Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guest Post: Jack-Boots and Broken Windows

Over the next few days, I will be featuring the work of several talented undergraduates who have agreed to have their research projects featured as guest posts. The papers are longer than normal posts, but I thought that readers of this blog might be interested in reading more about Revolutionary-era Boston. All formatting errors are mine — I lost some details (such as italics) in the transfer from Word to Blogger.

Today's guest poster is Allan Bradley, who used John Boyle's journal to examine popular resistance to the Stamp Act.

On the night of November 5th, 1764, rough Boston maritime workers divided into two mobs, the North End and the South End, and each built a cart carrying an effigy of the Pope. After darkness fell, they engaged in a violent battle, each side attempting to steal the other’s cart and effigy.  After half an hour of combat with clubs, staves, and brick-bats, the South End captured the North End’s effigy and burned both on Boston Neck.  It was a yearly ritual; each November 5th, the Pope met the same fiery fate at the hands of the working men of Boston, who fought for the privilege of burning the effigy of that hated enemy to English liberty.  Pope’s Day of 1764 was particularly violent, and a young printer’s apprentice named John Boyle recorded in his journal: “A Child of Mr. Brown’s at the North-End run over by one of the Wheels of the North-End Pope and killed on the Spot.  Many others were wounded in the evening.” [1]

Less than a year later, on the morning of August 14th, 1765, an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the official intended to distribute stamped paper as part of a new tax on the colonies by the British Parliament, appeared hanging in an elm tree on the corner of Newbury and Essex Streets.  At the end of the day, the effigy was taken down and burned on Fort Hill, adjacent Oliver’s home.  John Boyle again recorded the event in his journal, writing of the “Spirit of Patriotism” that diffused through the city.[2]   This patriotism was no longer directed against the enemies of English liberty; now, the Crown itself was the enemy, and English patriotism had been replaced with American patriotism.

Ten years and many effigies later, the Revolutionary War began, and the “Spirit of Patriotism” of John Boyle’s journal produced a new nation.  Much has been made of the great political arguments of the day, in pamphlets, newspapers, and the traditional halls of power, but the effigies have, for the most part, been relegated to the place of brief anecdotes providing a colorful backdrop for more serious debates.  However, in the journal of that young printer’s apprentice, John Boyle, those effigies were not background events but were, indeed, the central story in the years of nascent rebellion.  Taken seriously, Boston’s street-level crowd action may be understood as its own medium of political discourse, in which the working class, literates and illiterates together, argued against the power of Parliament using a vocabulary of potent symbolism.  A serious study of their argument reveals a vital popular element in the birth of the American Revolution.

John Boyle serves as a useful point of entry into Boston’s street because he was a man halfway between the working class and the educated upper class.  Boyle was an apprentice to John Green, printer of the Boston Post Boy, one of four newspapers printed in Boston at the time. [3]   Boyle, Green, and the press lived on Queen Street, within sight of the State House or ‘Townhouse’ as it was called, and less than a quarter mile from Boston’s Long Wharf. [4] His journal, held by Harvard University’s Houghton Library, is not a personal diary but a record of events in Boston, from 1759 to 1778.  Most of his entries were copied with small moderations out of various Boston newspapers, principally his master’s paper the Post Boy, but he could not resist the temptation to record personal events like a diarist.  His first reference to himself, on the thirty-eighth page, concerns his inoculation against smallpox on March 10th, 1764, just a week before his eighteenth birthday. [5]  Boyle’s preference to news entries over diary entries prompted him to record even his own marriage in 1772 in the third person: “Married, Mr John Boyle, Printer and Stationer, aged 25, to Miss Caelia Gay, aged 20, Daughr of Capt. Martin Gay.  A young Lady peculiarly qualified to render the Marriage State agreable.” [6]

Boyle’s motives for keeping such a journal remain unclear, but his handwritten title page, “A Journal of Occurrences in Boston,” provides a clue: this title was used in 1768 for a serialized newspaper account of the street-level clashes between Bostonians and the British troops stationed among them.  It appeared under various names in a number of different newspapers in New York, Philadelphia, and Salem, and Boyle probably read it in the Boston Evening Post, where it appeared in installments between December of 1768 and December of 1769 under the title, “The Journal of the Times.” [7]   It was a piece of patriotic propaganda, now often attributed to Samuel Adams, and John Boyle was so captivated by it that he cut it out and pasted it, column by column, into two volumes, also held at Houghton Library. [8]  In this context, Boyle’s own “Journal” makes a bit more sense.  In 1759, as a twelve-year-old apprentice, he began collecting Boston’s news for reasons unknown, perhaps making notes, week by week.  In 1769, inspired by the example of Adams’s “Journal of the Times,” he began transcribing his own notes and clippings into a handsome bound volume, leaving his original phrases more or less intact. [9]

The product is not a piece of propaganda but a record of the ordinary, such as marriages and obituaries, plus whatever caught John Boyle’s eye.  From 1759 to 1763, a number of entries show a boyish fascination with the American officers fighting the French, particularly one Major Rogers. [10] Boyle had a tendency to record the sensational, including rape cases and the occasional tidbit of amusing gossip, such as the dry observation, upon the death of a former Surveyor-General, “Tis conjectured by those who knew him, that a quantity of Maderia Wine equal to what he has drank, would be Sufficient to float a 74 Gun Ship.” [11] Besides the rote and the eye-catching, Boyle occasionally recorded personal events, such as his inoculation against smallpox, his marriage in 1772, and his purchase of his own set of printing materials in February of 1771.  Throughout the journal, Boyle parroted the papers, but alert comparisons to those papers often reveal original sentences which reflect hearsay or his personal opinion.  The journal, then, is one man’s take on the events in Boston, and it reflects the emotions and biases of the author as surely, if not as deeply, as an intimate diary.

