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Monday, November 13, 2017

"It Was Done by Fire and Water" - The Tea Burnings of Lexington and Newburyport

In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act in an attempt to refinance the shaky economic base of the British East India Company. Established in 1709, the East India Company derived over ninety-percent of its profits from the sale of tea. However, by 1772, due to severe mismanagement, the company was in desperate need of a bailout. The company directors looked to Parliament for relief. Parliament’s response was the Tea Act, through which the East India Company was given exclusive rights to ship tea to America without paying import duties and to sell it through their agents to American retailers. American merchants who had for years purchased tea from non-British sources (Dutch tea was a particular favorite of New Englanders) faced the prospect of financial ruin.

Massachusetts immediately opposed the act and began to organize resistance. On November 29, 1773, the tea ship Dartmouth arrived at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston. Three days later, the Beaver and the Eleanor arrived at the same wharf. Bostonians demanded that Governor Hutchinson order the three ships back to England. On December 16, 1773, the owner of the Dartmouth apparently agreed and went to Hutchinson to beg him to let the ships return to England. Hutchinson refused, and at approximately six o’clock that evening, some 150 men and boys disguised as Indians marched to the three ships, boarded them and dumped 340 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.


Meanwhile, as tempers boiled over in Boston, the citizens of Lexington assembled three days prior to the Boston Tea Party to discuss the unfolding events. The matter was referred to the town’s committee of correspondence, which quickly drafted an emotional and stinging condemnation of the Tea Act.

"[It] appears that the Enemies of the Rights & Liberties of Americans, greatly disappointed in the Success of the Revenue Act, are seeking to Avail themselves of New, & if possible, Yet more detestable Measures to distress, Enslave & destroy us. Not enough that a Tax was laid Upon Teas, which should be Imported by Us, for the Sole Purpose of Raising a revenue to support Taskmasters, Pensioners, &c., in Idleness and Luxury; But by a late Act of Parliament, to Appease the wrath of the East India Company, whose Trade to America had been greatly clogged by the operation of the Revenue Acts, Provision is made for said Company to export their teas to America free and discharged from all Duties and Customs in England, but liable to all the same Rules, Regulations, Penalties & Forfeitures in America, as are Provided by the Revenue Act . . . Not to say anything of the Gross Partiality herein discovered in favour of the East India Company, and to the Injury & oppression of Americans; . . . we are most especially alarmed, as by these Crafty Measures of the Revenue Act is to be Established, and the Rights and Liberties of Americans forever Sapped & destroyed. These appear to Us to be Sacrifices we must make, and these the costly Pledges that must be given Up into the hands of the Oppressor. The moment we receive this detested Article, the Tribute will be established upon Us . . . Once admit this subtle, wicked Ministerial Plan to take place, once permit this Tea . . . to be landed, received and vended . . . the Badge of our slavery is fixed, the Foundation of ruin is surely laid. "

The committee also issued six resolves pledging to preserve and protect the constitutional rights that Parliament had put into jeopardy, to boycott any teas "sent out by the East India Company, or that shall be imported subject to a duty imposed by Act of Parliament," to treat as enemies anyone found aiding in the landing, selling or using of tea from the East India Company, and to treat the merchants of the East India Company with contempt. Finally, the town expressed its gratitude to Boston for its undertaking in the name of liberty, and pledged

"We are ready and resolved to concur with them in every rationale Measure that may be Necessary for the Preservation or Recovery of our Rights and Liberties as Englishmen and Christians; and we trust in God That, should the State of Our Affairs require it, We shall be ready to Sacrifice our Estates and everything dear in Life, Yea and Life itself, in support of the common Cause."

Upon completion, the Town of Lexington with a unanimous vote adopted the resolves. Immediately afterwards, an additional resolve was passed, warning the residents "That if any Head of a Family in this Town, or any Person, shall from this time forward; & until the Duty taken off, purchase any Tea, Use or consume any Tea in their Famelies [sic], such person shall be looked upon as an Enemy to this town & to this Country, and shall by this Town be treated with Neglect & Contempt."

