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, October 19, 2008

Benedict Arnold in Effigy

As the 5th of November approaches, I invite new Boston 1775 readers to check out the Bostonian Society’s online exhibit about how New Englanders celebrated that holiday, which they called “Pope Night.” The day featured a wagon carrying effigies of the Pope and the Devil, along with the latest political enemies.

After independence, it was no longer politically appropriate for Americans to get excited about Parliament and a British king being preserved from a bomb. And with Catholic French allies helping to win the war, it was awkward to say that the Pope was in league with the Devil, even if many Americans still believed it.

But folks missed the Pope Night fun: parades, costumes, noise, burning someone in effigy! Fortunately, in 1780 Gen. Benedict Arnold (shown here, courtesy of the National Park Service) revealed himself as a traitor to the U.S. of A. So Americans had a new villain!

On 30 Sept 1780, Philadelphians held an anti-Arnold parade that borrowed a lot of the Pope Night imagery and customs. Here’s a detailed description from Boston’s Independent Chronicle, published on 19 Oct 1780:

A Concise DESCRIPTION of the FIGURES exhibited and paraded through the streets of this city on Saturday last.

A STAGE raised on the body of a cart, on which was an effigy of General ARNOLD sitting; this was dressed in regimentals, had two faces, emblematical of his traiterous conduct, a mask in his left hand, and a letter in his right from Belzebub, telling him that he had done all the mischief he could do, and now he must hang himself.

At the back of the General was a figure of the Devil, dressed in black robes, shaking a purse of money at the General’s left ear, and in his right hand a pitch-fork, ready to drive him into hell, as the reward due for the many crimes which his thirst of gold had made him commit.

In the front of the stage and before General Arnold was placed a large lanthorn of transparent paper, with the consequences of his crimes thus delineated, i. e. on one part General Arnold on his knees before the Devil, who is pulling him into the flames—a label from the General’s mouth with these words, “My fear Sir, I have served you faithfully;” to which the Devil replies, “and I’ll reward you.”

On the other side two figures hanging, inscribed, [“]The Traitor’s Reward,” and wrote underneath, “The Adjutant General of the British army, and Josh. Smith; the first hanged as a spy, and the other as a traitor to his country.” And on the front of the lanthorn was rote the following:...


“He has deserted the important post WEST-POINT, on Hudson’s River, committed to his charge by his Excellency the Commander in Chief, and is gone off to the enemy at New-York.

“His design to have given up this fortress to our enemies has been discovered by the goodness of the Omniscient Creator, who has not only prevented him carrying it into execution, but has thrown into our hands ANDRIE, the Adjutant General of their army, who was detected in the infamous character of a spy.

“The treachery of this ungreatful General is held up to public view, for the exposition of infamy; and to proclaim with joyful acclamation, another instance of the interposition of bounteous Providence.

“The effigy of this ingrate is therefore hanged (for want of his body) as a Traitor to his native country, and a Betrayor of the laws of honour.”

The procession began about four o’clock, in the following order:
Seated Gentlemen mounted on horseback.
A line of Continental Officers
Sundry Gentlemen in a line.
A guard of the City Infantry.
Just before the cart, drums and fifes playing the Rogue’s March.
Guards on each side.

The procession was attended with a numourous concourse of people, who, after expressing their abhorrence of the Treason and the Traitor, committed him to the flames, and left both the effigy and the original to sink into ashes and oblivion.
(Jacqueline Carr’s After the Siege says this parade took place in Boston, but the newspaper report was datelined Philadelphia. Another clue to the location is the word “city”; Boston was proud of still being a “town.”)

TOMORROW: Engraving this event.


pilgrimchick said...

I am familiar with the whole Pope Night activities--this is the first I have heard about them in a very long time. I thought it was a great bit of colonial cultural practice.

Great piece on Benedict Arnold.

Christina G. said...

I had done a much less detailed post on Arnold on my site,so this one caught my eye! Very interesting and enjoyable. Glad I came across "Boston 1775"...I'd never heard about that parade before.