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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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Citizens at Boston’s Civic Festival of 1793

I’m jumping around among multiple series here [whatever happened to the Saga of the Brazen Head?], but there’s no better date than 14 July to return to Boston’s celebration of republican France in 1793.

At the start of the month I quoted a suggestion in the 21 Jan 1793 Boston Gazette that the selectmen find a new name for the short street in central Boston called “Royal Exchange Lane.” The word “royal” was just so pre-Revolutionary.

That proposal appeared in the midst of reports on Bostonians preparing for a big “Civic Feast” celebrating how France had become a republic. The deposition of King Louis XVI meant that Americans could be grateful to the French nation for being a crucial ally in the war for independence without the awkwardness of supporting a despot far less constitutionally fettered than George III.

Boston’s civic holiday took place on Thursday, 24 January. That day’s Independent Chronicle reported one some of the events:
A large number of citizens will dine at Fanuiel [sic] Hall; notwithstanding which tables plentiously provided, will be laid in State Street; and whoever chooses may partake freely.

At the Stump of Liberty-Tree, an entertainment is providing for a large number of citizens, who usually have celebrated propitious events at that spot.

The Citizen Soldiers of the Independent Fusiliers, will dine at BRYANT’s Liberty Hall, Equality-Lane, (late Royal Exchange Lane.)
It looks like innholder John Bryant decided to rename the street his establishment stood on “Equality Lane” to reflect the new political ethos, even in advance of action by the selectmen.

The long, detailed report on the “CIVIC FESTIVAL!” in the 26 January Columbian Centinel showed how people were adopting that new name. That newspaper said the fusilier company “dined together at Citizen BRYANT’s, in Equality-lane.” Likewise, it referred to the nearby Dock Square as “Liberty-Square.”

Innkeeper Bryant wasn’t the only celebrant to receive the republican title “Citizen.” The newspaper reported that “citizen S[amuel]. Adams,” then lieutenant governor, presided over the feast in Faneuil Hall alongside “Citizen Letombe”—French consul Philippe André-Joseph de Létombe, who had started serving under the king and would remain in office through to the emperor. “Citizen [Josiah?] Waters” was marshal of the parade and oversaw the decorations. “Citizen [Samuel] Bradlee” commanded the company of artillery.

“Citizen Joseph Croswell, of Plymouth” provided the words of a hymn “To Liberty” while “Citizen [John] Woart” hosted another gathering at the Green Dragon Tavern where mechanics sang “God Save Great Washington.” Likewise, “Citizen Charles Jarvis,” soon to be one of Boston’s leading Jeffersonians, proposed a toast to President George Washington.

Most striking of all to me, this same page of the Columbian Centinel included a letter to the editor that proudly began “Citizen Russell.” Benjamin Russell (shown above in later life) and his newspaper would soon be pillars of the Federalist Party in New England. Yet in January 1793 they were going gaga over Revolutionary France.

Indeed, another news item on this page of the Centinel warned “24 Frenchmen” in Boston who had signed “A Protest against the French revolution” that they should be “upon their guard, in attempts of this nature,” and maintain “a respectful silence.” Nobody, not even Frenchmen, were supposed to criticize France as it finally became a republic.

COMING UP: Party poopers.

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