Approaching Boyle’s journal with the intent of learning more about the origins of the American Revolution, the earliest foreshadowing of the rebellion to come may be found on May 7th, 1764.  Boyle wrote: “An Act of Parliament is now pending for levying certain Stamp-Duties in the American Colonies.” [12] Boyle could have learned this from the newspaper, but it seems unlikely.  Never before had he copied legislative notes from the Post Boy, and his phrasing was original.   Rather, news of the pending Stamp Act must have been a topic of conversation around the streets of Boston, and as passage and enforcement of the Stamp Act drew nearer, it was from the perspective of the street that Boyle continued to tell the story.  On May 27th, 1765, he noted that official passage of the Stamp Act had arrived. [14]  Starting on November 1st of that year, any paper for most commercial and legal uses would require a stamp, to be purchased from an official at a relatively low price.

However, no stamp duties were ever collected in Boston under the 1765 Stamp Act.  On the morning of August 14th, the effigies of Andrew Oliver the stamp officer and Lord Bute, the “Supposed Instigator of the Act,” were found hanging from one of the great elms on the corner of Essex and Newbury Streets. [15]  Boyle exultantly recorded “a vast Number of Spectators” and their “Spirit of Patriotism.”  Around sunset, the two effigies were cut down and placed on a bier.  Six men, followed by “a great Concourse of People, some of the highest Reputation,” carried the effigy straight into the center of town and down King-Street toward the Long Wharf.  From there they proceeded to Andrew Oliver’s dock, where they set upon a small building which was rumored to soon become a Stamp-Office, “which they speedily levelled with the ground.”  Gathering up the timber from the demolished building, they built a bonfire on top of nearby Fort Hill, next to Oliver’s home, and burned both effigies “amidst the Acclamations of Thousands of Spectators.”  Not quite spent, many revelers then pulled down Oliver’s garden fence, “entered his House, drank some of his Wine, and broke some of his Windows.” [16]

To understand this event as John Boyle understood it requires first to place it in perspective within the journal.  Starting at the beginning of the year, 1765, Boyle’s longest entry before August 14th was the obituary of the misadventured surveyor general who drank enough wine to float a 74-gun ship.  Of the twenty-five entries between January 1st and August 14th, thirteen were obituaries, two were marriage notices, four reported accidental city fires (three minor fires in Boston, one fire that devastated Montreal), and the other six were miscellaneous items including passage of the Stamp Act, a public whipping, and an Indian preacher’s visit to a local meeting house. [17]  Boyle worked with a printing press which published numerous political arguments on the subject of the Stamp Act, but what galvanized him into his longest journal entry yet that year was not anything in print; his own “Spirit of Patriotism” was aroused on the corner of Essex and Newbury, while he stared up at two effigies hanging from an elm tree.  This simple observation must prompt a profound shift in historical focus.  Historian Bernard Bailyn based his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution,” on the so-called Great Pamphlet War, in which educated men exchanged heated but well-reasoned words on the Stamp Act and a host of other subjects pertinent to the conflict between Britain and the colonies.  But John Boyle was unimpressed by these pamphlets.   Out of the 197 handwritten pages in his journal, only a single three-line entry mentions the pamphlet war. [18]  By contrast, Boyle’s words on August 14th, 1765, together with rich descriptions of subsequent similar events, were expansive and patriotically engaged with the proceedings.  To Boyle, there was no more central plot line in the growing revolution than the performances of the street.

To help explain how effigies, bonfires, and the breaking of a few of Oliver’s windows could hold a place of such cultural primacy, especially over the admittedly rich literature of revolutionary discourse concurrently produced in print, we need to consider the world of cultural traditions the effigies drew on, in particular, the Western European traditions of Carnival and charivari.  Carnival was a festival, lasting from Christmas to Lent, of food, sex, and violence.  It was a time of excess before the austerity of Lent, and as such, revelers had greater license to be violent and libidinous.  This Carnival spirit even allowed ordinary people to criticize authority without fearing retribution. [19]  Maskers, safe behind the double protection of a mask and the freer standards of Carnival itself, could insult individuals and criticize their social superiors.  European officials were tolerant of the excess, even the political dissent, because they understood Carnival as a safety valve for the release of lower class resentment against rigid hierarchy.  In a sense, Carnival became both social protest and social control; after the anger was vented during Carnival, the social status quo was then strengthened by a strict return to hierarchical norms with the beginning of Lent. [20]  Carnival became an unofficial yet customary way for the working classes to air their grievances.

Charivari, a ritual of public shaming directed at an individual deserving of scorn or indignation, was common way to express those grievances.  A charivari could take many forms; the most basic was a mocking serenade outside the object’s house.  Occasionally the individual would be mounted backwards on an ass and paraded around town, a practice sometimes called skimmington. [21]  Many variant forms of the charivari included a public parade or mock funeral using an effigy, followed by the destruction of the effigy.  The target was most often a man with an adulterous wife, but it could also be directed at unpopular tax collectors, landlords, or preachers. [22]  Charivari’s function as social control was more explicit than that of Carnival, because it was frequently a way to enforce community norms against a deviant by exhibiting that deviant in public parade, but when directed against a political figure like a tax collector or other official, it became the most potent form of political protest allowed to the lower classes.

Although this medium of protest was unofficial and veiled amidst the symbolism of effigies and parody, it could still have a powerful impact.  Historian Robert Darnton, to cite one well-known example, describes how journeyman and apprentice printers in France staged a mock trial of cats as a means of obliquely attacking their master.  Killing the master’s wife’s cat was the sharpest insult of the affair, in part because cats often served as symbols of sexuality.  The journeymen and apprentices were performing a festive, symbolic rape of the master’s wife, and because the insult was phrased using entirely symbolic vocabulary, the master could not fire or discipline the workers.  As Darnton observes, “To pull off such a feat required great dexterity.  It showed that workers could manipulate symbols in their idiom as effectively as poets did in print.” [23]  The popular symbolic vocabulary of Carnival and charivari could have real social and political implications.

