just a few moments into the fray Davis took a musket ball to the heart, one of the fifty patriots to die in Concord that day.

The march Blanchard played was “The White Cockade,” a legacy of the Jacobite Uprising of 1745. Troops loyal to Prince Charles wore no formal uniforms except blue bonnets embellished with white rosettes or ribbons, an emblem that originated when the Bonnie Prince adorned his hat with a wild rose. Documents of the Revolutionary War period recognize “The White Cockade” as a standard in the Continental Army repertoire, and it often appears in song collections published after the war. There are many versions. The one printed below by Scottish poet Robert Burns is based on a song entitled, “My love was born in Aberdeen.”

An Cnota Ban (The White Cockade)

King Charles he is King James’ son
And from a royal line is sprung;
Then up with shout and out with blade,
And we’ll raise once more the White Cockade.
Oh, my dear, my fair-haired youth,
Thou hast hearts of fire and of truth,
Then up with shout and out with blade,
We’ll raise once more the White Cockade.

My young men’s hearts are dark with woe,
On my virgin’s cheeks the grief-drops flow,
The sun scarce lights the sorrowing day
Since our rightful prince went far away.
He’s gone, the stranger holds his throne,
The royal bird far off has flown;
But up with shout and out with blade,
We’ll stand or fall with the White Cockade.

No more the cuckoo hails the spring
The woods no more with staunch-hounds ring;
The song from the glen, so sweet before,
Is hushed since Charles has left our shore.
The prince is gone; but he soon will come
With trumpet sound and beat of drum;
Then up with shout and out with blade,
Hurrah for the Right and the White Cockade!

* * * * *

The White Cockade
Robert Burns

My love was born in Aberdeen,
The bonniest lad that e’er was seen,
But now he makes our hearts fu’ sad,
He takes the Field wi’ his White Cockade.

O he’s a ranting, roving lad,
He is a brisk an’ a bonny lad,
Betide what may, I will be wed,
And follow the boy wi’ the White Cockade.

I’ll sell my rock, my reel, my tow,
My gude gray mare and hawkit cow;
To buy mysel’ a tartan plaid,
To follow the boy wi’ the White Cockade. [CHORUS]