J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Wishes from the Newspaper Lad

Printer Isaiah Thomas was a pack rat or, as historians gratefully call this type of person, a dedicated archivist. He collected many of the pieces that came out of his press over the years, from the first broadside he ever set in type (at, he said, the age of seven—it was to the tune of "Our Polly Is a Sad Slut"—mp3 here) to issues of his Massachusetts Spy newspaper. Eventually Thomas made a permanent home for his collection by founding the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester.

One item from Thomas’s print shop, probably created by his inky apprentices, is a handbill dated “Boston, January 1, 1771.” which goes like this:

The LAD who carries
The MASSACHUSETTS SPY,
Wishes all his kind Customers
A Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!
And presents the following:


May grateful omens now appear,
To Make the New a happy Year,
And bless th’ ensuing days:
May future peace in every mind,
Like odours wafted by the wind,
Its sweetest incense raise.

May GEORGE in his extensive reign,
Subdue the pride of haughty SPAIN,
Submissive to his feet.
Thy princely smiles our ills appease,
Then grant that harmony and peace
The dawning year may greet.

Kind Sirs! your gen’rous bounty show,
Few shillings on your Lad bestow,
Which will reward his pains,
Who piercing Winter’s cold endures,
And to your hands the SPY secures,
And still his task maintains.
It was a tradition for boys who worked for newspapers to compose and print such verses each New Year. Historians don't know whether they sang these lines, sold the handbills, or both. In any event, the tradition was—like the Pope Night processions, Christmas Anticks, and other forms of tips—a way for the boys to earn a few coins for themselves at the end of the year.

Two notable things strike me about this handbill. First, it mentions Christmas as well as New Year's; most surviving examples from Boston don't. Thomas and his shop would help to promote Christmas in New England in the years after the war, publishing songs and books tied to that holiday, which earlier generations of New Englanders had disdained. So this might be an early sign of Thomas's interest in Christmas.

Second, this song is almost aggressively patriotic, praising George III and threatening enemies like "haughty Spain" (a lesser rival than haughty France or haughty Holland, but easier to rhyme). That political sentiment didn't mean that Thomas was a friend of the royal government. In fact, he was one of the most radical of Boston's printers, and his subscribers mostly shared his convictions. But the Whigs of 1771 and even of 1775 saw themselves as British patriots, fighting alongside the king against corrupt politicians who were undermining constitutional liberties.

2 comments:

Oberon said...

......very interesting.

Ched said...

But the Whigs of 1771 and even of 1775 saw themselves as British patriots, fighting alongside the king against corrupt politicians who were undermining constitutional liberties.

Something that is easy to forget.