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.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Liberty Tree at the Theater in 1857

Boston 1775 interrupts its meditation on the Liberty Tree Flag for a commercial announcement—well, a commercial for a play that was touring Massachusetts venues like the “Boston Museum” in 1857. Or, in the words of its broadsides, the troupe offered a:

Great Local Patriotic Play of the Revolution, in three acts, called the

or the
This might have been an update of the 1832 play The Liberty Tree, or Boston Boys of ’76; both contain a Yankee character named “Bill Ball,” originally played by Boston playwright Joseph Stevens Jones (1811-1877). However, that character plays only a small role in the action, according to the broadsides’ summary, so this might be a new play written to capitalize on memories of its predecessor.

The major characters are:
  • among the Americans, “Gordon, a Patriot”; “Nat Hinge, an old Northender”; “Peter Gummery, Gordon’s Negro”; and “McJig, an Irish Serjeant.”
  • among the “English” (as the broadside labels them), “Elton, a Government Officer”; “Colonel Worston”; and “Pilky, a Tory.”
Like a lot of American entertainment before World War 2 (and perhaps afterward), The Liberty Tree seems to depend on ethnic stereotypes. The characterization gets particularly bigoted around the Peter Gummery character, including the racist terms of the time. Yet that same character pops up so often in the summary that many in the audience must have come to see him. That interest in ethnicity dovetails with the post-Revolutionary obsession with explaining how Americans are different from British, directly opposite the message Boston’s Liberty Tree was originally supposed to convey.

But without further ado, here is the “Programme of Scenery and Incidents” for The Liberty Tree:
Part First—Scene 1—Shipyard at North End Discontent of the People. Peter’s opinion of things in general. Nat Hinge and his chest of Tools. A spy well treated. Scene 2--Old Triangular Warehouse in Dock Square. The British Soldiers and the Yankee Printer. The uses and abuses of a Leg Mutton. Loss of Uniforms. The First Retreat. Scene 3—House of Mr. Gordon. Opinion of an American Patriot. “This town, Boston, where the Tree of Liberty flourishes, emblem of its name, shall give the word, at which all shall rise who own the name of Freeman, and pluck the bright jewel America, from the Crown of England.” Scene 4—Interior of Hinge’s House. Cutting the crown off. “Darn these Buttons.”—Scene 5—Elton’s House. The American Patriot and the British Subject. Scene 6—THE LIBERTY TREE! Assembling of the people. The plan and the RESOLVE. Scene 7--GRIFFIN’S WHARF! Resolution of the people. ”The work’s begun, Americans, complete it!!” THE BOSTON TEA PARTY.

Part Second—Scene 1—Apartment at Colonel Worston’s.
British tuition and Yankee politeness. “Where did you come from?” “Concord and Lexington.” The disguise and the ESCAPE. Scene 2—Gordon’s House. The father and his child. Scene 3—Apartment. The American women at work for their patriot husbands and fathers. Gummery’s opinion of matrimony subjects. “The Boston Boys have heard drums and guns too, and are not much scared at either.” PATRIOTIC SONG—Hinge—“Our Country is our Ship.” Scene 5--OLD SOUTH CHURCH, seen from Milk Street. Boston Boys going to work. The ROGUE’S MARCH. The Tory’s Ride. Scene 6--SHIP YARD.—In the distance, Charlestown in Flames. The attack and retreat. The Tory treated to a coat of TAR and FEATHERS.

Part Third—Scene 1—Street in Boston. Peter Gummery and his Irish Friend, McJig. “The greatest Nigger in the World—I’se General Washington’s Nigger.” SONG—Gummery—“Old George and de Boston Tea Party” Scene 2—Colonel Worston’s House. The consultation. Respect your enemies. Scene 3—Room in Hinge’s House. “Bad news! no dinner to-day, the guns have frightened all the fish—true American fish won’t bite while there’s a red coat in town.” “There’s a Yankee wife for somebody.” Scene 4—PILKEY’S HOUSE. Preparations for breakfast. How about that Cow? Pilkey’s illness. The doctor and his prescription. Knowledge of anatomy. Scene 6—DOCK SQUARE. The assault. The rescue. The forced retreat.—Scene 5—Room in GORDON’S HOUSE. GRAND PANORAMA! Entrance of WASHINGTON! HIS STAFF AND AMERICAN ARMY TO THE GOOD OLD TOWN OF BOSTON. Tableau.
And curtain.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

I just noticed how the broadside listed Scene 6 in Part 3 before Scene 5, or rather misnumbered those scenes. I looked back in the original, thinking I'd transcribed the text wrong, but no. In all the riot of typefaces and weights, the printers had missed the mistake. What an evening it must have been.