DESCRIPTION: "Johnny Bull and many more, Soon they say are coming o'er And as soon as they're on shore, They must have tea. So Polly, put the kettle on...." "They'll want it strong... Sweetened well with sugar of lead." Their hides we will completely tan...."
EARLIEST DATE: 1966 (Huntington, Songs From Martha's Vinyard)
KEYWORDS: patriotic battle drink
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Cohen-AFS1, p. 52, "Gunpowder Tea" (1 text)
cf. "Molly Put the Kettle On (Polly Put the Kettle On)" (tune)
NOTES: This piece, to the tune of "Polly Put the Kettle On," is clever in its ability to link ordinary objects to fighting. The reference is clearly to the Boston Tea Party, but there is no certainty that it dates from the Revolutionary War as opposed to the War of 1812.
"Gunpowder Tea" is a genuine product, still sold today; I found several Internet advertisements.
"Sugar of lead" is lead acetate, a poisonous but widely-used sweetener; the Romans used it extensively (since they had limited access to genuine sugar); see John Emsley, Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, Corrected edition, Oxford, 2003, pp. 227-228. Sometimes, vintners didn't even bother with sugar of lead; they just put a lead bullet in their bottles. This had a double advantage: If the wine was going to vinegar (acetic acid), the lead would soak up the vinegar and convert it to sugar of lead. Thus it removed a bad taste and added a sweet taste. Too bad about the poison.... - RBW
Last updated in version 2.7
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.