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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Thursday, January 01, 2009

An Happy New-Year

In the eighteenth century, it was common for the teenagers who worked for newspaper printers to print up “New Year’s verses,” which they appear to have either read, sang, or sold to their customers for a little spending money. Here’s a sample from 240 years ago:

An happy New-Year to the worthy Customers of the Massachusets-Gazette & Boston News-Letter, Boston, January 1769.

Dialogue between two Lads who are News-Carriers.

SAID Ned unto Sam, What’s the News of the Day?
Is it peace? is it war? I prithee now say——
While the Red-Coats in throngs infest ev’ry Street,
And with Vessels of War the Town is beset;
How direful the Prospect in peaceable Times!
Such martial Parade—each Freeman condemns:

Be silent Friend Ned, let your Passion subside;
And hope better Times may sudden succeed:
Whilst GEORGE wields the Scepter we’ve nothing to fear,
To AMER’CA’s Complaints He will lend an Ear;
Then Oppression must cease, and Freedom once more—
In Triumph shall bless NORTH-AMER’CA’s Shore.

This reflects the prevailing colonial attitude in 1769, and indeed right through the outbreak of war: that once the king understood his American subjects’ difficulties and determination, he would overrule his corrupt ministers and reverse their misguided policies. It may also reflect the News-Letter’s editorial stance, which under the Drapers leaned toward the royal government more than most other Boston papers.

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