Though Protestant Boston would never have a Catholic Carnival on the scale of the Catholic countries of Western Europe, Boston did have parallel traditions which served a similar societal purpose, and they could draw on this language of symbolism as effectively as the printers in Darnton’s study.  Pope’s Day itself was both Carnival and charivari.  Every November 5th, effigies of the Pope, seated, with the Devil behind him, were set up on a cart.  The cart as a whole was called a ‘pope,’ and every November, several popes would be pulled through town, each attended by a procession of rowdies.  The more elaborate popes had boys hidden below the stage, operating rods stuck through the figures so that the Pope’s head could turn and the Devil might look about as he passed.  At the end of the night, following much drinking and merriment, the effigies would be burned, and thus the enemies of the public received their public shaming and punishment. [24]

Much of Pope’s Day’s cultural resonance came from its history; it was the American version of England’s Guy Fawkes Day, which celebrated the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 to kill King James I and replace him with a Catholic monarch. [25]   As the Boston Evening Post observed approvingly in 1764, the purpose of Pope’s Day was that “the Minds of the Vulgar” would be “impress’d with a Sense of their Deliverance from Popery.” [26]  As charivari, it indicated that the Pope and the Devil were hated figures whose values were inconsistent with the Boston community, so overall, the annual ritual became an expression of English liberty as expressed through anti-Popery.  Even as the ritual evolved and it became customary to conclude Pope’s Day with a violent street battle between the North and the South Ends, the focus remained on English liberty: as the popes were displayed in the street, a bell-ringer often led the procession with the famous rhyme: “Don’t you remember / The fifth of November, / The Gunpowder Treason and Plot? / I see no reason / Why Gunpowder Treason / Should ever be forgot.” [27]  After 1701, it became customary to add the effigy of The Pretender to the cart alongside the Pope and Devil, another Catholic enemy to be shamed by Boston’s commoners. Finally and perhaps most tellingly, any given year a new public enemy  du jour could be added in effigy to the cart. [28] All told, Pope’s Day was an annual, Carnivalesque charivari which simultaneously declared the English identity of its rough participants and provided a venue for the public to label any contemporary individual as deserving of indignation.

Thus, in August of 1765, the Boston public was well versed in the symbolic vocabulary of the charivari, and the sight of Andrew Oliver and Lord Bute hanged in effigy from an elm tree would have immediately evoked associations with many Pope’s Days past in the mind of a nineteen-year-old John Boyle, who recorded the event in the terms of a charivari.  He noted that the effigies were prompted by “a general Uneasiness among the People” over the imminent Stamp Act, emphasizing the community as author to the events.  When the effigies were taken down at sunset, they were “placed on a Bier, supported in Procession by 6 Men,” creating a mock funeral, one of many variant forms of charivari.  While there may not have been an effigy of the Pope present, the sight of a group of rowdy people carrying two effigies through the streets had an established meaning in Boston: this was a public condemnation of the enemies of English liberty, and their fate was sealed.  Improvising slightly with the symbolic idiom, the crowd used wood from the supposed stamp-office to fuel the bonfire, and, following the usual script, the effigies were burned “amidst the Acclamations of Thousands of Spectators.” [29]  The spectacle was a resounding success.  Oliver and Bute were now enemies to the colonists’ sense of liberty – a sense of liberty which suddenly felt much less English.

Boyle’s journal offers another unique perspective into the style of the August 14th charivari because his journal, as a private record, could include details which the papers were forced to omit.  Boyle identified the effigies of Andrew Oliver and Lord Bute by name, unabbreviated, while neither his paper the Post Boy nor the Boston Gazette explicitly identified either one.  The Gazette described the two effigies as, “the Effigy of a Gentleman sustaining a very unpopular Office, viz. that of St--p Master [...] together with a Boot, wherein was concealed a young Imp of the D---l peeping out of the Top.” [30]  The Post Boy wrote, “two Effigies, one of which by the Labels appeared to be designed to represent a Stamp Officer, the other a jack-boot with a Head and Horns peeping out of the Top.” [31]  This restraint played to the winking nature of the entire event; everyone knew exactly who the effigies were, but it could not be put in print.  Boyle, writing in a private journal, was free to record their names.

 Even when the mob forced their way into Oliver’s house, drank some of his wine, and broke some of his windows, they were acting according to a traditional script of symbolic argument.  While it would be a mistake to downplay the violence of the mob and the threat of further violence implicit in every broken window, neither should any moral judgment against the destruction of property obscure our understanding of its role as a form of symbolic social protest.  Peter Burke, historian of the popular culture of early modern Europe, including Carnival and charivari, describes a mob in Palermo in 1647 which set out to burn down the house of an unpopular official in response to a spike in the cost of bread.  They only succeeded in breaking a few windows, but their point was made.  As Burke writes, their property destruction “might be interpreted as the expression of their fury, but [might be interpreted] equally well as an attempt to put pressure on the government in an unofficial yet customary way.” [32]  The work of Robert Blair St. George supports the latter understanding.  After analyzing how a house could be a metaphoric representation of the body and analyzing the same events that Boyle recorded, St. George concluded, “Attacking a house was not merely an act of frenzied vandalism.”  Rather, “It was an expressive form of planned symbolic violence that called attention to the fact that the victim was no longer acting in a morally responsible way.” [33]  In this sense, the invasion of Oliver’s home was a natural extension of the more conventional ritual of effigy.  Both the ritual immolation and the broken windows operated on a symbolic level, identifying Oliver as an enemy to the common interest.  In St. George’s understanding of colonial America, a wide variety of public acts, not of the precise form of the charivari, functioned as metaphor: “warnings, effigy hangings, mock funerals and parades, the actual assaults on the buildings themselves, and then pious claims by the victims for remuneration for damages sustained.” [34]  Symbolic implication is especially obvious in the case of the charivari, but any public performance made a statement on the same symbolic level, using the same cultural vocabulary, whether through property destruction or a genteel parade.  Rather than forcing all of these types of performances into the category of charivari, ‘street theater’ would perhaps be a better catch-all term, and on August 14th, Boston’s street theater had risen emphatically to life.

