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, November 06, 2019

“Description of the POPE, 1769.”

The Fifth of November was a festival of misrule for eighteenth-century colonial Boston, which locals called “Pope Night.” But the celebration actually followed many strict traditions.

One was that when 5 November fell on a Sunday, as it did in 1769, the holiday was put off until the following day. Thus, Boston’s youth remembered the Fifth of November exactly 250 years ago today.

Another tradition was that the Pope Night wagons would feature effigies of the Devil, the Pope, and one or two hanged men whose identities changed from year to year to keep up with the biggest political enemies.

In 1769 the obvious choice was printer and bookseller John Mein. Since August he had been angering the town’s mercantile and political community. On 28 October he had, in a confrontation with some of those merchants, drawn a pistol and reportedly fired it in the center of town. He then went into hiding, refusing to answer a lawful warrant.

The Pope Night wagons rolled out ten days later. The newspapers and this broadside reported that the following text appeared on the big “lanthorn” (basically a small tent with sides of oiled paper, lit from within) of a main wagon:
Toasts on the Front of the large Lanthorn.
Love and Unity. — The American Whig. —
Confusion to the Torries, and a total Banishment to Bribery and Corruption.

On the right side of the same. —An Acrostick.
J nsulting Wretch, well him expose,
O ’er the whole World his Deeds disclose,
H ell now gaups wide to take him in,
N ow he is ripe, Oh Lump of Sin.
M ean is the Man, M[ei]N is his Name,
E nough he’s spread his hellish Fame,
I nfernal Furies hurl his Soul,
N ine Million Times from Pole to Pole.

Labels of the Left Side.
Now shake, ye Torries! see the Rogue behind,
Hung up a Scarecrow, to correct Mankind.
Oh had the Villain but receiv’d his Due,
Himself in Person would here swing in View
But let the Traitor mend within the Year,
Or by the next he shall be hanging here.
Ye Slaves! ye Torries who infest the Land,
And scatter num’rous Plagues on ev’ry Hand,
Now we’ll be free, or bathe in honest Blood;
We’ll nobly perish for our Country’s Good,
We’ll purge the Land of the infernal Crew,
And at one Stroke we’ll give the Devil his Due.

Labels on each Side the Small Lanthorn.
WILKES and LIBERTY, No. 45.

See the Informer how he stands, If any one now takes his Part,
An Enemy to all the Land, He’ll go to Hell without a Cart
May Discord cease, in Hell be jam’d,
And factious fellows all be dam’d.
From B------- [Bernard?], the veriest monster on earth,
The fell production of some baneful birth,
These ills proceed,—from him they took their birth,
The Source supreme, and Center of all Hate.
If I forgive him, then forget me Heaven,
Or like a WILKES may I from Right be driven.
Here stands the Devil for a Show,
With the I--p---rs [Importers?] in a row,
All bound to Hell, and that we know.
Go M[ei]n lade deep with Curses on thy head,
To some dark Corner of the World repair,
Where the bright Sun no pleasant beams can shed,
And spend thy Life in Horror and Despair.

Effigies,—M[ei]n, his Servant, &c.—A Bunch of TOM-CODS.
I take “his Servant” to mean the “young Lad (belonging to the Office)” who had fired out of Mein’s print shop at the previous procession. How nice that his fellow teenagers remembered him.

The celebrants also made sure to mention George Gailer (“the Informer”) and the departed royal governor, Francis Bernard.

With this holiday coming so soon after the busy 28th of October, town authorities feared that it would be especially rowdy. But channeling public anger at those vanquished political enemies made the holiday a little more orderly than it had been before the Stamp Act.

TOMORROW: Naming names.

[The picture above is a sketch of the South End’s Pope in 1767 by Pierre Eugène du Simitière, now in the collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.]

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