Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mein Wars- Pope's Day Tribute

   Since "Pope's Day" (Guy Fawkes Day) occurred on a Sunday in 1769, it was celebrated in Boston on Monday, November 6th, 1769. Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated in England as a reminder of a plot by a few Catholics to blow up Parliament in 1605. To this day historians have been unable to uncover many of the details of this rather mysterious plot and its exact nature may never be known. In the American colonies, Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated in every town and village and was known as "Pope's Day." The festivities consisted of fireworks, the consumption of vast quantities of rum, and, in Boston, considerable fighting. It was a day when ordinary citizens stayed in doors and locked their doors. A local doggerel went: "Powder plots is not forgot. 'Twil be observed by many a sot."
   The celebration was blatantly anti-Catholic, usually featured a float carrying an effigy of the Pope with other figures representing monks, friars and devils. After a day of revelry and roughhouse, the celebration climaxed in the evening with a huge bonfire when floats, effigies and anything handy was burned. Everyone then staggered home, usually well after midnight.
   Boston, over a period of years, had seen Pope's Day grow into an annual armed conflict between the north end of Boston and the south end of Boston. Each side prepared its own float with the proper effigies.
   In the days leading up to Pope Night, young boys built “little popes, dressed up in the most grotesque and fantastic manner, which they carried about, some on boards, and some on little carriages.” They used these to beg for money from their neighbors.

   The town’s apprentice printers referred to this custom in the verse they printed on a broadside:

                                                       “The little Popes, they go out First,
                                                         With little teney Boys:
                                                         Frolicks they are full of Gale
                                                         And laughing make a Noise.”

    Every illustration of the 5th of November in Boston shows boys blowing on horns, confirming how noisy the celebration must have been. The boy on the right above is puffing on a different sort of noisemaker: a conch shell. In 1772 the Boston Gazette even referred to this sort of shell as a “Pope-horn.”
    After marching around most of the day in their own section of Boston and forcing merchants to dispense free rum, the large mobs, both drunk and unruly, headed toward the other section of town. The gangs then added a new tradition to Boston’s holiday: a big fight in the middle of town. If the North End gang won, they burned the South-enders’ paraphernalia on Copp’s Hill. If the South End gang won, they carried the North-enders’ work to the Common. When the two mobs met, a wild brawl would break out in an attempt to capture the other's float. The fight, with the combatants using fists, clubs, and rocks usually raged into the night. Often hundreds were injured and occasionally people were killed.. No other town’s 5th of November celebration  involved such regular violence
    Over the years both the north and south sides developed a semi-permanent organization that planned the next Pope's Day celebration. In 1764, the south-enders were led by a Captain Mackintosh and the north-enders by a Captain Swift,.
     In 1765, Boston’s political leaders became especially alarmed about that style of observing the patriotic holiday for three reasons:
        •The year before, a young boy had been killed during the gangs’ brawl.
        •Protests against the Stamp Act in August had escalated into attacks on royal officials’ houses, including the destruction of Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion in the North End.
        •All that violence was making Boston look bad just when its leaders wanted support from other colonies and in London for repealing the Stamp Act.
      To keep the gangs peaceful, Boston’s political leaders persuaded the North End and South End captains to lead a march against the Stamp Act instead of building “Pope-Night” wagons and brawling. Wealthy gentlemen supplied the money for a feast, and gave the two captains red and blue uniforms, gold-laced hats, speaking trumpets, and rattan canes.

Sketch of Pope Night Wagon

Sketch of North End Wagon

The North End’s Pope Night wagon featured, from the left, the “Nancy Dawson,” a British flag to show patriotism, the effigy of the Pope seated on his throne, a boy blowing a horn, and a giant horned Devil effigy holding a lantern.

Sketch of South End Wagon

The front of the South End wagon’s lantern had labels reading “The Loyal Arms” (of the king) and “the loyal American”—the gangs still felt King George III was on their side, and wanted people to see their patriotism. Over a man’s face on another surface of the lantern were the words “TERROR” and “DESPAIR.”

These sketches were drawn by the Swiss artist Pierre Eugène du Simitière in 1767. He was looking for a place in which to settle. He finally chose Philadelphia.

   John Mein,  safely aboard one of His Majesty's ships in Boston harbor, was not on the streets of Boston on November 6th, 1769to see himself carried in effigy along with the Pope and devils. On the right side of Mein's effigy was a placard bearing the following inscription:
 I nsulting Wretch we'll him expose -
        O 'er the whole world his deeds disclose;
 H ell now gapes wide to take him in;
                                                     N ow he is ripe --O lump of Sin!
M ean is the man - M-- is his name;
   E nough he's spread his hellish fame;
                                                      I nfernal furies hurl his soul,
      N ine million times, from pole to pole!

   On the lantern that illuminated the effigies of  Tories was the following:
                                                       Here stands the Devil for a show,
                                                       With the In-p-rs in a row,
                                                       All bound to Hell, and that we know,
                 Go Me--n, laden deep with curses on thy hand,
       To some dark corner of the world repair,
                       Where the bright sun no pleasant beams can shed,
                                                       And spend thy life in horror and despair.