That evening, the residents of Lexington gathered all tea supplies and burned them. According to the December 16, 1773 edition of the Massachusetts Spy "We are positively informed that the patriotic inhabitants of Lexington unanimously resolved against against the use of Bohea tea of all sorts, Dutch or English importation; and to manifest the sincerity of their resolution, they brought together every ounce contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire."

Lexington was not the only Massachusetts town to protest via tea burning. Evidence suggests Newburyport also undertook a similar demonstration. However, this seaport’s method of protest was far more reserved and somewhat unusual in comparison to Lexington.

According to the December 4, 1773 edition of the Essex Packet and Merrimack Journal, "notifications were posted up in all parts of the town" detailing a proposal to block the landing of tea in Newburyport with "a united and forceful resistance." However, no attempt to unload tea in Newburyport was ever made.

On December 9th, the citizens of the town "selected a committee of prominent citizens" to craft the town’s position of support for the growing protests in Boston. According to town records, the committee ultimately pledged "[we] are Determined to give them all the Assistance in our power even at the Risque of our Lives & Fortunes." The next week, a town meeting was held "to consider the serious condition of public affairs." After some debate the citizens voted to assist the residents in Boston "with utmost Endeavors."

When word reached Newburyport of the destruction of tea in Boston, yet another town meeting was convened. Ultimately the town "voted unanimously to address the Boston committee in its strongest language yet."

However, Newburyport did not move to destroy its own stock of tea until approximately January 17, 1774. According to a report printed in the January 26, 1774 edition of the Essex Journal "A large quantity of the forementioned pernicious stuff was consumed here last week; in order to imitate at the same time both Boston and Charlestown. It was done by Fire and Water; and so general was the spirit, that all ranks and degrees of people, high and low, rich and poor, Whig and Tory, agreed in the affair."




If the above statement was the entirety of the account one would conclude the residents of Newburyport gathered most of the tea in town and collectively destroyed it in a massive bonfire.  However, this was not the case.  It appears Newburyport’s tea protests were actually private in nature.  According to the same newspaper account the protest "was done not in in the manner of some others, on the wharves and the public streets, but by each one under own roof, and, as if by a general agreement about the same time."

Why was Newburyport’s tea burning private while Lexington’s was out in the open?  Honestly….we don’t know.  However, we suspect Newburyport residents may have believed the act of publicly destroying tea may have been too offensive and radical for their liking.

Update 11/14/17:  We were contacted this morning by Newburyport historian Jack Santos.  After reading our blog post, he had a very interesting (and probably correct) take on the January 26, 1774 article.  Jack suggests that the article was actually a satirical piece mocking Newburyport for its inaction during the tea crisis.  The statements of everyone participating in the "protest", the event taking place "at the same time" and destruction of the tea "by fire and water" were actually references to the traditional "tea time" and the making and consumption of the drink.


Naturally this raises a question destined for research... did Newburyport even have its own tea protest??

Sunday, November 5, 2017

"True Sons of Liberty Throughout the World" - The Toasts of Newburyport

If you have ever joined Untapped History for one of its historic walking tours of Newburyport, you would have concluded the tour with a sampling of alcoholic drinks from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  During the sampling, it’s likely Alex and Eric (the “nerds”) would have invited you to partake in a series of historically accurate toasts documentable to the American Revolution.  

The nerds of Untapped History tell us they relied upon period accounts and records from New York and Pennsylvania to come up with the toasts they offer.  However, thanks to the Newburyport Independent Marines, Untapped History may be introducing a series of period correct toasts directly tied to 18th Century Newburyport.

As Untapped History has previously written, the Newburyport Marine Society was founded on November 5, 1772 by ship captains and merchants.  In September, 1774, the members formed their own military unit known as the “Independent Marines”.  Shortly thereafter, the organization was on a wartime footing in preparation for a conflict with England.  

The September 21, 1774 edition of Essex Journal and Merrimack Packet details some of the early activities of the Independent Marines.  “Wednesday last the independent military society in this town met at the town-house compleat in arms and ammunition: After having been reviewed by their officers chosen by the society, they performed the manual exercise and filings, after which they marched to the Mason's arms tavern, and there performed the evolutions; and from thence marched to Mr. William Tell's (a gentleman that has always not only talked, but acted upon the genuine principles of patriotism), who had prepared an elegant entertainment for the society; after spending a few very agreeable hours with a number of gentlemen (whom Mr. 'Feel had invited) in conversation, repast, and drinking a number of loyal and patriotic toasts, the society again rally, march to the town-house, and after firing three vollies lodged their arms. All was conducted with the greatest order and good humour.”

