O! Say Bonny Lass: About the Song

Margaret Corbin
Memorial dedicated to Margaret Corbin, a nurse and soldier in the American Revolution.


"O! Say Bonny Lass" is a song that highlights the commitment and sacrifices of women during the American Revolution.

Historical Background

Women during the American Revolution were responsible for doing at least double the work to maintain the household with the men away fighting. As part of the Homespun Movement, Patriot women took up spinning and weaving to make their own clothing in support of the boycott of British goods.

Some women, known as camp followers, traveled with the Continental Army. They served soldiers and officers as nurses, cooks, washerwomen, seamstresses, and supply scavengers. Occasionally women served as spies and soldiers.

Song History

A young officer in the Continental army named George Bush (no relation to the U.S. presidents) kept journals of songs that were played and sung during the American Revolution. "O! Say Bonny Lass" was found in one of his journals. It is a dialogue between a soldier and his sweetheart.

London-born composer Samuel Arnold (1740-1802) wrote the melody, which is also used in the song "Oh Say Simple Maid."


O, say, bonny lass, can you lie in a barrack
And marry a soldier and carry his wallet
O, say, will you leave both your Mammy and Daddy
And follow to the camp with your soldier laddy

O, yes, I will do it and think nothing of it
I’ll marry my soldier and carry his wallet
O, yes, I will leave both my Mammy and Daddy
And follow to the camp with my soldier laddy

O, say, bonny lass, will you go a-campaigning
Endure all the hardships of battle and famine
When wounded and bleeding, will thou draw near me
And kindly support me and tenderly cheer me

O, say, bonny lass, will you go into battle
Where the drums are beaten and cannons loud rattle
O, yes, my bonny lad, I will share all thy harms
And should thou be killed I will die in thy arms