The next public performance followed hard on the heels of August 14th.  Andrew Oliver had publicly resigned his office, but the Stamp Act was still scheduled to go into effect on the 1st of November. [35]  On August 26th, 1765, the mob erupted against the supposed supporters of the act.  According to John Boyle’s entry, around six o’clock in the evening, “a large Body of People” met in King Street.  Just after dark, they “made an Attack upon the Dwelling House of William Story,” Deputy-Register of the Court of Admiralty, and damaged his furniture.  They then moved on to the house of Benjamin Hallowell, Comptroller of His Majesty’s Customs, and “served that in the like Manner.”  Finally, they entered the home of Thomas Hutchinson, Lieutenant Governor of the Province, “and destroyed almost every Article therein, leaving nothing standing but the bare Walls.” [36]  If anything, Boyle understated the violence done to Hutchinson’s house.  According to an account published in the Post Boy, the mob used Hutchinson’s furniture as clubs to break his windows, until all of his furniture and every window was destroyed.  They even went so far as to “deliberately cut down the Cupola or Lantern on Top of the House, and uncover [a] great part of the Roof.” [37]

Granted, the violent, systematic destruction of Thomas Hutchinson’s house was a violent assault on private property, but bearing in mind the symbolic vocabulary in which the Boston mob was used to speaking, it is more usefully understood as a statement. [38]  Again, the differences between Boyle’s journal and the newspaper accounts are revealing, and in this particular case, Boyle’s account is one of his few substantial entries from 1759 to 1768 which is not obviously a paraphrase or reproduction of a newspaper column.  The most important sentence is his last.  After a brief, neutral description of the destruction, Boyle wrote: “The above Persons were supposed to be inimical to [their] Country.” [39]  With this terse sentence, Boyle cast the entire night not as rampant violence but as a political statement about enemies to the country.  No public source could offer a similar defense of the mob; instead, the newspapers oozed with hyperbolic indignation.  The Post Boy called the destruction “very extraordinary and alarming Proceedings in [dive]rs Parts of this Town,” and the Boston Gazette, usually a strident voice of American patriotism, began its column, “Such horrid Scenes of Villainy as were perpetrated last Monday Night it is certain were never seen before in this Town, and it is hop’d never will again.” [40] On the next day, August 27th, Boyle wrote, “The Inhabitants of the Town assembled in Town-Meeting [...] and highly disapproved of the outrageous Proceedings of the last Evening, and unanimously voted to have a Military Watch, till the present unruly Spirit shall subside.” [41]

But perhaps this public outrage masked a private delight; after all, when a supposed ringleader named Ebenezer MacIntosh was arrested, several gentlemen advised the sheriff that if MacIntosh were not released, the military watch promised by the town meeting would not appear.  The sheriff released MacIntosh, and no individuals ever stood trial for the violence of August 26th. [42]  The mob had spoken through violent street theater, and they had gotten away with it.  Thomas Hutchinson, Benjamin Hallowell, and William Story stood accused of supporting the Stamp Act and being enemies to their countrymen, and they stood powerless to bring any of their antagonists to justice.  Like the printers in Darnton’s anecdote from France who killed the mistress’s cat and then blithely claimed that they had too much respect for the house to commit such an act, the Boston street had produced ritual destruction, then pretended to be horrified.

Of course, part of this horror must have been real.  After all, the goal for most was not yet revolution; it was merely opposition to the Stamp Act, and property destruction on the scale of August 26th was a real threat to peace and order.  A counterpoint was needed, and street theater was again the medium of choice.  John Boyle wrote that on November 1st, 1765, the day the Stamp Act was supposed to go into effect, the day began with “the melancholy blast of the Conq-Shell” and “a funebral [sic] Tolling of Bells.”  Shops were shut and ships’ colors flown at half-mast “in token of Lamentation and Mourning.”  Before noon, “A vast Concourse of People” gathered at the same elm that had recently held Andrew Oliver’s effigy, where a new image had been created.  Its medium of expression was still through symbolism, but the creators had gone to great lengths to make it respectable rather than vulgar.  Boyle, quoting the Post Boy, described it as “a most remarkable Portrait,” bearing two figures, “on a Field, Sable,” amidst a host of other heraldic symbols, “On the Right George Greenville, on the Left John Husk,” both men supposed supporters of the Stamp Act. [43]  At three o’clock in the afternoon, the “dark Escutcheon” was deposited in a cart and paraded around, “escorted [...] by an Assembly of near Three Thousand People, formed in Regular Ranks.” [44]  It was a massive charivari, complete with a cart straight out of the Pope’s Day tradition, and the demonstrators took great care to follow “the principal [sic] Streets of the Town,” thus reaching the greatest number of people and claiming ownership and control of the heart of Boston.  The parade finished at the gallows, outside the city gates, were the portrait was “rent [...] into a Thousand Fragments.” [45]  The ritual destruction complete, the scene was finished, and symbolic street theater had cemented a new level of unity against the Stamp Act and its instigators.

November 1st, 1765, was a gentlemanly counterpoint to the violent excess of August 26th, and though it used the same symbolic vocabulary as the 14th and 26th of August, the nameless organizers had gone to great lengths to make the public display gentlemanly rather than vulgar.  The air of festival that usually attended Carnivalesque symbolism could have produced further violence, so instead, the tone was mournful, a trick which turned the charivari genteel, even semi-official.  The effigy itself was not the traditional stuffed human figure but a portrait in the style of a coat of arms, a style of the highest classes.  Finally, Boyle concluded his account of the event with the observation, “’Tis remarkable that amidst this vast Assembly, there was not one Weapon of Defence, nor the least Token of Insult or Injury offered to any Person whatever,” a pointed contrast to the property destruction of August 26th. [46]  November 1st was therefore both a fresh rejection of the Stamp Act and a repudiation of excessive violence, and its lessons held.  As a Boston Reverend wrote to his friend two years later, “[t]he good people of Boston are very careful to distinguish between the 14th and the 26th of August.” [47]  Protest was still exalted, but violence was publicly rejected.

