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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Monday, October 20, 2008

Benedict Arnold Procession on Paper

Yesterday I quoted a long description of the procession in Philadelphia in September 1780, condemning Benedict Arnold for his recent attempt to betray Gen. George Washington and the fort at West Point to the British. Confirming that a picture is worth a thousand words, some Philadelphia printers issued an engraving of that event, which appears in the Bostonian Society’s online exhibit about the 5th of November in colonial Boston. The original is in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The engraving of Philadelphia’s procession with a two-faced effigy of Arnold looks a lot like the earlier woodcut of Pope Night parades in Boston. One new detail was that the Arnold effigy had two faces, symbolizing his treachery. Another version of the same scene appears here, titled “The Bizarre Procession”; I’m not sure of its source or date.

In December 1781 Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy newspaper, based in Worcester, offered such an engraving for sale:

A humorous Representation of the triumphal Procession, of Brigadier-General Arnold, and his friend and councellor, through the streets of Philadelphia in effigy.
New Englanders immediately understood that the “friend and councellor” was the Devil; before independence, that figure had counseled the Pope.

Colonial Pope Night parades on the 5th of November have been documented from Savannah, Georgia, up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. However, I don’t think they were nearly as popular in Philadelphia, with its tradition of religious tolerance, as in New England.

That makes me wonder if New England soldiers stationed in Philadelphia took the lead in designing the Arnold procession. By moving colonists around, and giving them a common cause, the Revolutionary War created a more unified national culture.

TOMORROW: Connecticut condemns Arnold.

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