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, November 09, 2006

Where Was the Pretender on Pope Night?

Earlier in the week, I posted a woodcut showing Boston's Pope Night from the early 1760s. And earlier in the year, Al Young sent me an email asking why that picture shows the Pope and the Devil but not the third main figure in the night's pageantry: the Pretender, the Catholic claimant to the British throne.

The Pretender was prominent, and distinctively dressed, in London's 1713 Guy Fawkes Day procession, according to a newspaper description transcribed at Rictor Norton's great site on 18th-century England: "the Pretender on his [the Pope's] left, in a French dress, with a wooden shoe hanging on his left arm, and in his right hand a candle." (The same article renders the crowd's cries as: "No Popery, No Slavery, No Pretender, No Wooden Shoes." Were the shoes really that bad?)

I haven't found a Pope Night Pretender matching that description in New England sources. Scott McIntosh suggested one explanation in his Princeton undergraduate thesis in 1979: "it is not clear that [the Pretender] was featured in every procession; many accounts refer only to ‘Popes, Devils, &c,’ and a detailed account of the 1761 Pope’s Day is notable for its silence on the subject of the Pretender."

But three witnesses to the 1767 Pope Night do mention various Pretender effigies:

  • Ann Hulton, sister of Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton
  • Lord Sackville (later Lord Germain), apparently relying on an account from Customs Commissioner Charles Paxton
  • Pierre E. du Simitière in the captions for the drawings I mentioned yesterday wrote "the Pretender with a drum" beside his picture of the North End wagon
But I don't see anybody in du Simitière's pictures with a drum! So where were those Pretenders? Back after this important message.


Just arrived at my house this afternoon is Alfred F. Young's Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution. This NYU Press title collects updated versions of papers that Young has published over the course of his career, along with two new essays on the symbolism and memory of the Revolution.

The articles are "The Mechanics of the Revolution"; "'Persons of Consequence': The Women of Boston and the Making of the American Revolution, 1765-1776"; "Tar and Feathers and the Ghost of Oliver Cromwell"; "Conservatives, the Constitution, and the 'Genius of the People'"; "How Radical Was the American Revolution?"; "The Celebration and Damnation of Thomas Paine"; "The Freedom Trail"; and "Liberty Tree: Made in America, Lost in America."

Click on the cover image for more information from NYU Press.


Du Simitière's drawings of the 1767 Pope Night wagons do show men hanged in effigy. And William Tudor, Jr., in his 1823 biography of James Otis, Jr., described the Pope Night Pretender this way: "Next to the lantern, was a small figure meant for the Pretender, suspended to a gibbet."

So here's a theory. In Boston, the Pretender was always displayed hanged in effigy, not getting excited about wooden shoes. And in later years, on the big North End and South End wagons that hanged man—though still generically called the Pretender—was associated with other, more recent and closer enemies.

The earliest such enemy to enter the records was Admiral John Byng, executed (by firing squad, actually) for "not having done his utmost" in battle in 1757. (A hanged effigy of Admiral Byng also appeared in one of the earliest recorded scripts for a mummers' play around the same time.) A few years afterwards, the hanged figure became one of the Whigs' local foes. In 1767 it was Customs Commissioner Paxton. In 1769 it was printer John Mein. Later it was Judge Peter Oliver, Governor Thomas Hutchinson, eventually Lord North.
But in local parlance any man hanging in effigy and carried around on Pope Night was a "tender" or "Pretender." Does that work?

TOMORROW: The End of Pope Night.

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