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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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The News Carriers’ “Postscript” for 1799

Yesterday’s posting quoted from the poem that the apprentices of the Massachusetts Mercury prepared for the end of 1799.

Through most of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, printers’ devils and newspaper carriers printed and sold such broadsides, now classified as “carrier verses,” as they went around to collect tips from subscribers around New Year’s.

But 1799 was different from previous years. As the boys prepared for their busy season, the news arrived that George Washington had died on 14 December. All four of the surviving carrier verses that I’ve seen from Boston papers included about a dozen hastily written new lines mourning the first President. (The lads at two of the Federalist papers snuck in praise for John Adams as well.)

Here’s what the Mercury boys came up with.

The Muse, in grief directs the trembling pen,
And joins the World to mourn the best of men.
Mark poor COLUMBIA now, with woe oppress’d,
Heave the deep groan and beat her aching breast.
By GOD translated is her matchless Son—
No longer Earth can boast a WASHINGTON.
Where’er the voice of man the News shall bear,
The sigh will heave, and fall the mourning tear.
And till, by GOD’s decree, the rolling World,
Torn from its axis, is in chaos hurl’d,
Shall all Columbians weep at his lov’d name—
He was their Wisdom, Strength, and Boast and Fame.
Hey, they had a tight deadline.

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