“Marching Down to Old Quebec”


"We're marching down to (old Quebec/New Orleans), Where the drum is loudly beating, The 'Merican boys have won the day And the (British) are retreating." The soldier describes marching, and his plans to go home/to New Orleans/to visit a girl

Supplemental text

Marching Down to Old Quebec
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

Marching to Quebec

From W. W. Newell, Games and Songs of American Children, item
#59, pp. 125, second text. From Massachusetts.

We were marching to Quebec,
  The drums were loudly beating;
America has gained the day,
  The British are retreating.

The war is o'er, and they are turned back,
  For evermore departed;
So open the ring, and take one in,
  For they are broken-hearted.

Oh, you're the one that I love best,
  I praise you high and dearly;
My heart you'll get, my hand I'll gice,
  The kiss is most sincerely.

          *** B ***

From Vance Randolph, Ozark Folksongs, Volume III, #519, p. 297,
the B text. Collected 1934 from Rena Smithers of Springfield,

We're marchin' down to New Orleans
Where the drums are beatin' lively,
The American boys have gained the day,
An' the British soldiers retreating.

The war's all over an' we'll turn back
To the place where we first started,
We'll open up the ring an' choose a couple in
To relieve the broken-hearted.

But every time I ride that road
It looks so dark an' cloudy,
An' every time I see that gal
I stop an' tell her howdy.


The history behind this song is somewhat confusing. Although America in its early years coveted Canada, and sent troops northward during the War of 1812, Americans never successfully attacked Quebec (for their unsuccessful Canadian campaigns, see, e.g., "The Battle of Queenston Heights").

If the song refers to an actual event, it probably dates to the invasion of Canada by Montgomery and Benedict Arnold in 1775. Montgomery captured Montreal, and rendezvoused with Arnold to attack Quebec, but the assault of December 31, 1775 was repulsed. Montgomery was killed and hundreds of Americans killed, wounded, and captured.

As it turned out, both British and Americans sang about the invasion of Canada, with Americans lauding the capture of Montreal (which they obviously did not manage to retain) and the British celebrating the defense of Quebec.

This confusion may explain why the song was transferred to New Orleans, which was American property and where Jackson did repel a British army (for which see "The Battle of New Orleans" [Laws A7]).

The Randolph version of this piece has more than a little connection with "Little Pink," and may even be the same song -- but at this point it's hard to tell; I've heard a "Little Pink" variant which goes in a completely different direction.

Roud tosses the whole family in with "Coffee Grows." - RBW

Historical references

  • 1775-1776: American attack on Canada. The chief battle of the campaign was fought outside Quebec on December 31, 1775
  • Jan 8, 1815 - Battle of New Orleans. Although a peace had already been signed, word had not yet reached Louisiana, which Pakenham sought to invade. Andrew Jackson's backwoodsmen easily repulse Pakenham

Cross references


  1. Randolph 519, "We're Marching Down to Old Quebec" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  2. Fowke/Mills/Blume, pp. 57-59, "Marching Down to Old Quebec" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. ST R519 (Full)
  4. Roud #735
  5. BI, R519


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1903 (Newell)
Found in: US(NE,MW,So) Canada(Ont)