These three events constituted the only lengthy entries of Boyle’s journal in 1765, establishing street theater as the central thread in Boyle’s understanding of Boston’s experience with the Stamp Act.  However, while the symbolic language of charivari and property destruction may have traditionally been the medium of the working class, November 1st clearly displayed the influence of Boston’s elites, and this raises issues with the idea that street theater was a popular medium.  To historian Hiller Zobel, the mob was a violent, unthinking tool of the elites, led by a scheming Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty, and Boston’s street theater was no more than violence and the threat of violence. [48]  Zobel would almost certainly argue that if there were a symbolic political argument in street theater, the authors were not the common people in the street but the Sons of Liberty.  If this were true, street theater would be mere propaganda, and interpreting it as a popular political argument would become foolish.  Gary Nash, a historian with dramatically different sensibilities than Zobel, points to a similar problem.  To Nash, the August 26th attack on Hutchinson’s house represented the true popular argument, and the mob’s rage was not directed just at the Stamp Act but also at wealthy Boston elites in general.  After the 26th, Boston’s street theater was co-opted by those wealthy interests, who allowed the street to protest, since it was in their interest, but kept fearful control over the violent impulses of their lower-class allies.  According to Nash, the creation of the cross-class anti-Stamp-Act faction required a diligent suppression of class resentment. [49]  Either one of these frameworks creates a significant challenge to the thesis that street theater was the medium in which ordinary working men expressed their political opinions.

Investigating the truth of these frameworks requires an investigation into who exactly made up the Boston mob.  The Boston Evening Post provided a preliminary answer to this question when it wrote, regarding Pope’s Day in 1764, that the popes were carried and carted around “by Negroes and other Servants,” to impress “the Minds of the Vulgar” with anti-Popery. [50]  Boston’s tradition of symbolic ritual was in this case rooted deeply in the most “vulgar” of people.  Starting with this characterization of the standard Pope’s Day mob provides a direct entry into the mob that opposed the Stamp Act, because according to Hiller Zobel, the North and South End gangs that took Pope’s Day violence to new heights in 1764 became the mob that ransacked Hutchinson’s house on August 26th, 1765.  Zobel’s evidence is circumstantial but convincing, and he names as likely members of the mob about twenty four men, both adults and minors, all part of Boston’s gritty working class.  Their leader, both in 1764 and 1765, was the cordwainer Ebenezer MacIntosh, and many of his associates were maritime workers: shipwrights, a caulker, a sailmaker, and a ropemaker, plus a distiller, a barber, and two bakers, among others. [51]  Together with the “Negroes and other Servants” of the Evening Post, the character of the 1764 Pope’s Day mob which ransacked Hutchinson’s house on August 26th, 1765 begins to resemble the “motley crew” that historian Peter Linebaugh claims was the primary “driving force of a revolutionary crisis.” [52]  Local Boston artisans combined with ships’ crews created a multiethnic, or motley, group of rough characters that made up the Boston mob: men and boys, blacks, servants, maritime artisans, and visiting sailors; these men were versed in the tradition of Pope’s Day, and they defined the Boston street.

John Boyle’s fascination with the mob’s world of street theater and symbolic protest speaks to his status as a liminal figure, between the world of the street and that of the educated gentry.  John Boyle was literate at a time when at least twenty percent of Boston men could not even sign their names to paper. [53]  After moving into his own house in 1769 and getting married in 1772, his journal shows a brief period of disinterest; though his selection of news stories keeps its focus on the street, one can feel him moving further from the world of the motley crew and becoming a married man, a respectable printer, well-regarded around the town of Boston.  During the late 1760s, though, he was still an apprentice, and in 1765, when Andrew Oliver’s effigy was committed to the flames on Fort Hill, John Boyle was nineteen, a young man with apprentice duties but with little to lose in the way of property or family.  To a nineteen-year-old, the excitement of the Carnivalesque protest must have been galvanizing, and it is little wonder that he wrote of street theater with such enthusiasm.  Though his advanced literacy and future respectability marked him as different from the mob, his youth and apprentice status put him on the edge of that gritty throng of rough maritime workers, slaves, servants who controlled Boston’s street on November 5th, 1764, and August 26th, 1765.

In fact, looking closer at his entry for August 26th, 1765, there may be evidence that Boyle tagged along with the most violent mob of the 1760s as it destroyed Thomas Hutchinson’s house.  According to several accounts, the mob did not begin with William Story’s house, as Boyle seems to think.  It had already passed by the house of Charles Paxton, the customs surveyor, where a fast-thinking landlord had talked the mob out of their planned destruction by paying for a round of alcoholic punch. [54]  Boyle left this out, perhaps because it wasn’t as dramatic as the rest of the evening, but perhaps he left it out because it was the only part of the evening he didn’t witness firsthand.  Boyle lived on Queen Street, opposite the courthouse, so he could easily have witnessed the mob gathering on King’s Street, five hundred feet away. [55]  When the mob headed off to Paxton’s house, he did not follow, but when it moved on to the house of William Story, which Boyle noted was “opposite the North-Side of the Court-House,” it was literally on Boyle’s Queen Street doorstep. [56]  It seems entirely plausible, even likely, that Boyle joined the mob as it ransacked Story’s house, then followed it, either as a participant or spectator, until after Hutchinson’s house was gutted.  If he was in attendance, then his August 26th, 1765 entry is a firsthand account, which helps explain both why it cannot be found in a newspaper and why he was so willing to record the event as a political argument.  If he joined the mob, he would well know that the three victims “were supposed to be inimical to [their] Country.” [57]  This is speculation, but it underscores Boyle’s value as a man on the boundary between the literate, affluent world of Boston’s elite and the less literate, rough world of the Boston street.

Because he straddled the lines of class, Boyle was uniquely suited to answer the question of whether Boston’s street theater was truly a popular medium or a controlled tool of the elites.  To some degree, Nash’s view that the street was co-opted by the upper classes is born out after 1765.  On August 14th, 1766, Boyle noted that it was “the Anniversary of the Glorious and never to be forgotten 14th. of August 1765,” and the event was “celebrated by the Sons of Liberty – at Liberty Hall.” [58] Such parades and feasts were common after 1765, and Boyle frequently identified the authors of the spectacle as “the Sons of Liberty.” [59]  However, for most events, Boyle placed full agency in “the People,” by which he meant Boston’s working class.  The very first line of his entry for August 14th, 1765, begins, “The Stamp-Act having occasioned a general Uneasiness among the People [...],”a line which casts the political statement that followed as a popular sentiment from the whole of Boston’s society, its lowest classes included.  Indeed, respectable mobs were the exception, not the rule, for Boyle took care to note that some of the spectators on August 14th were “of the highest Reputation.” [60]  By and large, the people were a bit more disreputable.  Similarly, the gentlemen’s charivari of November 1st, 1765 may have shown the influence of the upper classes, but if the Sons of Liberty provided the portrait and cart, John Boyle did not care to record it.  Instead, he placed the importance on the “vast Concourse of People” and the “justly enraged Multitude.” [61]  Unlike any written pamphlet or letter to the editor, the very nature of street theater, especially charivari, emphasized those who attended, not those who organized, and to John Boyle, the thousands of spectators watching the ritual immolation of an effigy was far more important than whoever created the effigy in the first place.

