Bates House, Scituate

By David Kessler

Some stories aren't captured by the standard ship's log

Drew and I sailed in his Tartan 27, "Gray Dawn", from Salem down to Scituate over Memorial Day weekend, 2006.  Winds were light at the start of the trip, but somewhere off of Boston they picked up and got progressively stronger right up until we reached Scituate harbor, so we made a decent overall time on that bright, sunny day.

In Scituate we met up with a couple of his friends, took an afternoon sail, and had some dinner on shore before splitting up - his friends back to their B&B and us back to Gray Dawn.  We got some sleep, and early the next morning we took the launch to shore to find breakfast before starting back north for Salem.

Scituate does have a decent doughnut shop near the town dock, but it's small and tucked away... and we didn't find it.  We found a Dunkin' Donuts but figured that there had to be something better somewhere in town (how can you have a harbor and not have a greasy spoon of some sort? we thought).

As we were walking toward the north end of town, Drew mumbled something, and then asked me if I had ever heard of a Rebecca and Abigail Bates.  The names were familiar, but I was still waking up and so couldn't recall why.  I followed his eyes to the small, yellow house we were walking by.  It was set back slightly from the road, and on the side of the house was a plaque which read:

Rebecca and Abigail Bates
Heroines in the War of 1812

Ah yes, I said, and began telling him the story of how the lighthouse keeper's daughters managed to repel a party of redcoats using a combination of musical instruments and pluck, and that this was how these 2 could be war heroes in a time when women didn't regularly get that distinction.

Drew was a little surprised that I had so many facts of the story ready to tell (especially before breakfast), and asked how I knew the story.

As an explanation I sang him the 2 choruses of "American Army of Two".  I first heard this song almost one year earlier while getting the Gloucester Hornpipe & Clog Society ready for their Harborfest concert on George’s Island.  They played again that day as part of their first show (an obvious choice for Independence Day weekend).  I had hardly thought about it since, but apparently enough of the song had remained in my memory to be useful that morning.

So for those stories that aren't captured by the standard ship’s log, or by the standard history book, sometimes a good song works just fine.

An American Army of Two
(by Diane Taraz & Jim Gleason)

Bates House, Scituate (photo by Andrew Hillaker)
Bates House, Scituate (photo by Andrew Hillaker)

Come all you fine New England folks who by the sea do dwell
and give a cheer for two brave girls who served their country well
their father kept the harbor light to warn the ships at sea
and guide them safe past Cedar point to Scituate town so free.

chorus:  Becky fifed the tune so bright and Abby was the drummer
              They played The Air From Who Knows Where one day in early summer.

'Twas in the war of 1812 when we were pressed full sore
the British blocked our ports from trade and our supplies were poor
we never knew when ships might come to attack and burn our homes
and the homeguard men were thin and lean, reduced to skin and bones.

One day while Mr. Bates was gone his daughters climbed the tower
to polish up the lighthouse lamps so they could shine full power
but then they saw the Union Jack come a-flyin'cross the main
no time to warn poor Scituate town defense would be in vain.

They quickly grabbed their fife and drum and ran behind the dunes
no one could see them hiding there as they struck up a tune
they could have hidden quietly to escape the English guns
but those Yankee girls played a Yankee tune as loud as could be done.

The lobsterbacks had launched their boats to send their men ashore
but on the breeze they heard a tune that they had heard before
it was that tune the Yankees played as they would march along
there must be troops behind the dunes a-singing of that song.

So then the Redcoats tucked their tails between their legs and ran
they sailed away and disappeared before a fight began
and to this day we shout hooray for those girls so brave and true
Abigail and Rebecca Bates, an American army of two.

chorus2: Becky fifed the tune so bright and Abby was the drummer
               They drove the Redcoats out of sight one day in early summer.

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