Road to Boston
X:1 T:We are on the march to Boston M:2/4 L:1/8 S:William Morris music manuscript collection (1776-1777) N:Morris was a fifer with Captain Tucker's Company, New N:Jersey's First Regiment, Hunterdon County Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:G B2 BA/B/|cBAG|FGAB|G/F/G/A/ GA| B2 BA/B/|cBAG|FGAB|G2G2:| |:d2 dc/d/|edcB| c2 cB/c/|dcBA| B2 BA/B/|cBAG|FGA/c/B/A/|G2G2:|]
ROAD TO BOSTON. AKA and see: "General Greene's March (2)," “March to Boston,” "On the Road to Boston," "Boston March," "Road to London,” “We are on our march to Boston.” American, March (2/4 time). USA; New England, Pennsylvania. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Silberberg): AABB (most versions): AA'BB' (Phillips). Musicologist and collector Samuel Bayard recorded: "This old fifers' march is known [as 'Road to Boston'] in the Northeast [United States] as well as in Pennsylvania. A New England game song beginning:
It's a long road to Boston, boys,
Oh when shall we get there?
may possibly account for this title; if so, the fact emphasizes the close connection between play-party and dance tunes to which we have already referred (see Introduction). Mr. Devan stated that there were words known to the tune in Fayette County, but he could not recall them. They may or may not have included those just quoted" (Bayard, Hill Country Tunes, 1944). In his 1981 Dance to the Fiddle collection Bayard calls the tune and 'international' specimen, at least the first strain, and thought it probably quite old. Close variants from the Continent appear in Bouillet, Album Auvergnat, p. 30, as "Bourree d'Aigueperse," and in Quellien, Chansons et Danses des Bretons, (p. 287, No. 9) [Ed./AK--The tune set as a bourree also appears in Steven's Massif Collection, collected in the Auvergne region of Central France]; while the second part of an Irish tune described as a 'quadrille' corresponds to the first part of "Road to Boston" (see Joyce, Old Irish Folk Music and Songs, 1909, No. 277). A southern variant appears in Ford, Traditional Music in America, p. 174, as "Exhibition March No. 2.".
Bayard suggestion of play-party origins is not substantiated in historical record, as its recorded title ["We are on the road/march to Boston"] as a military (fife) march predate dates of play-party use. There is ample proof of its use by American military musicians during the Revolutionary War. The melody as "We are on our march to Boston" can be found in the music manuscript collections of William Morris (Hunterdon County, N.J., c. 1776-1778), Joseph Cabot (Cambridge, Ma., 1784-1789), and George Willis (c. 1795). Cushing Eells (Norwich, Ct., c. 1789), John Beach (Gloucester, Ma., c. 1801), Daniel Henry Huntington (Onondaga, NY, 1817), and Thomas Nixon Jr. (1762-1842), of Framingham, Connecticut, all included the tune as "March to Boston” in their manuscript collections. Nixon was a thirteen-year-old who accompanied his father to the battles of Lexington and Concord, and who served in the Continental army in engagements in and around New York until 1780, after which he returned home to build a house in Framingham. The copybook appears to have started by another musician, Joseph Long, and to have come into Nixon’s possession. “Road to Boston” was one of the tunes identified by 93 yr. old Benjamin Smith of Needham, Mass., in 1853 as the most popular American army tunes of the Revolutionary War; until their musicians learned "Yankee Doodle" and "The White Cockade" from hearing the British playing them in the distance (Winstock, 1970; p. 71). The tune appears as "General Greene's March (2)" in the c. 1790 music manuscript collections of George White, a fiddler from Cherry Valley, New York, Ralph Pomeroy, a flute player from New Haven and Hartford, Ct., and, in 1798, in the commonplace book of James Hosmer (East Harford, Ct.).
The melody appears in print only in the beginning of the 19th century, but can be found in numerous American fife tutors and martial collections. It is in Holyoke's Instrumental Assistant, vol. 1 (Exeter, NH, 1800), Joshua Cushing's Fifer's Companion No. 1 (Salem, Ma., 1805), David Hazeltine's Instructor in Martial Music (Exeter, NH, c. 1810), Norris & Sawyer's Village Fifer (Exeter, NH, 1808), Charles Robbins' Drum and Fife Instructor (Exeter, NH, 1812), Alvan Robinson's Massachusetts Collection of Martial Musick (Hallowell, Me, 1818), and Daniel Steele's New and Complete Preceptor for the Fife (Albany, NY, c. 1815).
There is some speculation that a British version predated the American one, called "Road to London," and was renamed by American fifers at the beginning of the American War of Independence. However, there is no evidence of this in historical record, although melodic material from the tune (as Bayard has found) can be found on the Continent and Ireland.