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 31, 2019

“The Parade was only through Part of one Street”

As reported yesterday, on the evening of Monday, 14 Nov 1768, New Yorkers paraded with effigies of Gov. Francis Bernard and Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf of Boston and then burned those figures.

The New-York Journal published by John Holt on the following Thursday ran a favorable description of that event, saying that the demonstrators had eluded army patrols to carry out their plans with “Regularity and good Order.”

When Monday rolled around again, Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette, and Weekly Mercury and James Parker’s New-York Gazette, or the Weekly Post-Boy came out. (Those are often referred to as the Mercury and the Post-Boy, for obvious reasons.) Rather then reprinting Holt’s report, as would be common in newspapers of the time, both carried a new report on the protest, which was now a week old.

That new report was prefaced by a note from the city authorities. The Mercury’s copy read:
Mr. Gaine,

As it would be the highest Injustice to the Inhabitants of this City, to suppose that the Exhibition of the Effigies last Monday Night, was generally approved here; and as Mr. Holt’s Representation of it may deceive Persons at a Distance; I am desired by the Magistrates to give you the Account of what passed, and to request your inserting it in your next paper.

Augustus Van Cortlandt, Town Clerk.
The city government insisted on this version of events:
On Friday the 12th Instant, the Mayor [Whitehead Hicks] had Intimations, that Effigies were intended to be exhibited that Evening: The Rest of the Magistrates were instantly summoned to meet him at the City-Hall; the Marshals and Constables were sent out to all Quarters of the Town for Intelligence; when there was no Prospect of their Appearance that Night, the Magistrates dispersed about nine o’Clock, resolving to visit their Wards the next Day for Inquiry, and discourage as much as possible the Execution of the Design.—

The Inhabitants, as far as the Magistrates could discover, seemed to be almost universally opposed to it; and the Mayor convened a Number of the Inhabitants to a Meeting with the Magistrates the same Evening, at the Hall, where a great Number attended, who, in general, declared their Disapprobation of such Proceedings, and promised to assist in preserving the Peace of the City.—

That on the Monday following, there being Cause to suspect the Promoters thereof would attempt to execute their Project, and Intelligence being obtained, that the Effigies intended to be exhibited, were in the Out-skirts of the Town, the Magistrates repaired in the Evening to the Neighbourhood suspected; the Persons concerned therein, as the Magistrates were informed, were thereby alarmed, and under Cover of the Night, went off with their Effigies into the City, with so much Precipitation, as to leave a Part of their Apparatus behind them.

That whole the Magistrates, with their Officers, were in the Neighbourhood suspected, they received an Account that the Effigies had made their Appearance near Peck’s Slip, and were going down Queen-street. The Magistrates immediately followed, and tho’ they lost no Time the Effigies were burnt, and the People dispersed, before they could overtake them.

The Parade was only through Part of one Street, so hastily performed, as not to be heard of by great Part of the City; and from the best information, they have Reason to believe, this whole Proceeding is disapproved of by the Majority of the Citizens
Boston’s seven selectmen were elected by the annual town meeting and usually on the same political side as the crowd, though more worried about the community’s image elsewhere and thus often more conservative.

In contrast, New York’s city government was headed by a mayor appointed by the royal governor. The common council consisted of an alderman and assistant elected by property-holders from each ward. The result was a government less inclined to allow public protests.

TOMORROW: John Holt’s vociferous response.

(The map above, courtesy of Untapped Cities, shows Peck’s Slip at the lower right and Queen Street, now Pearl Street in lower Manhattan.)

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