‘Bars Fight’ is a ballad about an attack on two white families by Native Americans. The title of the poem comes from the area where the attack took place, The Bars is an area in Deerfield. It was first published in Gilbert Holland’s History of Western Massachusetts.
Form and Tone
The poem is presented in free verse and is in one stanza. It is written in rhyming couplets. The lines vary in length and in the amount of syllables making the meter uneven. The song has a sort of nursery rhyme feel to it. It doesn’t contain great amounts of poetic prowess. It isn’t laden with colourful metaphors but it does have a sort of simplistic beauty to it.
Analysis of Bars Fight
August, twas the twenty-fifth,
This first line lets us know the date of ‘Bars Fight’. This is an interesting feature that isn’t often seen in a poem. Poems often establish a scene, but establishing a time is far less common, this sort of information is usually drip-fed in subtly.
Seventeen houndred forty-six,
Once again, as in the first line, this confirms the date of the tragedy. By happy coincidence, it is a half-rhyme with the preceding line helping to preserve the rhyming couplets that persist throughout the poem.
The Indians did in ambush lay,
The Word Indians used in this context isn’t considered a very politically correct term in the modern era and of course, it is referring to Native Americans rather than people from India.
Some very valiant men to slay
What is interesting here is the poet referring to these white men as valiant. She was a slave and although I’m sure there were instances of slaves being treated well, a great deal of them weren’t, most literature penned by slaves paints a rather negative picture of the slave owners. Perhaps she was one of the lucky ones who was not mistreated or maybe it was a case of Stockholm Syndrome? Alternatively, it could be that she was just scared to say anything negative!
Twas nigh unto Sam Dickinson’s mill,
Here the poet sets a scene for us, but unlike more contemporary poetry this isn’t done with lots of nuanced subtlety. We are just told that the ambush was carried out in a mill. In actuality, the simplicity works here as it is consistent with the style of ‘Bars Fight’.
The Indians there five men did kill.
This could just be the end of the story. Price has told us the when, the where, and the what! However, it would be a bit of a short poem if it was left there. Fortunately, she does give us some more detail.
The names of whom I’ll not leave out,
Although she states she will not leave the names of the deceased out, as you will see she does more than that, as she gives a short description of each of the victims.
Samuel Allen like a hero foute,
For me, one of the most striking things about this poem is the adulation used in describing the white people. Note the use of the word foute I haven’t been able to ascertain a different definition of this word so can only assume that it is a colloquial spelling of fought, which would make sense contextually. Or perhaps it was a deliberate misspelling to force the rhyme?
And though he was so brave and bold,
Prince continues to wax lyrical about the positive traits of Mr Allen. It sounds like he was quite a fighter!
His face no more shall we behold.
But as we can see from this line his bravery is in vain as he succumbs to the ambush. Is this phrase being used as a euphemism for his death or can we take it literally? Was his face brutalised? Some of the mutilations undertaken by Native Americans on settlers have been recorded as being quite brutal.
Eleazer Hawks was killed outright,
This guy’s death was presumably quite quick. Which could be considered as a good thing.
Before he had time to fight,
He didn’t even have chance to mount an offense, but I guess that stands to reason. After all they were ambushed.
Before he did the Indians see,
This confirms that he was taken by surprise. Apparently, he didn’t even have time to see his assailants. What is interesting is that the level of details given here could only accurately be given by somebody who witnessed the event. I think it’s safe to say that Prince did not and so took creative liberties.
Was shot and killed immediately.
Here we got to see how Hawks met his demise. He doesn’t get the praise level that Samuel Allen did. Is this because he didn’t put up a fight? That seems kind of cruel as he didn’t even have the time to try and defend himself.
Oliver Amsden he was slain,
This description isn’t very in-depth it gets right to the point that this guy was killed.
Which caused his friends much grief pain.
This line is a nice change of pace as it helps to highlight the consequences of this attack. Presumably, this could be said of any of the people who were killed.
Simeon Amsden they found dead
This person’s death isn’t detailed at all, it’s just commented that he is found to be dead.
Not many rods from Oliver’s head.
What is interesting here is that his corpse is described as being a few “rods” from Oliver’s head. Is it just his head? If so that is quite a gruesome image. The rod that is referenced here is an almost obsolete measurement, although it is quite a large distance so is an odd choice here.
Adonijah Gillett, we do hear,
Here the impact of the deaths is diminished even further this person’s body may not have even been discovered and their death is only reported due to what people have “heard”
Did lose his life which was so dear.
This is the last of the five men who lost their life.
John Sadler fled across the water,
Sadler almost acts the antithesis of Samuel Allen who fought so bravely.
And thus escaped the dreadful slaughter.
But Sadler went on to live. Perhaps there’s a cautionary tale in there!
Eunice Allen see the Indians comeing
Eunice is the only woman in the poem ‘Bars Fight’. Allegedly she saw them arrive. Which begs the question why didn’t she warn anybody?
And hoped to save herself by running:
Possibly because she was running off! Is this an extreme act of cowardice? Did she flea without warning anyone else?
And had not her petticoats stopt her,
If that is the case it would appear she gets her comeuppance as her petticoat gets caught hampering her escape.
The awful creatures had not cotched her,
Here we see the first real description of the Native Americans as you can see, it is far from flattering.
Not tommyhawked her on the head,
It would appear she got an axe to the head for her trouble!
And left her on the ground for dead.
It is not clear then if this woman died or not. The poem states that only five died, and she is left for dead, but did she actually die? It is pretty ambiguous.
Young Samuel Allen, Oh! lack-a-day!
Presumably, this refers to one of the youngest people who were attacked.
Was taken and carried to Canada.
It is not stated who took him to Canada. Was it the Native Americans? Once again there is an ambiguity here.
About Lucy Terry Price
Lucy Terry Prince, often known as just Lucy Terry, was a slave who was shipped from Africa to Rhode Island in the US. Her freedom was brought by her partner, Abijah Prince and the pair were married in 1756. This poem, Bars Fight, is credited as being one of the oldest works of literature by an African American. It was first published in 1855 (more than a hundred years after the incident it was based on) it had been preserved orally up until that point.