If we are still concerned with the true authors of Boston’s street theater, what followed November 1st, 1765, truly identified Boston’s street protests as a popular idiom: November 5th, Pope’s Day, 1765.  The usual Pope’s Day brawl was called off. “A Union established between the South and North-End Popes, Cap[tain] McIntosh on the Part of the South, and Cap[tain] Swift on the Part of the North,” wrote John Boyle, “This Union, and one other more extensive, may be looked upon as the only happy Effects arising from the Stamp Act.” [62]  On the day which was traditionally a celebration of English liberty using the full power of cultural symbolism, Boston’s toughest mobs agreed to a public display of unity in opposition to the Stamp Act.  Ebenezer MacIntosh himself, director of the South End mob and the destruction of Hutchinson’s house, common cordwainer, was in full control of the performance.[63]

August through November of 1765 may be seen as a turning point, for from that point until Revolution, Boston’s street theater featured countless charivaris, parades, and instances of property destruction aimed against the authority of the Crown.  Forms and scripts varied depending on the circumstance, and the events themselves described a full spectrum of respectability, including violence, non-violence, and all social classes.  On February 20th, 1766, Boyle wrote that the effigies of George Greenville, Lord Bute, and the Devil were hung from the same elm as Oliver’s effigy, now called Liberty Tree.  In true charivari fashion, they were “carried thro the principal Streets of the Town” and then “burnt under the Gallows.” [64]  In May of the same year, news that the Stamp Act had been repealed prompted general celebration.  There were fireworks on the Common and flags and streamers on the Liberty Tree, and in the evening, “all the Gentlemen in the Town contributed Lanthorns to illuminate Liberty-Tree.” [65]  The anniversary of August 14th, 1765, was celebrated in genteel fashion each year, dutifully recorded by John Boyle until 1770. [66]  Even the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act was celebrated in 1767. [67] These public feasts, parades, and effigies all worked in a medium of ritual symbolism.  Building on the culturally powerful tradition of Pope’s Day by using the same symbolic vocabulary, the Boston street repeatedly declared the Stamp Act unacceptable to the community.  English officials were acting in a manner contrary to English liberty, like the despotic Pope, so they earned their place in the charivari’s cart of shame.

Thus, when news of new taxes reached Boston on October 5th, 1767, anyone could have predicted, as Boyle did, “An Opposition to this Act no doubt will take place.” [68]  The people had already set forth their argument against the authority of the Crown, they were now prompted to reiterate the performance.  On June 10th of the following year, as the customs officers attempted to enforce these Townsend Acts and Boston merchants and commoners assiduously avoided them, property destruction akin to the 26th of August erupted again.  The sloop Liberty, belonging to the wealthy but popular merchant, John Hancock, was cut from Hancock’s wharf and carried off alongside a Crown ship because of suspicions of smuggling.  At this, “the People” were “highly exasperated at the Conduct of the Officers of the Customs, particularly Mr. Hallowell, the Comptroller,” and they went to his house and again broke his windows.  There were no respectable gentlemen in this crowd; according to Boyle they were just “the People,” that motley crowd of seamen and common workers, and they improvised on the form of charivari by stealing “a pleasure Boat belonging to the Custom-House,” dragging it bodily through the “main Street” so that it could receive its public shaming, and burning it on the Common, in front of John Hancock’s door.

In the Fall of 1768, the Crown responded to the people of Boston.  On October 3rd, 1768, British troops disembarked from transports in the harbor and marched through the center of town.  Control over the streets was a large aspect of symbolic public ritual, and the appearance of British regulars in those streets made a new symbolic statement of power and authority.  As this public argument continued, in effigy and charivari, the line between public ritual and armed resistance began to blur, and tensions escalated, as seen in the “Journal of the Times.”  But until overt warfare erupted, public symbolism continued to be the medium for the popular people to object to Crown authority.  The well-remembered tradition of tarring and feathering customs informers was itself a more painful version of the charivari, and it, too, contained direct reference to Pope’s Day, when it was standard to coat the Devil’s effigy with tar and feathers. [69]  Recording an instance in October of 1769, John Boyle wrote, “a Man who had given information of Goods which were seized by the Officers of the Customs, was tarred and feathered, and carted thro’ the Streets of the Town.” [70]  Again, the emphasis in this style of ritual was on the public display of the shameful individual.  Understood symbolically, it was more than just a punishment for an informer or Tory; it was a clear symbolic statement that the victim had violated community norms, in this case norms of American patriotism. [71]  In a vague sense, the unfortunate informer could even be understood as the effigy of the officer to whom he gave the information.

Through all of the late 1760s and even into the early 1770s, despite growing up and getting married, John Boyle recorded these performances of the Boston street as the central thread in a building narrative of rebellion.  Boyle was a newspaper printer’s apprentice during this time, yet his journal was focused entirely outside the literate world of political debate, showing a fascination instead with an entirely different medium: public ritual.  The power of public ritual is often overlooked by modern historians, who must rely on written accounts, but Boyle’s focus on Boston’s street theater reminds us, as St. George writes, that the culture of colonial New England “was one in which the visual vied with the verbal for semiotic authority.” [72]  The Great Pamphlets may have made for learned political discourse, but the most common and accessible medium for arguments about social and political power was ritual symbolism, a form which drew on centuries of tradition.  Men of the Boston mob could perhaps sign their name, but they were not avid readers, and to them, the world of effigies, parades, and mob violence constituted the most important discourse on resistance and revolution.  Little matter that a rich member of the Sons of Liberty may have provided the effigy or the alcohol, the charivari was still the venue for the maritime worker to air his political grievances.

