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, August 03, 2019

“The general Joy of this City”

On 31 July 1769 the Boston Gazette alerted its readers that Gov. Francis Bernard was leaving Massachusetts at last:
HIS EXCELLENCY sir FRANCIS BERNARD, BARONET OF NETTLEHAM IN LINCOLNSHIRE OLD ENGLAND, sails for London the first fair Wind.—NOTE, Nettleham is a poor obscure little Village, about as far from the City of London, as the Baronet’s Tom Trott of a Country House at Jamaica Pond is from Boston. The People at Nettleham subsist chiefly by carrying Garden Stuff to Lincoln; Here it may be presumed the Bart. learnt the little he knows of Gardening; but that he should set himself up for an Architect and Politician, is altogether unaccountable.
That gave the radical Gazette’s readers plenty of time to prepare for the news that the governor had indeed gone on aboard the navy ship Rippon, headed for London.

What’s more, the Gazette’s next issue noted, 1 August was also the anniversary of the Hanoverian succession back in 1714. That produced a lot to celebrate:
1. The Accession of the present Royal Family.
2. That the King has been graciously pleased to recall a very bad Governor.
3. The sure and certain Hopes that a very good one will be sent out, and placed in his Stead.
4. That a worse cannot be found on this Side ——, if there.
I suspect that blank meant “this side of Hell.”

That newspaper continued:
So soon as the Rippon was under Sail on Tuesday, the Cannon at the Castle were fired with Joy—The Union Flagg was displayed from LIBERTY-TREE, where it was kept flying ’till Friday.—Colours were also flung out from most of the Vessels in the Harbour—And from the Tops of the Houses in Town.—The Bells were rang, and Cannon fired incessantly ’till Sunset.—

In the Evening there was a Bonfire on Fort-Hill, and another in the Heights of Charlestown. The general Joy of this City was soon diffused through the neighbouring Towns, who gave similar Demonstrations of it. There was not the least Disorder committed, and the Night was the most quiet the Town has enjoyed since August, 1760, the Time of the Baronet’s Arrival here.
John Rowe’s diary indicates there was also “A Great Bonfire in King St.” That one was probably unauthorized and perhaps squelched by the authorities.

In the 3 August Boston News-Letter, Richard Draper acknowledged “the Ringing of Bells,—the displaying of Colours on Liberty-Tree, and on board several Vessels…& the Bonfire on Fort-Hill.” But he said he couldn’t print “any formal Account” of the celebration since “it could not be found upon Enquiry by whose Directions they were done; and it is said this Method of testifying their Joy was disapproved of by many Persons.”

The author of the Gazette account declared that he himself “was concerned, in promoting to his utmost, the Rejoicings on that Day.” Furthermore, if he’d known earlier “of the Endeavours of the Cabal, or the more dangerous Machinations of a few timid or trimming Whigs, to suppress every outward Token of Joy, he would have taken effectual Care that there should have been Bonfires on every Hill round Massachusetts-Bay.”

Because Bernard’s departure coincided with the Hanoverian anniversary, it’s impossible to say that all the patriotic celebration on 1 August was a response to the governor’s departure. The cannon fire from Castle William might have been a regular salute to a royal governor, but the Whigs certainly spun those shots as “fired with Joy.” And they left their British flag flying at Liberty Tree for days until the governor’s ship finally cleared the harbor.

Another way the Boston Whigs observed the importance of Bernard’s departure: the last dispatch of the Boston Whigs’ “Journal of Occurrences” or “Journal of the Times” was dated 1 Aug 1769. It began with a long excoriation of Gov. Bernard, then went on to describe his final confrontation with the General Court. The legislature, expecting him to leave, refused to vote him any more salary. The governor then prorogued the House until January, which the Whigs tried to spin as a sign of low confidence in his successor, Thomas Hutchinson.

TOMORROW: A Whig victory?


Chris Hurley of Woburn said...

One wonders what is F.B.'s connection to gardening.

J. L. Bell said...

That might refer to his country estate in Jamaica Plain.

As for architecture, Bernard designed Harvard Hall at the college in Cambridge.