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.

Follow by Email


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

“In Bedlam’s lofty Numbers discordant Yankies Sing”

On the back of the sheet of paper giving the earliest lyrics of “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song,” which I believe is at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, someone has written another set of verses.

This side is headed “Massachusetts Liberty Song Paradized, April 1770,” which is helpful in showing not only when the parody appeared but also how early the lyrics must have been printed.

The parody of John Dickinson and Arthur Lee’s “Liberty Song” that appeared in 1768 had nothing good to say about the Boston Whigs opposing the royal government, but it treated them as a bunch, not naming names.

Whoever wrote this new parody quickly got personal:
In Bedlam’s lofty Numbers discordant Yankies Sing,
And twang in awful Ditty, God save our Gracious King
May they leave off their Canting, and with Devotion pray,
Have Mercy, Mercy, Mercy Lord on poor America.

Their Patron J——y O—s, that Sage of great renown,
Like Sheep he led the Rabble of this Siditious Town,
The Rostrum then he mounted, where he did loudly pray,
Defend, Defend, Defend my Boys, Defend America.
The initials leave no doubt the target of this verse is “Jemmy” or James Otis. At the time, he was in poor shape after his fight with Customs Commissioner John Robinson. But Otis was still the top enemy of the friends of government.
Next Independent Sammy, a Scribble in the cause,
An Enemy to Britain, to George and to his Laws,
Whose Rebel dictates all the Sons of Liberty obey
The Fools, the Fools, the Fools, the Fools of weak America.
“Sammy” is obviously Samuel Adams, already criticized for wanting to be “Independent.”
The Penman Great Humanus is ready at their call,
To sacrifice his Neighbour the Ministry to mall,
On him they blindly pin their Faith & great Dependance lay,
To purge, to purge, to purge, to purge oppress’d America.
In the Sparks Manuscripts at Harvard is a letter from innkeeper Richard Silvester identifying “Humanus” as a pen name for Dr. Benjamin Church. The doctor was indeed known for his writing, and his profession fits with the verb “purge.”
The puff’d Determinatus the mock-bird of the Throng
With rapture boasts the Power of his loquacious Tongue
Which tickles so the Vulgar they ready Homage pay,
This prating Oracle the pride of dup’d America.
“Determinatus” has long been identified as a pseudonym of Samuel Adams. Harbottle Dorr even appears to have written “S. Adams” atop Determinatus’s letter in the 8 Aug 1768 Boston Gazette. It’s curious, therefore, that this Loyalist writer treats “Determinatus” and Adams as separate newspaper essayists. There must be some confusion somewhere.
Great William their Commander, that Bully in disguize,
That well known bite of Yorkshire and Magazine of Lies,
That truly patriotic Man, who bellows Night and Day,
Confirm’d, Confirm’d, the Knave, the Knave of weak America.
This is definitely William Molineux. Printer John Mein called him “William the Knave” in pamphlets criticizing the non-importation movement in 1769. Molineux had come to Boston from Wolverhampton—not Yorkshire but only about a hundred miles away.
There’s busy Master Aaron, and many Worthies more,
As factious as the Gentry we’ve mention’d just before
Who strive with all their Mimic Might Old England low to lay,
And cry Rebel, Rebel, Rebel, Rebel America.
I’ll take a guess that “busy Master Aaron” is a reference to William Cooper, town clerk. He was brother to the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper, just as the Biblical Aaron was brother to Moses. But that’s a guess.
To scourge such disobedience, and crush these Mushroom Lords,
Let British Grenediers gird on their conjuring Swords,
Bra Donald frae, the Highlands, his Muckle Wanger Play
Adieu, Adieu, Adieu, Adieu, to lost America.
(I suspect the parodist meant “Hanger” instead of “Wanger.”)

Speaking so favorably of Scottish Highlanders was very unusual in Boston, even for people who opposed the local Whigs. That might indicate the author of this parody was Scottish himself, like Mein. By April 1770 he had been driven out of Boston by violence and lawsuits, so he had a lot to complain about.

TOMORROW: New lyrics on the eve of war.


Charles Bahne said...

John, It looks like the original document may be at the Library of Congress, part of their "Printed Ephemera Collection" [https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.03700400/]. I can't find it on the Historical Society of Pennsylvania website.

J. L. Bell said...

That page also includes the notation “Positive Photostat,” and the scanned document sure looks like a photostat instead of a piece of paper from 1770.

Meanwhile, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts’s 1980 volume on music says, “The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has a manuscript entitled Massachusetts Liberty Song Parodized, and the parody (a good one) is dated April 1770”—which sounds exactly like this document.

So what I think has happened is that the original document is in Philadelphia, but the H.S.P. hasn’t put it online yet. (I looked and didn’t find it, either.) Meanwhile, the Library of Congress obtained a photostat of the document sometime in the mid-1900s and did put that online as part of its specialized collection of ephemera.