God Save America?
By James A. (Jymm) Hoffman, McCarty’s Company, Illinois Regiment

After reading the last couple of Spy issues I would like to ask the Alliance a few questions. One; why is there singing in the ranks–especially during a such solemn ceremony as colours? I do not claim to have done a great deal of research, but I have done some. This includes studying several of the period manuals by Simes, Cuthbertson, the Baron von Steuben and several printings of the 1764 Manual Exercise that show formal ceremonies. I do not remember any of these mentioning that the troops should sing in the ranks at any time.

Now the next question I have is why do the American Troops sing Chester? After searching my limited library I spoke with Mr. Ray Hauley, who has done a great deal of research on the subject of music during the American Revolution. He cited a few authors, including Raul Camus and Gillian Anderson, in addition to his own research and said that Chester only appears in two primary sources from the period. However, research has revealed both God save America and God Save Washington in many period sources including music books and newspapers from various cities. I also question why troops outside of New England would want to sing Chester due to the last part of the first verse; “New England’s God forever reigns.”

It seems to me this would have only caused further division amongst the troops that Virginian George Washington worked so hard to keep together.

When I asked him how and why Chester achieved “unofficial National Anthem” status Mr. Hauley offered one theory. He believes that it was a result of someone of influence during the late 1960s or 1970s from a city that was once the capitol of Virginia. I have my own theory expanding on this. Due to the increased interest in the American Revolution during bicentennial activities, I think someone decided we had to have some type of period tune to represent a national anthem. With limited research on the subject having been done at that time, and a press for time to come up with a stately tune that was written by an American, Chester was “discovered.” I can almost hear the debate; “the general public will not understand our using the melody for God Save ... that would be too confusing.”

Well then why do we do what we do? Why do most recreated American troops fight in straight lines in open fields instead of hiding behind rocks and trees? Should we offer the public the show that they expect (or that Hollywood would do)? Or should we try to present a show that is “as accurate as possible” (quoting from the NWTA Mission Statement)?

Below are the lyrics to God Save America that is reprinted in 18th Century Songs, by Ray Hauley. This was taken from the Philadelphia Songster, originally published in 1789. In the appendix of his newer publications of this book Mr. Hauley lists several newspapers that printed God Save Washington during the war. Mr. Hauley has published many other music books (mostly clear photo copies of originals from the period) available at very reasonable cost. Back in the early 1980s I paid $3.00 for 18th Century Songs. I’m sure the price has gone up by now.

God Save America,

God Save America,
free from tyrannic sway,
till time shall cease;
hushed be the din of arms,
and all proud wars alarms;
follow in all her charms,
heaven born peace

God save great Washington
Fair freedom’s chosen son,
Born to command!
May every enemy,
far from his presence flee,
And be grim tyranny,
Bound by his hand.

They name, Mongomery,
Still in each heart shall be,
Prais’d in each breath;
Though on the fatal plain,
Thou was untimely slain,
Yet shall thy virtues gain,
Rescue from Death.

Blest in our song shall be,
Guardian of Liberty,
Louis the King;
Terrible God of war,
Plac’d in triumphant car,
Of France and of Navarre,
Louis the King!


Philadelphia Songster, published 1789


NWTA Home | What's New? | Search | Field Guide | Publications | Patterns | The Clothing Forum | Chronology | Schedule | Discussion Board | Forms | Invite | Links