The nerds of Untapped History recently discovered a second account describing the Independent Marines’ wartime preparation.  The report appeared in the October 26, 1774 edition of the Essex Gazette.  While the article describes the unit performing complex military maneuvers, including “different modes of firing”, it is notable that the unit also sponsored a post drill social gathering that included no less than twenty four toasts.

Here is a copy of the article which details the toasts made:



The two dozen toasts paid homage to a variety of “patriotic” individuals and organization, including Committees of Correspondence, Bostonians, John Hancock, Josiah Quincy and the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

We look forward to seeing Untapped History introducing these Newburyport specific toasts to their tours.  Hopefully the guests will be able to keep up!

Monday, October 23, 2017

"With a Pounce Like Great Guns" - The Earthquake of 1727



New Englanders were a superstitious lot in the 17th and 18th Centuries. One natural event that occasionally terrified Yankees were earthquakes. Most, if not all, colonists understood earthquakes were a natural occurrence, but saw them as part of a divine intervention by God. According to one 17th century account, "it pleased God suddenly to raise a vehement earthquake coming with a shrill clap of thunder, issuing as is supposed out of the east, which shook the earth and the foundations of the house in a very violent manner to our great amazement and wonder, wherefore taking notice of so great and strange a hand of God's providence, we were desirous of leaving it on record to the view of after ages to the intent that all might take notice of Almighty God and fare his name." 

Of course, what colonists did not know at the time was Massachusetts sat on its own fault line. Worse, the geographic "hot spot" for this fault line was located between Cape Ann and Newburyport.

In the evening hours of October 29, 1727 (Julian Calendar), an earthquake struck Massachusetts. Scientists disagree as to the exact epicenter, but most have narrowed it down to three possible locations: Amesbury, Newbury or off the coast of Hampton, New Hampshire. It is believed that when the earthquake struck, it measured between 5.3 and 6.0 on the modern Richter Scale.

One Newbury resident wrote that the earthquake began "with a pounce like great guns." According to Cotton Mather "The night that followed the 29th of October, was a night whereto New England had never, in the memory of man, seen the like. The air never more calm, the sky never more fair; everything in all imaginable tranquility; but about a quarter of an hour before 11, there was heard in Boston, passing from one end of the town to the other, a horrid rumbling like the noise of many coaches together driving on the paved stones with the utmost rapidity. But it was attended with a most awful trembling of the earth, which did heave and shake so as to rocque the houses, and cause here and there, the falling of some smaller things, both within doors and without. It cannot be imagined but that it gave an uncommon concern unto all the inhabitants, and even a degree of consternation unto very many of them. The first shock, which was the most violent, was followed with several others, and some repetition of the noise, at sundry times, pretty distinct from one another. The number of them is not entirely agreed; but at least four or five are allowed for; the last of which was between five and six of the clock in the morning. It extended for scores of miles, west and south. . . . What added unto the terrors of it, were the terrible flames of light in the atmosphere, which accompanied it. . . .The vessels on the coast were also made sensible of it by shivering that seized on them."

An article from the November 3, 1727 edition of Boston’s Weekly News-Letter, described the shocking event in great detail. "The night after the last Lord's Day about 40 minutes after 10, in a calm & serene hour, the town was ... [suddenly] extremely surprised with the most violent shock of an earthquake that has been known among us. It came with a loud noise like thunder. The earth reel'd & trembled to a great degree. The houses rock'd & crackl'd as if they were tumbling into ruins. Many of they inhabitants were wakened out of their sleep, with the utmost astonishment: and others affrighted run into the streets for safety. Thro' the Goodness of GOD, the shock continued but about 2 or 3 minutes: and tho' some damage was done in the houses; yet none of the people received any bodily injury. For several times in the morning, there were heard some distant rumblings; and some fainter shocks were felt. But since that, the Earth, has been quiet; and tho' the minds of the people are yet greatly and justly affected."

