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God Damn them all! I was told
We'd cruise the seas for American gold,
We'd fire no guns, shed no tears -
Now I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier,
The last of Barrett's privateers.

Barrett's Privateers is a song by Canadian musician Stan Rogers released in 1976 on the album Fogarty's Cove. The song has a story to it and its details are simple (and mostly fictional): a young man sets sail aboard the Antelope, a dubious looking sloop captained by the infamous Elcid Barrett. With a letter of marque authorizing the crew to pirate American merchant vessels, they set off for Jamaica with high hopes, finally encountering a target (a "Yankee lay low down with gold") after 96 days at sea. The Antelope, however, has no match for its artillery and, after a long chase, the first defensive volley does them in, with none but the narrator surviving to tell the tale. Or, to let the song speak for itself:

The Antelope shook and pitched on her side.
Barrett was smashed like a bowl of eggs,
And the maintruck carried off both me legs.

Grisly stuff.

Fiction though it is, Rogers is spot-on about most of the historical details. Even the date he begins the song with - 1778 - is a good fit; during the American Revolution, many Nova Scotians were incited to privateering against the yanks in response to coastal raids. Dan Conlin, who seems to have done his Master's Thesis on Canadian privateering has a fantastic line-by-line analysis of the song's historical authenticity availible here. Highly recommended.

Maybe this only holds true in Canada, but Barrett's Privateers is one hell of a popular drinking song. Like all good shanties, it's simple and it's catchy; the sort of thing you don't need musical accompaniment to belt out. I grew up in Saskatchewan and it doesn't get any more landlocked than that, but I've still heard at least a couple local bands churn out a cover, always to much applause.

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