Studying these public rituals as they blossomed and evolved over the 1760s reveals that the people of Boston truly felt that their liberty and rights as Englishmen were at stake.  The symbolic medium in which they made their argument contained all the cultural weight of decades of English anti-popery; Pope’s Day pageantry was, after all, meant to be an expression of English patriotism and English liberty.  But in 1765, the People identified a new enemy to their English liberty: the English Parliament itself.  This conclusion is largely conventional; Bernard Bailyn reaches similar conclusions in “Ideological Origins.”  But John Boyle’s narrative shows that the people’s rejection of Parliament’s sovereignty was not the product of pamphlets or other writings.  Rather, on the morning that Andrew Oliver swung in effigy from the limbs of a great elm in Boston’s South End, August 14th, 1765, English patriotism turned into American patriotism.  Revolution was perhaps not yet inevitable, but the argument for rebellion had been made.  According to John Boyle, the American Revolution in Boston was not born in newspapers or court rooms but on the street, where common shipwrights, cordwainers, ropemakers, slaves, and gentlemen – “The People” – carried effigies of tyranny to their ritual destruction.

1. Summary of November 5th, 1764 from Boston Evening Post, November 12, 1764.
According to the U.S. Naval Observatory, Astronomical Applications Department, the moon was full on November 8th, 1764. On the 5th, the moon was about nine-tenths full. See, accessed December 9, 2009.
John Boyle, “Journal of Occurrences in Boston,” 1759-1778, MS Am 1926, Houghton Library, Harvard University. Entry for November 5th, 1764, pg 43. Further citations to this source will be listed as “JB mm-dd-yy-pg,” e.g. this citation would be abbreviated JB 11-5-64-43. Boyle’s entry is a summary of the brief story in the Boston Post Boy Nov 12th, 1764, which reads, “Last Monday a Child of Mr. Brown, at the North Part of the Town was run over by one [of] the Wheels of the Stage whereon the Pope, &c. were fix’d, and kill’d on the Spot. –– No other Persons lost their Lives as has been reported, either that Day or the Evening preceeding, tho’ many were sorely wounded.”  

2. JB 8-14-65-47

3. Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America (Worcester MA: from the press of Isaiah Thomas, 1810), accessed as a networked resource through Harvard University’s online card catalogue, v2 pg 348.

4. Ibid. Distances gauged from the 1769 Bonner plan of Boston.

5. JB 3-10-64-38.

6. JB 3-12-72-92. Marriage notices and obituaries seem to make up at least a third of the entries; most are one or two lines, perhaps with a brief comment on the quality of the bride or the character or biography of the recently deceased. Both the Boston Post Boy and the Boston Gazette published the same words: “Married. ] Mr. John Boyles, Printer, to Miss. Caelia Gay, Daughter of Captain Martin Gay.” Boston Post Boy and Boston Gazette, March 16, 1772.

7. Newspapers carrying a column of the “Journal of the Times” in at least one issue include: The Boston Evening Post, Essex Gazette, Connecticut Gazette, New York Gazette, Pennsylvania Chronicle, and the New York Journal.

8. Rodger Streitmatter, Mightier than the Sword: How the News Media Have Shaped History (Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1997), 7-11.

9. This is speculation on my part, but not wild guessing. The watermark proves that the paper is at least as old as the early 1770s, and the handwriting changes over the pages as it would over the passing of several years. That he did not begin the journal in its present volume in 1759 is supported by the regular, well-practiced handwriting of the first entry – probably not the handwriting of a twelve-year-old. My conclusions here were reached in conversation with Thomas A. Horrocks Ph.D., Associate Librarian of Houghton Library for Collections, Nov 2009. On the watermark, see Gravell, Thomas L., and George Miller 1943, A Catalogue of Foreign Watermarks found on Paper used in America, 1700-1835 (New York: Garland Pub, 1983), figure 569.

10. Robert Rogers (1731-1795) was born in New Hampshire and achieved great popular fame as commander of Rogers’s Rangers, a group of about 600 frontiersmen who fought during King George’s War (1755-60). Peacetime did not suit him well; he fell into debt, moved to England around 1765, and fell further into poverty. During the Revolutionary War, he initially fought with the British, raising recruits in America with a promise of land, but he was arrested by American forces as a loyalist spy. After escape and then subsequent dismissal from the British army (no one trusted him, apparently), he moved back to London in 1780, where he lived until his death. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, to be abbreviated ODNB.

11. JB 5-30-65-46.

12. JB 5-7-64-39.

13. The Boston Post Boy published notice of the possibility of a Stamp Act on May 7th, 1764, but it was buried in the second column of a long list of parliamentary bills which Boyle never commented on. Another note under the local “Boston” heading mentioned that the act would be postponed a year.

14. JB 5-27-65-46.

15. The trees’ place on Newbury Street was ideally suited for effigies, as merchants arriving over Boston Neck would pass the trees on their way to town. Samuel G. Drake, The History and Antiquities of Boston (Boston: published by Luther Stevens, 1856), 693.

16. JB 8-14-65-47

17. JB pages 45-47.

18. JB 2-21-75-138 Boyle wrote: “Massachusettensis is now publishing a Series of Letters in Vindication of the Ministerial plan for enslaving the Colonies – his Publications are answered by Novanglus, with that Zeal which becomes a True Patriot.” The exchange was one of the most prominent of its sort; Massachusettensis was a Tory by the name of Daniel Leonard, and his patriotic opponent Novanglus was none other than John Adams, lawyer and eventual second president of the United States. (ODNB)

19. Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), 198-199.

20. Though safety valves had not yet been invented, they used the same mechanical metaphor. A French cleric in 1444 defended the “Feast of Fools” by comparing society to a wineskin which would burst if the pressure was not occasionally released. Burke 201-202.

21. Benjamin H. Irvin, “Tar, Feathers, and the Enemies of American Liberties,” The New England Quarterly, Vol. 76, No. 2 (June 2003) 204.

22. Burke 199.

23. Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (New York: Basic Books, 1984), 101.

24. R.S. Longley, “Mob Activities in Revolutionary Massachusetts,” The New England Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 1 (March 1933): 102. See also Drake, 662-3, and Isaiah Thomas, “Three Autobiographical Fragments,” Worcester, American Antiquarian Society, 1962, 22-25.