In Newbury, the quake left large fissures in the ground, while the inhabitants described the roaring of the earthquake as similar to a massive firing of cannon. Minister Matthias Plant noted "Many chimneys were thrown down, stone walls fell, springs destroyed and others opened . . . it was a terrible, sudden and amazing earthquake." 

In a sermon given by Hampton’s Reverend Nathaniel Gookin, the minister declared "The shake was very hard, and was attended with a terrible noise, something like thunder. The houses trembled as if they were falling; divers chimneys were cracked and some had their tops broken off. It was especially so in the south parish, where the hardest shake seemed to be on the hill, where the house of God stands. Three houses on that hill had their chimneys broken, one of which was the house of the Reverend Mr. Whipple. When the shake was beginning, some persons observed a flash of light at their windows, and one or two saw streams of light running on the earth; the flame seemed to them to be of a bluish color. These flashes, no doubt, broke out of the earth; otherwise it is probable, they would have been seen more generally, especially by those who were abroad. The sea was observed to roar in an unusual manner. The earth broke open, near the south bounds of the town (as it did in divers places in Newbury) and cast up a very fine bluish sand. At the place of the eruption, there now (above two months after) continually issues out considerable quantities of water; and for about a rod around it, the ground is so soft, that a man can’t tread upon it without throwing brush or some other thing to bear him up. It is indeed in meadow ground, but before the earthquake, it was not so soft but that men might freely walk upon it. A spring of water, which had run freely for fourscore years, and was never known to freeze, was much sunk by the earthquake, and frozen afterwards like any standing water. There were divers other shocks the same night; yea, the sound was heard, and sometimes the shake felt every day for a fortnight after…"

The earthquake was felt as far north as Maritime Canada and as far south as Connecticut. The most severe damage was along the New Hampshire and Massachusetts coastlines.

The 1727 earthquake couldn’t have come at a worse time. New Englanders had experienced an abnormally hot summer coupled with a drought. In September New England was battered by a series of violent Nor’easters. Many concluded the sins of New England had incurred God’s wrath. As the Reverend Gookin reflected "All of us saw a necessity of looking to God for his favor and protection; and I would hope that many did, not only look to God in that time of their distress, but did truly and heartily return to him. Many are now asking the way to Zion with their faces thitherward. They say, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant, not to be forgotten."

A few New Englanders rejected the religious underpinnings of a vengeful God and instead put forth various scientific explanations for the quake. Some speculated the September storms had triggered the earthquake. Boston minister Thomas Foxcroft suggested that underground caverns filled with flammable vapors were exploding, thus causing the earthquakes. Thomas Prince, another Boston minister, believed earthquakes were caused by underground vacuums. Of course, Marblehead’s John Barnard was perhaps the closest when he theorized that the surface of the earth was shifting in response to subterranean shocks.

Monday, October 16, 2017

"The Savage in Man is Never Quite Eradicated" - The New England Vampire Panic

In the late 18th century, a bizarre panic set in throughout rural New England and continued almost until 1900.  Known today as the “New England Vampire Panic”, the century long fear appears to be in response to outbreaks of “consumption”, known today as tuberculosis.  The first known reference to an American vampire scare appeared in the June 1784 edition of the  Connecticut Courant and Weekly Intelligencer. Moses Holmes warned people to beware of “a certain Quack Doctor, a foreigner” who had urged families to dig up and burn dead relatives to stop consumption. Holmes had witnessed several children disinterred at the doctor’s request and wanted no more of it: “And that the bodies of the dead may rest quiet in their graves without such interruption, I think the public ought to be aware of being led away by such an imposture.”

Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease that primarily attacked the lungs.   The infection spreads easily via a sneezing, coughing, speaking, or spitting.  As a result, the infection could easily pass among a family living in close quarters.  When one family member died of consumption, other members were often infected and gradually lost their health.

In the 19th century, the causes of consumption were unknown.  However, many New England residents believed that this was due to the deceased sufferer draining the life from other family members. Fearing that their dead family members may come back to life, many bodies were exhumed to see if any showed signs of being a vampire. The corpse was deemed to be feeding on the living if it was determined to be unusually fresh, especially if the heart or other organs contained liquid blood.



