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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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Lawrence Sweeny, “of most facetious Memory”

In January I introduced the figure of Lawrence Sweeny, New York newspaper carrier of proud Irish descent. He was a loud opponent of the Stamp Act in 1765.

During the Seven Years’ War he reportedly became known as “Bloody News” Sweeny as he shouted out that phrase to sell the latest news. But most New Yorkers seem to have associated Sweeny with humor, though I can’t always tell whether they were laughing more with him or at him.

In the spring of 1770, this broadside appeared around the city:
On the much lamented Death of LAWRENCE
SWEENY, ESQ; of most facetious Memory,
who departed this Life at New-York, upon
Tuesday April 10, 1770.

Ye Yorkers lay aside your jocund Farce
Of Freedom now, and hollow till your hoarse;
For LAWRENCE SWEENY’s Dead to all below,
Look to each Face and read it in their Woe.
Is SWEENY dead? Enquire the sorrowing Throng,
Who cry’d News, News, in Accents loud and strong.
He who was wont to raise the gen’ral Smile,
And for whole Days a World of Cares beguile,
Is now no more. How comes it SWEENY, now,
Has plac’d such gen’ral sadness on the Brow?
’Tis not his fault, replies the Comic Muse.
He never did a Chearful strain refuse;
Nor never did promote Domestic Strife,
But flogg’d Old PROSER, and caress’d his Wife.

See HOUSE, the Dutchman, who but t’other Day,
Did with our Hero, “News Via Boston” Cry;
He also join’d him in the hum’rous Song
Of SAWNEY’S Rant, and GEORGE’S Derry-down.
To Day he Views his Friend a load of Clay,
Frantic he raves, and throws his Songs away.

The Black-Ey’d Virgins, Ladies of the Green,
With streaming Eyes and sable Weeds are seen,
Along the Streets in Solemn Pomp they go
With downcast Looks expressive of their Woe---
Their Patron Dead---Their Patriot close confind---
Pale is their Face and discompos’d their Mind.
To MILLS’s Palace moves the Beauteous Throng,
Where SAWNEY Chears them with a Merry Song,
With Hands uplisted and distorted Eys.
Says he dear Nymphs can I your Grief asswage?

To asswage our Grief is more than Mortal can,
Not you the boldest of the race of Man,
Can chear our Souls or Alleviate our Pain.

SUN, MOON, and STARS with Watery Aspect Shine
And be their choicest Influence New-York, thine,
For Great’s the Loss this City has sustain’d,
And Great’s the Grief of Gen’rous SWEENEY’s Friend.
The 16 April New-York Gazette stated that Sweeny was “as well known in this City as any Man in it, and will be perhaps as much missed.”

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