Rise up John Gordon – song


Word & Music by Michael Burns
Copyright Michael Burns 2011

Bruce Rafeek is on accordion

This song ‘Rise up John Gordon’ was written to mark the pardon, in 2011, in Rhode Island, of John Gordon – an Irish immigrant who was framed and executed in 1844.
The scandal surrounding John’s execution led to Rhode Island abolishing the death penalty on the 1850s. This has remained the law in that state to this day, and Rhode Island refuses to extradite people facing capital punishment to other states in the USA or elsewhere in the world, so John did not die in vain.

Rise up, Rise up John Gordon

The Gordons, William, Nick and John set out for better lives
they hoped to build a new life for their families and wives
they left their home in  Ireland for the land of the free
and sure a place called Prov’dence must be home to liberty

They landed in the new world with many a hopeful plan
thinking all  were equal there  in the sight of god and man
but ‘No Nothing’ bigotry against for poor Irish men
made the brothers think they lived in Cromwell’s time again

chorus -
Rise up   Rise up    John Gordon, and reclaim your good name
For a  hundred and sixty years and more, you bore a murderer’s blame
but your judicial lynching caused Rhode Island such shame
that no one since, in that state, has endured the same

Well, William Sprague the third was once the governor of the state
then elected to the senate on an anti Irish slate
Amasa Sprague, his brother, ran the Knightsville cotton mill
so they closed the Gordon’s tavern where the weavers drank their fill

One New Year’s Eve they found Amasa lying in the snow
and clear to see he had been killed by manys the heavy blow
On his wedding anniversary and the birthday of his wife
in the year of eighteen forty three that rich man lost his life

chorus

They arrested all the brothers on a charge of homicide
with a jury of rich Yankees, ‘Justice’ Durfee did preside
and Durfee told the jury that the Irish often lie
and in seventy minutes they decided John would have to die

Well John walked to the gallows on St Valentine’s Day
‘ forgive my persecutors’ he was heard to say
sixty wealthy Yankees sat and watched him as he died
outside a thousand knelt to pray while others cursed or cried

chorus

On the twenty ninth of June this year inside that illfamed court
The Governor gave the State seal to what many people thought
John Gordon won his pardon and his good name was restored
so friends of justice ‘cross the world can sing with one accord

Rest in peace , John Gordon, you’ve reclaim your good name
For a  hundred and sixty years and more, you bore a murderer’s blame
but your judicial lynching caused Rhode Island such shame
that no one since,   in that state,   has endured the same

Note.  The ‘No Nothings’ were an anti Catholic/anti immigrant party in the USA, active in the 1840 and 50s.  The main targets of their hostility were Catholic Irish and German immigrants

 

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