After the culprit was identified, there were a number of proposed ways to stop the attacks. The most benign of these was simply to turn the body over in its grave. In other cases, families would burn the "fresh" organs and rebury the body. Occasionally, the body would be decapitated. Affected family members would also inhale smoke from the burned organs or consume the ashes in a further attempt to cure the consumption and internal organs ritually burned to stop the "vampire" from attacking the local population and to prevent the spread of the disease.  In some areas of New England, participants would burn the heart of the deceased.  

The odd rituals were not simply a family affair.  Often whole towns would participate.  An account of a vampire ritual in Manchester, Connecticut noted hundreds of people appeared for such an event.  “Timothy Mead officiated at the altar in the sacrifice to the Demon Vampire who it was believed was still sucking the blood of the then living wife of Captain Burton . . . It was the month of February and good sleighing.”

Many 19th Century New Englanders, including those in Newburyport, were justifiably skeptical of the practice.  One newpaper noted the practice was an "old superstition" and a "curious idea".  Another opined “we seem to have been transported back to the darkest age of unreasoning ignorance and blind superstition, instead of living in the 19th century, and in a State calling itself enlightened and christian” In 1859, Henry David Thoreau grimly noted “The savage in man is never quite eradicated. I have just read of a family in Vermont--who, several of its members having died of consumption, just burned the lungs & heart & liver of the last deceased, in order to prevent any more from having it.”   

What caused this multi generational fear?  The Boston Daily Globe suggested “perhaps the frequent intermarriage of families in these back country districts may partially account for some of their characteristics.”  European newspapers suggested the phenomenon was the result of copycat killings inspired by “modern novels”.  Somewhat humorously, a reporter for the London Post declared that whatever forces drove the “Yankee vampire,” it was an American problem and most certainly not the product of a British folk tradition.  

Historians suggest the concept of “vampires” was likely introduced by German immigrants or Hessian soldiers during the American Revolution.  Desperate for a way to explain and combat the deadly disease, many New Englanders simply adopted the erroneous belief that the undead were the root cause of their misery.

The last recorded vampire ritual was near the end of the 19tth Century.  By then, the unusual panic caught the attention of Bram Stoker and H.P. Lovecraft and possibly influenced some of their literary works.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Whipped Not Exceeding Ten Stripes" - Attempts to Curb the Violence of Boston's Pope's Night

Each year in 18th Century New England, November 5th was celebrated as Guy Fawkes' Day.  The holiday marked the 1605 disruption of the “Gunpowder Plot”.  


During colonial times, the annual commemoration became known as “Pope's Night” and quickly evolved into an anti-Catholic celebration. Effigies of the Devil, Pope, and government officials were often fought over by rival mobs and eventually burned in a huge bonfire.  


By the mid-18th century, violence had become an established part of the Pope Night tradition in Boston. Residents attacked each other with clubs and brickbats, often resulting in serious injuries and even death. Isaiah Thomas recalled that "altho' persons were seldom killed, yet broken heads were not infrequent".


Another resident complained in a letter to the Boston Evening Post “The rudest and lowest Sailors out of Boston ... fall upon one another with Clubs and Cutlasses, in a Rage and Fury which only Hell could inspire ... what Madness must seize the two Mobs, united Brethren, even as they would appear against Popery, to fall upon each other, break each other's Bones, or dash one another's Brains out!”


Naturally, Boston's elites were appalled by the rowdy festivities of Pope’s Night and described the revelers as "rude and intoxicated Rabble, the very Dregs of the People, black and white".  Many residents urged authorities to crack down on the lawless behavior.  In response, in 1748, Boston justices of the peace announced that "whereas sundry persons have heretofore gone about the streets ... armed wh. clubs & demanding money of ye inhabitants and breaking ye windows of ye who refuse it", constables would be dispatched to keep the peace. In 1753 the Massachusetts General Court resolved that "all riotous, tumultuous and disorderly Assemblies" were prohibited from  "carrying pageants and other shews through the streets and lanes of the town of Boston and other towns of this province, abusing and insulting the inhabitants".  Following an accident on Pope Night in 1764 which resulted in the death of a local boy, the "Sheriff, Justices, and Officers of the Militia" were ordered to clamp down on Pope’s Night activities.  