25. The plot was hatched by English Catholics, and the plan was to kill King James I and most of Parliament by destroying the House of Lords with 36 barrels – almost a ton – of gunpowder. A revolt by Catholic sympathizers in the midlands would then establish James’s daughter as a Catholic head of state. (ODNB on Guy Fawkes)

26. Boston Evening-Post, November 12th, 1764.

27. The rhyme of course had many variants; this is the version given by Drake, 662.

28. Addition of the Pretender to the cart: see Longley 101 and Drake 662. After King James II was deposed for Catholicism in 1688, his line repeatedly tried to regain the throne of England, and both his Catholic son James and grandson Charles Edward Stuart would become known as “the Pretender.” Another rhyme made the cultural implication of the charivari clear: “Three Strangers hate our faith, and faith’s defender, / The Devil, and the Pope, and the Pretender; / Three Strangers will be strangers long, we hope, / The Devil, the Pretender, and the Pope.” Drake 662. See also Isaiah Thomas, “Three Autobiographical Fragments,” 23.

29. JB 8-14-65-47.

30. Boston Gazette, August 19, 1765

31. Boston Post Boy, August 26, 1765. Apparently John Green was criticized for not publishing an account of the effigies in his August 19th issue, because he began the August 26th story with an apology for omitting it from the previous issue and an assurance that its omission was not due to government restraint of the press but to “a Disappointment.”

32. Burke 201.

33. Robert Blair St. George, Conversing by Signs: Poetics of Implication in Colonial New England Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 293.

34. St. George 207.

35. Resignation of Oliver in the Boston Post Boy, August 26th, 1765.

36. JB 8-26-65-48.

37. Boston Post Boy, September 2, 1765.

38. Hutchinson noted in a footnote that a lieutenant-colonel of the local militia had confronted two men disguised who appeared to be directing the destruction; the men responded “that it had been resolved to destroy every thing in the house; and such resolve should be carried to effect.” This reinforces the supposition that the destruction of Hutchinson’s house was not a mindless rampage but a premeditated act. See Thomas Hutchinson, The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts-Bay, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936), vol. III, 90.

39. JB 8-26-65-48.

40. Boston Post Boy, Sept 2, 1765, and Boston Gazette, Sept 2, 1765.

41. JB 8-27-65-48.

42. On the arrest of MacIntosh: Hiller Zobel, The Boston Massacre (New York: The Norton Library, 1970), 39-40. No individuals ever stood trial because the General Assembly of Massachusetts passed an act in late 1766 granting compensation to Story, Oliver, Hallowell, and Hutchinson, “and a free and general Pardon Indemnity and Oblivion to the Offenders.” JB 12-6-66-56.

43. JB 11-1-65-49. George Grenville was a member of Parliament and the man who first introduced the Stamp Act (ODNB). John Husk was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and spent time as a Boston merchant before moving to England in 1748. In England he was appointed deputy treasurer of the chamber, and his supposed support of the Stamp Act made him a prime target of Boston Stamp Act protesters (ODNB). Again, Boyle identified the images by name, while the Post Boy gave only “G. Gr------le” and “J----n H----k.” Boston Post Boy, Nov 4, 1765.

44. Gary Nash claims that Boston’s population at the time was around 16,000, so if Boyle’s estimate that three thousand people participated is true, then around 18% of Boston’s population participated in the parade, demonstrating an incredible level of unity against the Stamp Act. Gary Nash, Urban Crucible (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), abridged edition, 114, 146.

45. All quotations in this paragraph from JB 11-1-65-49.

46. JB 11-1-65-50.

47. As cited in a preliminary draft of Natalie Panno, “The Last Reverend in Boston,” 7: “Andrew Eliot to Thomas Hollis, May 13, 1767,” 406-407.

48. Zobel writes, “The Boston mob’s ardor, there is little doubt, could be turned on or off to suit the policies of its directors,” see Zobel 29.

49. Nash, see especially 187, 225, and 231-232.

50. Boston Evening Post, November 12, 1764.

51. Zobel 37-38.

52. Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000) 212. See also Benjamin L. Carp, Rebels Rising (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 41.

53. Grubb, F. W. "Growth of Literacy in Colonial America: Longitudinal Patterns, Economic Models, and the Direction of Future Research." Social Science History 14.4 (1990): 454.
Grubb’s data shows that between 1758 and 1762, a survey of 150 wills indicated that 82 percent Boston’s male population could sign their name. However, surveying wills would naturally favor a higher literacy rate, as those less likely to leave a will were also less likely to be literate (Grubb agrees, see 455). Furthermore, while signing one’s name is a good benchmark for literacy, the ability to sign should not be conflated with what a modern reader would call ‘literate.’

54. Zobel 33.

55. For the location of the printing press in Queen Street: Isaiah Thomas, “A History of Printing,” vol. I, 347. Distance reckoned from The Bonner Plan of Boston, 1769.

56. JB 8-26-65-48.

57. JB 8-26-65-48.

58. JB 8-14-66-55.

59. Among others, see JB 8-14-69-71, 8-14-67-58, 3-18-67-57.

60. JB 8-14-65-47

61. JB 11-1-65-49

62. JB 11-5-65-51

63. Nash also observes that MacIntosh was in full control of the mob at this point: “It was Ebenezer MacIntosh that controlled the crowd, not Samuel Adams, James Otis, or any of the Loyal Nine.” Nash 188.

64. JB 2-20-66-52.

65. JB 5-19-66-54.

66. See JB 8-14-66-55, 8-14-67-58, 8-15-68-64, and 8-14-69-71.

67. JB 3-18-67-57

68. JB 10-5-67-60

69. Isaiah Thomas, “Three Autobiographical Fragments,” 23.

70. JB 10-28-69-73

71. The victims rarely died; in fact, the tar was sometimes not even heated. Although a crowd could kill the victim of a tarring and feathering by using heated tar or being particularly brutal after the coat of feathers was affixed, the point was the symbolic act, not the physical punishment. See Irvin, especially 204-206.

72. St. George 3.

No comments: