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, 2015

“ODE on the New-Year” 1775

Traditionally Boston 1775 observes the turn of the year with a “carrier verse,” one of the topical poems that newspaper delivery boys and printers’ apprentices distributed at the new year to aid their request for tips.

This year’s example comes from the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter at the start of 1775, when the Crown had closed Boston’s port to intercolonial trade and stationed several army regiments in town. The News-Letter, then owned by the widow Margaret Draper with young John Howe probably running the presses, supported the Crown editorially.

That’s one thing that makes this verse so striking. It talks about Bostonians “with arms opprest” needing to “Be firm” against “threats of war” from “the grand Ruler of the NORTH” (i.e., Lord North). That was the Patriot line at the time. If this verse didn’t have the News-Letter’s name on top, I would have assumed it came from Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette or Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy.

The Carrier of the Massachusets-Gazette,
and Boston Weekly News-Letter,
humbly presents the following ODE
on the New-Year, to all his generous
Customers.                   1775.

BEHOLD! Poor BOSTON sore distrest,
Why is she thus with arms opprest,
By’r cruel Parents hands?—
The reason surely, is because
She’ll not submit to BRITISH laws,
Impos’d by her commands.

Let the grand Ruler of the NORTH,
Spend all that fair BITANNIA’s worth
To lay us at his feet:—
He’ll find his work but just began,
When seven long years their course have ran,
And seek a safe retreat.

Be firm, BOSTONIAN’s, stedfast, true,
Yea ne’er submit to Turk or Jew,
Be of one mind and heart:—
Twas long ago that Heav’n decreed,
That our Fore-fathers here should bleed,
Shall we their cause desert?

No! GOD forbid,—we’ll firmly trust
In Heav’n’s protection,—’gainst the worst,
Thro’out the ensuing year:—
Tho’ hostile armies from afar,
Have reach’d our coast, with threats of war!
Like heroes banish fear.

Permit your Servant at the door,
Who may be number’d with the poor,
Your bounteous hand to kiss:—
Whose grateful heart shall be replete,
With joy and transport at the sight,
And the kind Donor bless.
Another notable detail about this sample of printing is the prominence of the typographical errors: the printers not only spelled “Massachusetts” differently from how it appeared on the newspaper masthead, but they managed to screw up “Britannia.” Tradition holds that the apprentices themselves wrote and printed carrier verses, and that might explain why both politically and orthographically this one differed from the newspaper.

In one respect, this verse was remarkably prescient. It predicted “seven long years” of struggle for Lord North before he pulled back from his plans for America. Indeed, Lord North’s government fell seven years later in March 1782.

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