Of course, authorities also attempted to discourage extortion of residents by Boston youths. In the days leading up to Pope’s Night, young boys from the North End and South End of Boston would often go door to door ringing bells and begging for money to support their faction's activities.  If unsuccessful, the boys would often resort to threats of violence to secure payment.  In response, the Massachusetts General Court 1769 Riot Act imposed penalties for shaking down wealthy residents:  “Be it enacted, That if any Persons being more than three in Number, and being armed all or either of them with Sticks, Clubs, or any kind of Weapons, or disguised with Vizards (so-called) or painted or discolored Faces, or being in any other Manner disguised shall assemble together having Imagery or Pageantry for a public Shew, Shall by Menaces of otherwise exact, require, demand, or ask, any Money or other Thing of Value from any of the Inhabitants or other Person in the Streets, Lanes, of any Town within this Province ... shall for each Offense forfeit and pay the Sum of Forty Shillings, or suffer imprisonment not exceeding one month; or if the Offender shall be a Negro Servant, he may be whipped not exceeding Ten Stripes.”


Unfortunately, law enforcement officials were so overwhelmed during Pope’s Night celebrations that they were simply rendered ineffective and irrelevant.  However, in rare instances, offenders were apprehended and prosecuted.   In 1752, a sailor named John Crabb was clubbed to death on Pope’s Night by Thomas Chubb and a slave named Abraham. Chubb was arrested, tried and convicted.  Afterwards, he was branded on the hand and sentenced to a year in prison for his part in the killing. It is unknown what happened to Abraham.


Even General Washington attempted to discourage the destructive behavior of Pope’s Night.  During the Siege of Boston the commander ordered “As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form'd for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope—He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain'd, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.”

Ironically, it was time itself that led to the decline in celebrations.  The last Pope’s Night in Boston was in 1776.  Newburyport ceased celebrating the event after 1778.  Salem continued its celebrations until 1817.  Portsmouth appears to be the lone holdout...continuing its Pope’s Night celebrations well into the 1890s.  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

"The Boys Eke Ev’ry One" - The Role of Boston Boys and Girls During Pope's Night

In our last blog post, we described some of the Pope’s Night celebrations that occurred in different seaports in 18th Century Massachusetts. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the younger male and female participants of Boston's Pope's Night.

In the days leading up to Pope’s Night, young boys from the North End and South End of Boston would go door to door ringing bells and begging for money to support their faction's activities. A period broadside, Extraordinary Verses on Pope-Night, describes the excitement of the young participants: “The little Popes, they go out First, With little teney Boys: Frolicks they are full of Gale And laughing make a Noise.” Usually the young boys would have with them hand made “little popes, dressed up in the most grotesque and fantastic manner, which they carried about, some on boards, and some on little carriages.”



During the celebration of November 5th, young boys would often use noisemakers to drown out their rivals. Period prints suggest conch shells or “Pope Horns” were the popular choice for noise makers among the young celebrants.

Older boys would also participate in Pope’s Night activities. During evening processions, these boys often donned outlandish costumes. Period accounts suggest older boys wore tall pointed hats that imitated bishops’ mitres, devil costumes covered with tar and feathers, or dressed in drag as Nancy Dawson, an English actress and dancer popular in 18th Century Massachusetts.

It is unclear if women or girls participated in Pope’s Night. The broadside Extraordinary Verses on Pope-Night also suggests Bostonian girls were encouraged by their male counterparts to join in the revelry. “The Girls run out to see the Sight, The Boys eke ev’ry one; Along they are a-dragging them, With Granadier’s Caps on.”

Unfortunately, we are unaware of any other period accounts relative to the roles of women and girls during Pope’s Night.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"Dressed Up in the Most Grotesque and Fantastic Manner" - Pope's Night

We at Historical Nerdery would like to apologize for our absence over the past few weeks.  We’ve been busy with an awesome side project promoting Newburyport’s heritage through a walking tour.  You can check out our project over at Untapped History.  

