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, November 05, 2011

Occupy King Street

The fifth of November,
As you well remember,
Was gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason,
Should ever be forgot.
But we might lose track of some details along the way.
For this Fifth of November—or “Pope Night,” as the holiday was called on pre-Revolutionary Boston broadsides—I’ve looked into how we got from the 1760s celebration pictured above to the “Guy Fawkes masks” used in today’s Anonymous and Occupy Wall Street movements.
I’ll start with a reminder that the Boston youth who circulated the broadside displaying the first picture had only a foggy memory of Guy Fawkes’s plot. They dated it to 1588 (the year of the Spanish Armada). There’s also no account of New Englanders parading with an effigy of Guy Fawkes. Boys on this side of the Atlantic preferred the Pope, the Devil, and the worst political enemies or scapegoats of the year. And of course the holiday became even more estranged from its roots after independence.

TOMORROW: What Guy Fawkes looked like in the 1800s.


John L. Smith said...

I think a young, burly Henry Knox became a popular lad during the Boston "Pope Night" gatherings?

J. L. Bell said...

According to later recollections, Knox saved the South End gang’s Pope wagon from tipping over when one of its wheels came off by holding up that corner of it with his shoulder. He was a big lad.

Anonymous said...

You really think that these Occupy idiots know about Guy Fawkes and what he believed? No! They are just using the masks for "V for Vendetta" (a very good movie, by the way).

J. L. Bell said...

As the posting pointed out, even back in the 1760s Americans celebrating on the Fifth of November had become hazy on the details of the Guy Fawkes plot.

Like the Tea Party protesters who dress in colonial garb and believe that the Founding Fathers had clear, unified opinions on capital-gains taxes, government health care, and the national debt, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are using an interpretation of history.

Over the next few postings I want to trace how the iconography and symbolic meaning of Guy Fawkes changed over time.