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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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Jemmy’s in the Caucas, and Jemmy’s with the Reps

Yet another early mention of the Boston caucus! As the 1765 Massachusetts General Court elections approached, James Otis, Jr., was in political trouble. He’d been the Boston merchants’ most aggressive advocate and representative since 1761, when he argued the writs of assistance case. But in early 1765 his father had received a royal appointment, and Otis suddenly toned down his rhetoric.

Otis’s apparent flip-flopping was too easy a target for his old critic Samuel Waterhouse to pass by. The 13 May 1765 issue of the Boston Evening-Post included “Jemmibullero: A Fragment of an Ode of Orpheus,” ostensibly by “Peter Minim, Esq.” With a title alluding to the popular song “Lillibullero,” the verse went a little something like this:

And Jemmy is a lying dog, and Jemmy is a thief,
And Jemmy is a jury-mouther,—Jemmy spouts his brief,
And Jemmy is a grammar-smith, and Jemmy is a grub,
And Jemmy is a Cooper’s vessel—Jemmy is a tub.
Sing tititumti, tumtititi tititumti, tee,
And tumtititi, tititumti, tumtiprosodee.
And Jemmy’s a town-meeting man, & Jemmy makes a speech,
And Jemmy swears that LIBERTY and LIBERTY he’ll preach,
And Jemmy’s in the CAUCAS, and Jemmy’s with the REPS,
And all who’d rise as Jemmy rose must tread in Jemmy’s steps.
Sing tititumti, tumtititi tititumti, tee,
And tumtititi, tititumti, tumtiprosodee. . . .
As Jemmy is an envious dog, and Jemmy is ambitious,
And rage and slander, spite and dirt to Jemmy are delicious,
So Jemmy rail’d at upper folks while Jemmy’s DAD was out,
But Jemmy’s DAD has now a place, so Jemmy’s turn’d about.
Sing tititumti, tumtititi tititumti, tee,
And tumtititi, tititumti, tumtiprosodee.

Now Jemmy varies scrawl and talk, as answers Jemmy’s ends,
And MARTIN’s far-stretcht LIBERTY, COURT JEMMY reprehends,
And Jemmy is of this mind, & Jemmy is of that,
And Jemmy’d fain make something out, but Jemmy can’t tell what.
Sing tititumti, tumtititi tititumti, tee,
And tumtititi, tititumti, tumtiprosodee.
The name Orpheus might allude to an odd episode in Otis’s college days, thought to be his first episode of irrationality, when he compared himself to the legendary Greek musician. “Cooper’s vessel” probably refers to William Cooper, Boston’s town clerk. I don’t get the second line of verse VIII at all.

This attack on Otis actually seems to have benefited him. According to John Adams, writing in 1818, the Boston Whigs had been ready to withhold their support from Otis.
The public opinion of all the friends of their country was decided. The public voice was pronounced in accents so terrible, that Mr. Otis fell into a disgrace, from which nothing but Jemmibullero saved him.
The poem made Otis sympathetic again, and probably convinced voters that he would never find a home among friends of the royal government.

After yet another Evening-Post attack on Otis in 1766, he wrote to his sister, Mercy Warren (shown above), ostensibly addressing a concern of her husband, James (even though she was just as politically savvy):
Tell him to give himself no concern about the scurrilous piece in Tom Fleet’s paper; it has served me as much as the song did last year. The Tories are all ashamed of this as they were of that. The author is not yet certainly known, tho’ I think I am within a week of detecting him for certain. If I should, shall try to cure him once for all by stringing him up, not bodily, but in such a way as shall gibbet his memory to all generations in Terrorem.
It’s thought that the 1766 attack, like “Jemmibullero,” came from Samuel Waterhouse.

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