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, May 19, 2016

John Hancock and “the Brilliancy of the Night”

The 19 May 1765 Boston Gazette offered a brief description of the very start of that day’s town-wide observance of the end of the Stamp Act. But the issue one week later devoted almost a full page to celebrating the celebration:
The Morning was ushered in with Musick, Ringing of Bells, and the Discharge of Cannon, the Ships in the Harbour and many of the Houses in Town being adorned with Colours

Joy smil’d in every Countenance, Benevolence, Gratitude and Content seemed the Companions of all. By the Generosity of some Gentlemen remarkable for their Humanity and Patriotism, our Goal was freed of Debtors.—
A later item in the paper credited the idea of paying off what the jailed debtors owed to “a fair Boston Nymph.” The action no doubt resonated strongly in a society that knew the Old Testament concept of a jubilee, not to mention a recent bankruptcy crisis.
At One o’clock the Castle and Batteries, and Train of Artillery fired a Royal Salute; and the Afternoon was spent in Mirth and Jollity.—In the Evening the whole Town was beautifully Illuminated:—

On the Common the Sons of Liberty erected a magnificent Pyramid, illuminated with 280 Lamps: The four upper Stories of which were ornamented with the Figures of their Majesties, and fourteen of the worthy Patriots who have distinguished themselves by their Love of Liberty.
The newspaper offered a detailed description of the obelisk shown yesterday and all the text painted on it. As I noted, its wooden frame was covered with paper rubbed with oil to become translucent so the structure could glow from within.
On the Top of the Pyramid was fix’d a round Box of Fireworks horizontally. About one hundred Yards from the Pyramid the Sons of Liberty erected a Stage for the Exhibition of their Fireworks, near the Work-House, in the lower Room of which they entertained the Gentlemen of the Town.

John Hancock, Esq; who gave a grand and elegant Entertainment to the genteel Part of the Town, and treated the Populace with a Pipe of Madeira Wine, erected at the Front of his House, which was magnificently illuminated, a Stage for the Exhibition of his Fireworks, which was to answer those of the Sons of Liberty:
The spring of 1766 marked the start of Hancock’s political career. In March the town meeting made him a selectman for the first time. In May a more exclusive town meeting elected him to the Massachusetts General Court. From then on, Hancock never lost a popular vote he really wanted to win.
at Dusk the scene opened by the Discharge of twelve Rockets from each Stage; after which the Figures on the Pyramid were uncovered, making a beautiful Appearance.—To give a Description of the great Variety of Fireworks exhibited from this Time till Eleven o’clock would be endless—the Air was filled with Rockets—the Ground with Bee-hives and Serpents—and the two Stages with Wheels of Fireworks of various sorts.

Mr. [James] Otis and some other Gentlemen who lived near the Common kept open House, the whole Evening, which was very pleasant; the Multitudes of Gentlemen and Ladies, who were continually passing from one Place to another, added much to the Brilliancy of the Night:

At Eleven o’clock the Signal being given by a Discharge of 21 Rockets, the horizontal Wheel on the Top of the Pyramid or Obelisk was play’d off, ending in the Discharge of sixteen Dozen of Serpents in the Air, which concluded the Shew.

To the Honor of the Sons of Liberty we can with Pleasure inform the World, that every Thing was conducted with the utmost Decency and good Order, not a Reflection cast on any Character, nor the least Disorder during the whole Scene.—

The Pyramid, which was designed to be placed under the Tree of Liberty, as a standing Monument of this glorious Æra, by accident took Fire about One o’clock, and was consumed:—The Lamps by which it was illuminated not being extinguished at the Close of the Scene it is supposed to have taken Fire by some of them.
That left the Sons of Liberty, or Loyall Nine, with no monument to install at Liberty Tree.

TOMORROW: While those men worked on that problem, there were celebrations in nearby towns.

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