Better yet, in the spirit of unabashed self promotion...why not book a tour with us?!?

Self promotion aside, our friends at Revolution250 Boston have been hard at work researching the events surrounding the 1767 “Pope’s Night” celebration, which was clearly influenced by the political and economic tensions surrounding the Townsend Duties.  

So what was Pope’s Night (also known as Pope's Day)?  Each year in 18th Century England, November 5th was celebrated as Guy Fawkes' Day.  The holiday commemorated the thwarting of the “Gunpowder Plot” to overthrow King James I in 1605. In New England, during colonial times, the annual commemoration became known as Pope's Day, and had quickly evolved into an anti-Catholic celebration. Effigies of the Devil, Pope, and government officials were fought over by rival mobs and eventually burned in a huge bonfire at Copp's Hill in Boston.



Violence was commonplace and death a possibility during Boston celebrations.  John Boyle noted in his journal that on November 5,1764 “a Child of Mr. Brown's at the North-End was run over by one of the Wheels of the North-End Pope and Killed on the Spot. Many others were wounded in the evening.”  John Rowe also recorded the violence of the 1764 celebrations.  “1764 Nov. 5. A sorrowful accident happened this forenoon at the North End — the wheel of the carriage that the Pope was fixed on run over a Boy's head & he died instantly. The Sheriff, Justices, Officers of the Militia were ordered to destroy both S° & North End Popes. In the afternoon they got the North End Pope pulled to pieces, they went to the S° End but could not Conquer upon which the South End people brought out their pope & went in Triumph to the Northward and at the Mill Bridge a Battle begun between the people of Both Parts of the Town. The North End people having repaired their pope, but the South End people got the Battle (many were hurt & bruised on both sides) & Brought away the North End pope & burnt Both of them at the Gallows on the Neck. Several thousand people following them, hallowing &ct.”

However, not all Pope Day celebrations ended in gang brawls, death or destruction.  According to an account published in the November 7, 1765 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette.

“Tuesday last being the Anniversary of the Commemoration of the happy Deliverance of the English Nation from the Popish Plot, commonly called The Powder Plot, the Guns at Castle William and at the Batteries in Town were fired at one o’clock; as also on board the Men of War in the Harbour.  It has long been the Custom in this Town on the Fifth of November for Numbers of Persons to exhibit on Stages some Pageantry, denoting their Abhorrence of POPERY and the horrid Plot which was to have been executed on that Day in the Year 1605; these Shews of late Years has been continued in the Evening, and we have often seen the bad Effects attending them at such a time; the Servants and Negroes would disguise themselves, and being armed with clubs would engage each other with great Violence, whereby many came off badly wounded; in short they carried it to such Lengths that two Parties were created in the Town, under the Apellation of North-End and South-End: But the Disorders that had been committed from Time to Time induced several Gentlemen to try a Reconciliation between the two Parties; accordingly the Chiefs met on the First of this Instant, and conducted that Affair in a very orderly Manner; in the Evening the Commander of the South entered into a Treaty with the Commander of the North, and after making several Overtures they reciprocally engaged on a UNION, and the former Distinctions to subside; at the same Time the Chiefs with their Assistants engaged upon their Honor no Mischiefs should arise by their Means, and that they would prevent and Disorders, on the 4th.  When the Day arrived the Morning was all Quietness, about Noon the Pageantry, representing the Pope, Devil, and several other Effigies signifying Tyranny, Oppression, Slavery, were brought on Stages from the North and South, and met in King [State] Street, where the Union was established in a very ceremonial Manner, and having given three Huzzas, they interchanged Ground, the South marched to the North, and the North to the South, parading thro' the Streets until they again met near the Court House: The whole then proceeded to the Tree of Liberty, under the Shadow of which they refreshed themselves for a while, and then retreated to the Northward, agreeable to their Plan; – they reached Copp's Hill before 6 o’clock, where they halted, and having enkindled a Fire, the whole Pageantry was committed to the Flames and consumed: This being finished every person was requested to retire to their respective Homes – It must be noticed to the Honor of all those concerned in this business that every thing was conducted in a most regular manner, and such Order observed as could hardly be expected among a concourse of several thousand people – all seemed to be joined, agreeable to their principal Motto Levely Unity – The Leaders, Mr. McIntoth form the South, and Mr. Swift from the North, appeared in Military Habits, with small canes resting on their left arms, having music in Front and Flank; their assistants appeared also distinguished with small reeds, then the respective Corps followed, among whom were a great Number of Persons in Rank: These with the Spectators filled the Streets; not a Club was seen among the whole, nor was any Negro allowed to approach near the Stages; - after the Conflagration the Populace retired, and the Town remained the whole Night in better Order than it had ever been on this Occasion. – Many Gentlemen feeing the Affair so well conducted, contributed to make up a handsome Purse to entertain those that carried it on - This Union, and one other more extensive, may be look'd upon as the (perhaps the only) happy Effects arising from the S-p A-t."


