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, December 31, 2011

“Hail now the joyful day!”

It’s a Boston 1775 tradition each New Year’s season to quote one of the verses that printers’ apprentices carried around and distributed at that time of year, soliciting tips.

This year’s verse comes from the shop of the Pennsylvania Evening Post, which Benjamin Towne (c. 1740-1793) launched in January 1775—a most newsworthy year, as it turned out. Philadelphia was the largest and most dynamic city in British North America, so Towne had a lot of competition. His strategy was to publish three times a week instead of just once or twice, and to support the radical Whigs.

The year of 1776 brought for American Whigs the best of times (British forces leaving Boston and Charleston, the Congress declaring independence, new state governments being established) and the worst of times (British forces coming back to New York, driving the Continental troops through New Jersey, and threatening Philadelphia). But the American victory at Trenton took some of the pressure off, so the newspaper boys could feel optimistic.

This is what they came up with for New Year’s 1777.

New-Year’s Verses
Addressed to the CUSTOMERS of
By the PRINTER’s LADS who carry it.

Hail! O America!
Hail now the joyful day!
Exalt your voice,
Shout, George is King no more,
Over this western shore;
Let him his loss deplore,
While we rejoice.
You know, I think this is written to the tune of “God Save the King.” Kind of ironic.

The Latin tag in the next verse was translated as “He who transplanted us hither will support us” by a helpful footnote on the broadside.
Now in thy banner set,
Transtulet sustinet;
God is our King,
Who does in mercy deign,
Over us for to reign,
And our just rights maintain,
His praises sing.

O may he deign to bless,
The great and each Congress,
Of this our land,
With wisdom from on high,
And unanimity,
To save our liberty,
Nobly to stand.

And on the virt’ous head,
Abundant blessings shed,
Of Washington;
Give him to know thy will,
Fill him with martial skill,
His station to fill,
’Till glory’s won.

And may our Gen’rals all,
Officers great and small,
Be Heaven’s care:
Within the hostile field,
Guard them with thine own shield,
While they the sword do wield,
In this great war.

O may our men be spar’d,
If not for death prepar’d;
Lord hear our cry,
Let us behold thy face,
And taste of thy rich grace,
While we this earth do trace,
Before we die.

And to thee th’ Lord of host,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
We’ll give all praise,
And ever magnify,
Honor and glorify,
To all eternity,
And never cease.
Of course, in September 1777 the British army whupped the Americans at Brandywine and occupied Philadelphia for that winter.

TOMORROW: What did that mean for Benjamin Towne?


Anonymous said...

Nice to start the morning with a song.

Unknown said...

I love the acknowledgment of God's involvement in our nation's founding. I'm contemplating putting this verse in my blog (mentioning, of course, having found it through yours). Very inspirational!

J. L. Bell said...

You may want to wait a day. Towne and his staff definitely played to their audience.