The eighth of May, they say it was, the day he went to sea,
‘Ner knowing that old England wept, as did his Bonny Lee.
The anchors fished and catted, the ship paid off to port.
The hands aloft unfurling, the breeze almost athwart.
The captain at the weather rail, his eyes on every man.
“I’ll have her south-southwest, ye swine, as quickly as ye can.”
Ye lubbers are the devil’s lot, you’ll sail my ship to Hell,
And back again, damn your eyes, old England bids farewell.
The king’s your mother now, me lads, your sweetheart Union Jack,
Now bring her up two points or so before the starboard tack.”
And so the Bounder came about, now sailing full and bye,
As England sank beneath the swells, and gone from every eye.
“Sweet Bonny Lee,” our Billy said, “I’ll kiss your lips no more,
For Captain Bane cares not at all I’m leaving England’s shore.
He’ll take me ‘cross the sea to where the bloodied guns will blaze—
Where splinters ripped from wooden decks will shorten life to days.”
The Bounder was a man-of-war, built strong of English oak—
A third rate mounting eighty guns to belch hell through sulfur smoke.
Two decks of guns, twelve pounders all, a frigate built for war—
Marines and seamen, six hundred souls, who knew what guns were for.
In sun-lit southern waters, the Bounder searched for prey,
The captain craving Yankee blood—the rebel’s judgment day.
Six months and more upon the sea and came November gales—
Young Billy often sent aloft to trim the mizzen sails.
“Sail ho!” he cried one winter morn, the time at seven bells.
A brig he’d seen upon the waves, hull down across the swells.
In that year Colonials held motives so sincere,
They put to sea in private ships—the licensed privateer.
One such brig was Amber Jane, her captain John McGee,
His ship, a lightened brigantine, his flag, Don’t Tread On Me.
Fast she was, the Amber Jane, and mounted twenty guns—
Two-masted with a seasoned crew, sweet liberty’s own sons.
The sands of Carolina Banks fell under Amber’s lee.
She sailed close-hauled, a larboard tack, her course now northerly.
“Mind your helm,” the captain said, “and keep us full and bye,
And extra grog for any man who is the first to spy
A British prize upon the sea with treasures in her hold,
Fattened by the Indies trade, or maybe Spanish gold.”
Amber Jane and Bounder, they met December third,
And even in old Hatteras, the broadside guns were heard.
Bounder had the weather gage, and, too,
the bigger ship.
Old Bane believed he’d crush the Yank; he had her in his grip.
But battles on unsteady seas oft go to he who braves
The heavy iron and broadside hell that tear across the waves.
The scuppers of dear Amber’s deck ran deep with blood and bile
Of forty men who gave their souls for liberty’s sweet smile.
The Amber Jane, she came about, and made her daring run
Through blinding smoke and musket fire, her masts and sails undone.
Bounder took a raking fire that came across astern,
To blast her rudder from the sea that boiled with fury’s churn.
“No prize today,” McGee proclaimed, “We’ve sunk her sure as hell.
Even now her bow is raised to bid us fond farewell.
“So lower boats, and cast them off to save the ones you might—
We’re bound for home this winter day, and Charles Towne’s harbor light.”
Our Billy lay among the dead on Bounder’s upper deck,
A splinter through his grieving heart; he’d go down with the wreck.
Sweet Bonny Lee on England’s shore, her prayers with no reply—
“Oh, Bounder have you Billy’s soul, sailing full and bye?”