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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Sunday, June 28, 2020

“Tom Gage’s Proclamation” Parodied

The Readex newspaper database I use offers this page from the 28 June 1775 issue of the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser.

In fact, it offers two images of this page, apparently identical.

Obviously, someone clipped an item out of the copy of that newspaper which was photographed decades ago for a microfilm publication and then digitized for this database. I hope there’s an intact copy of this printed sheet somewhere.

Fortunately, through other sources I confirmed what was missing (on this side). It was a response to the preceding item in that same newspaper, Gen. Thomas Gage’s 12 June proclamation of amnesty to anyone in arms against the Crown government except Samuel Adams and John Hancock.

Somebody went to great pains to parody the general’s announcement in rhymed verse:
Or blustering DENUNCIATION,
(Replete with Defamation,)
Threatning Devastation,
And speedy Jugulation,
Of the New-English Nation.---
Who shall his pious ways shun?

WHEREAS the Rebels hereabout,
Are stubborn still, and still hold out;
Refusing yet to drink their Tea,
In spite of Parliament and Me;
And to maintain their bubble, Right,
Prognosticate a real fight;
Preparing flints, and guns, and ball,
My army and the fleet to maul;
Mounting their guilt to such a pitch,
As to let fly at soldier’s breech;
Pretending they design’d a trick,
Tho’ order’d not to hurt a chick;
But peaceably, without alarm,
The men of Concord to disarm;
Or, if resisting, to annoy,
And ev’ry magazine destroy:---

All which, tho’ long oblig’d to bear,
Thro’ want of men, and not of fear;
I’m able now by augmentation,
To give a proper castigation;
For since th’ addition to the troops,
Now re-inforc’d as thick as hops;
I can, like Jemmy and the Boyne,
Look safely on---Fight you Burgoyne;
And mowe, like grass, the rebel Yankees.
I fancy not these doodle dances:---

Yet e’er I draw the vengeful sword,
I have thought fit to send abroad,
This present gracious Proclamation
Of purpose mild the demonstration,
That whosoe’er keeps gun or pistol,
I’ll spoil the motion of his systole;
Or, whip his breech, or cut his weason,
As haps the measure of his Treason:---

But every one that will lay down
His hanger bright, and musket brown,
Shall not be beat, nor bruis’d, nor bang’d,
Much less for past offences, hang’d;
But on surrendering his toledo,
Go to and fro unhurt as we do:---

But then I must, out of this plan, lock
For those vile traitors (like debentures)
Must be tuck’d up at all adventures;
As any proffer of a pardon,
Would only tend those rogues to harden:---
But every other mother’s son,
The instant he destroys his gun,
(For thus doth run the King’s command)
May, if he will, come kiss my hand.---

And to prevent such wicked game, as
Pleading the plea of ignoramus;
Be this my proclamation spread
To every reader that can read:---
And as nor law nor right was known
Since my arrival in this town;
To remedy this fatal flaw,
I hereby publish Martial Law.
Mean while let all, and every one
Who loves his life, forsake his gun;
And all the Council, by mandamus,
Who have been reckoned so infamous,
Return unto their habitation
Without or let or molestation.---

Thus, graciously, the war I wage,
As witnesseth my hand,---------TOM. GAGE.
By command of MOTHER CARY,
That’s the text as it was reprinted in the 10 July 1775 Norwich Packet. Many other American newspapers also picked up the poem. It was anthologized in the 1800s, often in rewritten forms. So far as I can tell, no one ever identified the poet.

Now for translations and annotations:
  • “Jugulation”: killing by cutting the throat.
  • “bubble”: a “false show,” one of several contemporaneous meanings provided by Dr. Samuel Johnson.
  • “Jemmy and the Boyne”: the 1690 battle where the forces of William and Mary defeated James II.
  • “doodle”: “A trifler; an idler,” wrote Dr. Johnson.
  • “systole”: heartbeat. 
  • “weason”: an old Scottish word for the throat or gullet. 
  • “toledo”: a well made Spanish sword. 
  • “debentures”: financial bonds. 
  • “Mother Cary”: a supernatural personification of the dangerous ocean. 


Don Carleton said...

Wondering if the phrase "His hanger bright, and musket brown," contains a riff on "Brown Bess" and is thus a rare contemporary reference to the term in colonial American (as opposed to British) discourse? I know you touched on this in a 2017 Boston 1775 blog entry.

J. L. Bell said...

Here “brown” seems to be chosen for the rhyme and as a contrast to “bright.” The scholarly thinking on “Brown Bess” is that use of “brown” meant common more than a particular color. But there could well be overlap.