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 24, 2016

“St. A Claus, was celebrated at Protestant-Hall”

In the 20 Dec 1773 New-York Gazette, alongside the first reports of the destruction of the tea in Boston harbor, printer Hugh Gaine ran this little item about a local event:
Last Monday [i.e., 13 December] the Anniversary of St. Nicholas, otherwise called St. A Claus, was celebrated at Protestant-Hall, at Mr. Waldron’s, where a great Number of the Sons of that ancient Saint celebrated the Day with great Joy and Festivity.
(Three days later, James Rivington put the same item in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, which sometimes gets him credit for the first American mention of “St. A Claus.” But Gaine’s paper was earlier.)

According to James Riker’s Annals of Newtown (1852), Samuel Waldron (1738-1799) was a blacksmith who lived in Newtown on Long Island, which is now part of Queens. In March 1771 Waldron hosted what looks like a similar gathering in honor of St. Patrick. I haven’t found any mention of his house or tavern being called “Protestant-Hall” except in connection with those banquets.

The photo above, from the collections of the New-York Historical Society, shows Waldron’s house in 1923. If he hosted the Sons of St. Nicholas in that building in 1773, then it was a significant location in the development of the American legend of Santa Claus.


not Bridget said...

A discursive essay from 1954 explains how the St Nicholas celebrations you mention were not ancient traditions of Old New Amsterdam--but responses by patriotic New Yorkers to St George dinners that celebrated English origins. And that seemed a bit Tory after the destruction of the tea. http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/knickerbocker/

The Dutch Reformed original (European) settlers of Manhattan were about as likely to bring their saints to the New World as the Puritans who settled to the North. As the city became more cosmopolitan, Saints Andrew, David & Patrick were honored by sons of Scotland, Wales & Ireland. After the sporadic S Claus celebrations noted, St George reigned in Occupied New York City.

In 1783, as news of the end of the Revolution--and of occupation--hit New York, a prosperous New York family named their new son "Washington." Washington Irving carried on with the invention of Santa Claus after the new century began....

J. L. Bell said...

The tradition of ethnic saints was stretched and parodied in the creation of “St. Tammany” just before the Revolution. This was supposedly a leader of the Delawares, and thus a symbol of America. The figure was adopted most strongly by New Yorkers in the early republic and eventually evolved into the political machine known as Tammany Hall.