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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Friday, November 06, 2015

“The union was established in a very ceremonial manner”

So what did the “Union” of North End and South End gangs on the fifth of November 1765 look like?

As the Massachusetts Historical Society quoted in 2009, chronicler James Freeman described the day this way:
the disorders which had been committed from time to time induced several gentlemen to try a reconciliation between the 2 parties; accordingly the chiefs met on the 1st of this inst. [i.e., of November], & conducted the affair in a very orderly manner. In ye even’g the commander of ye N. & [S.] after making general overtures they reciprocally engaged in an Union, & the former distinctions to subside, at the same time the chiefs with their assistants engaged their honour no mischief should arise by their means, & that they would prevent any disorders on ye 5th.

When the day arrived about noon the pageantry representing the Pope, the Devil, & several other effigies signifying tyranny, oppression, slavery, &c. were brought on stages from the N. & S. & met in Kings Str. where the union was established in a very ceremonial manner, & having given three huzzas, they interchanged ground, the S. marched to ye N. & the N. to the S. parading thro’ ye streets until they again met near ye Court House.

The whole then proceeded to Liberty tree, under the shadow of which they refreshed themselves for a while, & then returned to ye Northward agreeably to their plan. They reached Cop’s hill before 6 o’clock, where they halted, & having enkindled a fire, the whole pageantry was committed to the flames & consumed.
That was actually a lot like the way smaller New England ports celebrated Pope Night every year: with a single procession, a big bonfire, and public refreshments. So in 1765 the Boston gangs got to enjoy those things without the violence, while getting extra praise and other goodies.

In 2011 the M.H.S. added some remarks from the merchant Isaac Winslow (1743-1793): “There were no disguises of visages, but the two leaders, [Ebenezer] M’cIntosh of the South, and [Henry] Swift of the North, (the same who was so badly wounded last year[)], were dress’d out in a very gay manner”.

Those men’s outfits were military-style coats that town gentlemen had given to the “chiefs with their assistants” of the two gangs—reflecting their self-conferred titles of “captains and lieutenants.” A couple of years later, the artist Pierre Eugéne du Simitière sketched those coats on gang leaders, as shown above. (Du Simitière’s notes preserve the detail that the coats were blue with red trim.) I suspect that by that year Mackintosh and Swift had passed their roles, and those coats, on to younger men.

TOMORROW: The military discipline of the “mob.”

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