Song or Story
Download Full Text (778 KB)
Rights and Access Note
Rights assessment remains the responsibility of the researcher. No known restrictions on publication. For information about the process and fees for obtaining higher resolution scans or another file format, contact Special Collections.
The ballad "Heenan and Sayers" described an event so popular that it overshadowed a civil war.
1. Way down in merry England, the home of Johnny Bull, Where the English drink their glasses, they drink them brimming full, Saying, “Here’s to merry England, likewise our Britons brave, The champions we are o’er the land and o’er the wave.”
2. Way down in merry England, all in the bloom of spring, Where English burly champion stood stripped off in the ring; To fight that noble Heenan, the gallant son of Troy, To try his British muscle on the bold Benicia Boy.
3. Two heavy flags were hoisted that floated o’er the ring: On one there was a tiger all ready for a spring, On the other was an eagle, a gallant bird she was, For she had a bunch of thunderbolts and held them in her claws.
4. Oh, the pennies they were tossed and the melee did begin, The bets on Sayers and Heenan two to one came rushing in; They fought like noble heroes, ‘til one received a blow, Which caused a crimson tide from young Heenan’s nose to flow.
5. “The first blood for Johnny Bull!” old England shouts for joy, But the following cheers arose for the bold Benicia boy; The tiger rose within him, like lightning in his eye, Saying, “Smile away, old England, but Johnny, mind your eye.”
6. Then up rose Uncle Sam and he looked across the way, Saying, “Do I hear the Bull a-bellowing again? Has he forgotten the giant who lives across the pond, Who used to play with lightning when his day’s work was done?
7. “Or has he forgotten the Battle of Bunker Hill? Or has he forgotten where the English got there fill? Or down in New Orleans, boys, where Jackson made them pay, [And there they lost their picking and the bully of the day!”]
8. Then the last round was fought, the likes were never seen, The son of Uncle Sam arose the champion on his feet; ‘Twas by the throat he held him, and [walled] him in the air, And with one hand he threw him out, while the Englishmen did stare.
9. Come, all you Yankee heroes, likewise all Britons brave, Look on your lofty eagle and never be ashamed. May the Union hold together and never flag unfurl, And the Star Spangled Banner proudly float o’er the world.
Mrs. Elwood Nickerson, Sister Poulin, Corinna, Johnny Bull, Uncle Sam, ballad, bare-knuckle boxing, John C. Heenan, Benicia Boy, Tom Sayers, England, John Morrissey, American Civil War, 1860, 19th century, New York Times, Baltimore, Roud, Laws
Laws, G. Malcolm, Jr. Native American Balladry. Revised Edition. American Folklore Society, Bibliographical and Special Series, 1. Philadelphia: American Folklore Society, 1964, 240 (H20); & Beck, Horace G. The Folklore of Maine. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1957, 267. Also see The Minnesota Heritage Songbook, edited by Robert Waltz at (under “Additional Songs”) and "Heenan v Sayers: The fight that changed boxing forever" in The Guardian that commemorated the 150th anniversary of the bout. For the full New York Times article, see “MARYLAND AFFAIRS.; The Heenan and Sayers Combat Moral Effects, &c. The Constitutional Union Convention Delagates [sic] Arriving Railroad Arrangements Hotels, &c. The Republican Movements The Editorial Excursion The New Police The Weather Business, &c.” from May 5, 1860.
Ethnomusicology | Folklore | Oral History
Nickerson, Mrs. Elwood. 1962. “Heenan and Sayers.” NA331, CD6.15. Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History, Raymond H. Fogler Special Collections Department, University of Maine.