The celebrations were not confined to Boston.  In fact, Pope's Day was popular in several seaports of New England. Prominent celebrations were held in Marblehead, Newburyport, Salem, Newport and  Portsmouth. In 1702, Marbleheaders met the Fifth of November with a bull baiting.  The meat was then distributed to the poor.  The Rev. Ezra Stiles described Newport’s Pope Day in 1771.  "Powder Plot, — Pope &ct carried about;" and again on November 5, 1774, he says, "This Afternoon three popes &ct. paraded thro' the streets, & in the Evening they were consumed in a Bonfire as usual — among others were Ld. North, Gov. Hutchinson & Gen. Gage."  John Adams described November 5th activities in Salem.  “Spent the evening at Mr. Pynchon's, with Farnham, Sewall, Sargeant, Col. Saltonstall &ct. very agreeably. Punch, wine, bread and cheese, apples, pipes and tobacco. Popes and bonfires this evening at Salem, and a swarm of tumultuous people attending.”

Newburyport appears to have had its own elaborate celebration.  As outlined in Joshua Coffin's A Sketch of the History of Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury (1835) “In the day time, companies of little boys might be seen, in various parts of the town, with their little popes, dressed up in the most grotesque and fantastic manner, which they carried about, some on boards, and some on little carriages, for their own and others' amusement. But the great exhibition was reserved for the night, in which young men, as well as boys, participated. They first constructed a huge vehicle, varying at times, from twenty to forty feet long, eight or ten wide, and five or six high, from the lower to the upper platform, on the front of which, they erected a paper lantern, capacious enough to hold, in addition to the lights, five or six persons. Behind that, as large as life, sat the mimic pope, and several other personages, monks, friars and so forth. Last, but not least, stood an image of what was designed to be a representation of old Nick himself, furnished with a pair of huge horns, holding in his hand a pitchfork, and otherwise accoutred, with all the frightful ugliness that their ingenuity could desire. Their next step, after they had mounted their ponderous vehicle on four wheels, chosen their officers, captain, first and second lieutenant, purser and so forth, placed a boy under the platform, to elevate and move round, at proper intervals, the moveable head of the pope, and attached ropes to the front part of the machine, was, to take up their line of march through the principal streets of the town. Some times in addition to the images of the pope and his company, there might be found, on the same platform, half a dozen dancers and a fiddler, whose together with a large crowd who made up a long procession. Their custom was, to call at the principal houses in various parts of the town, ring their bell, cause the pope to elevate his head, and look round upon the audience, and repeat the following lines . . . After the verses were repeated, the purser stepped forward and took up his collection. Nearly all on whom they called, gave something. Esquire Atkins and Esquire Dalton, always gave a dollar apiece. After peram bulating the town, and finishing their collections, they concluded their evening's entertainment with a splendid supper; after making with the exception of the wheels and the heads of the effigies, a bonfire of the whole concern, to which were added, all the wash tubs, tar barrels, and stray lumber, that they could lay their hands on. With them the custom was, to steal all the stuff.”

Interestingly enough, Newburyport clamped down on the use of effigies and displays during the  Pope’s Night celebrations of 1774.  That year, the town voted “that no effigies be carried about or exhibited on the fifth of November only in the day time.”  When France entered the American Revolution, Newburyport did away completely with the anti-Catholic celebration.