   We do not know if Bostonians knew that Mein was safely aboard ship that day.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mein Wars - Part Four

   The struggle between John Mein and the Boston merchants continued into October, 1769. Charges and denials flowed back and forth as Mein continued to publish ships manifests and questioned the imports of various merchants, including John Rowe. These charges were met either by flat denials by the merchants involved or responses from the Committee on Non-importation. But the merchants were gradually winning since more and more merchants agreed to abide by the Non-Importation Agreement. By early October even the Hutchinsons had been exposed and surrendered to the boycott. The October 9th issue of the Boston Gazette listed only four individuals - John Bernard, Nathaniel Rogers, James McMasters & Company, and John Mein as "non-compliers." Bernard, Rogers, and McMasters appeared before the committee and insolently refused to subscribe to the agreement. Within a week, Rogers changed his mind and then there were three. Mein didn't even receive an invitation to appear before the committee.
   Starting with the October 9th edition of the Boston Chronicle, Mein took the gloves off and started making personal attacks on his enemies. He already had been called a number of things to include a "mushroom judge" and a "conceited empty noodle of a most profound blockhead" by merchants whose manifests he had questioned. Mein printed brief caricatures and gave nicknames  to key popular leaders. Although he disguised their names, it was obvious who Mein was lampooning. John Hancock was "Johnny Dupe alias the Mich-Cow"; James Otis was "Counsellor Muddlehead, alias Jemmy with the Maiden Nose"; and Samuel Adams, "Samuel the Publican, alias The Psalm Singer, with the gifted face."

John Hancock
   Hancock was "Johnny Dupe, esq., alias the milch cow" for the way the Patriots were milking him. The Tories often said that Samuel Adams might write the letters but John Hancock paid the postage. Mein pilloried Hancock as "a very vain man- a good natured man with long ears- a fool's cap on his head- a silly conceited grin on his countenance- a bandage tied over his eyes- richly dressed and surrounded by a crowd of people some of whom are stroking his ears, others tickling his nose with straws, while the rest are employed in rifling his pockets." This often quoted poison-pen treatment of Hancock contains just enough truth to be devastating.
   Meanwhile tensions had continued to rise in a Boston that had endured British army occupation for a year and found it increasingly difficult to contain its rage. In one incident in late October, an attempt to serve a warrant to a British Ensign of the 14th Regiment almost resulted in a bloody riot between civilians and soldiers when a British soldier fired his musket in warning  and others thrust their bayonets in the face of a crowd that had gathered to witness the events. The Ensign and his Captain were indicted for ordering the troops to fire on civilians, but neither was convicted.
   Mein, declared an outlaw by the town, and his partner John Fleeming took to carrying weapons.
   At the same time Mein was facing a lawsuit that could be his ruin and he was thus under extreme pressure from two sides. John Hancock and John Adams were involved in an attempt to secure repayment of Mein's London debts. The details of that lawsuit will be presented in another installment.
   In the October 26th issue of the Chronicle, Mein, in his infuriatingly sarcastic manner, placed, in the upper left corner of the first page, the names of six men he believed to be the merchants steering committee, mimicking the Boston Gazette's list of non-compliers. In this issue he also placed his now infamous caricatures of the popular readers.
   In the afternoon of October 28th, the day the Chronicle appeared apparently having been delayed for two days, Mein and John Fleeming left their store, with each carrying a loaded pistol, and ventured into King Street. Their path was immediately blocked by a group of 10 to 12 persons of considerable stature, including the merchant Edward Davis, Captain Francis Dashwood, William Molineaux*, a leader of the non-importation movement and the leader of the Boston mob, and a tailor, Thomas Marshall, who also the Lt Colonel of the Boston Militia Regiment. Several of the men, to include Dashwood, believed themselves to be ill treated in the Chronicle. After exchanging angry words with the men, Mein pulled his pistol, cocked it, threatened to fire if they didn't stand off, and with Fleeming, who also pulled his pistol sometime during this confrontation, at his side backed up King Street continuing to shout that he would shoot the first man that touched him.

   Sometime during this initial confrontation, a crowd, estimated by some to be over one thousand strong who had gathered earlier to tar and feather a suspected customs informer, arrived at the scene.
   The crowd continued to stalk Mein and Fleeming as they backed their way towards the British Guard House near Town House; but the crowd  kept out of range of the two printers' weapons. Cries of "Knock him down," and "kill him" reverberated through the streets and, with bits of brick flying, Mein and Fleeming finally reached the Guardhouse.There the soldiers let the two men slip to safety behind them. Mein would have escaped injury except  for Thomas Marshall, the tailor and Lt Col of militia, who picked up a heavy iron shovel during the flight up King Street and swung it at Mein who received an ugly gash.
  In the melee, either Mein or Fleeming discharged his pistol as they "retreated into the building" but no one was injured. The crowd believed it to be Mein, perhaps willing it to be so, but the evidence points to Fleeming.

   As a crowd of 200 or so remained outside the guardhouse, Mein sent several messages to Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson, demanding that the law come to his aid. Hutchinson did nothing, cautioning Mein to be careful since he realized that it would be suicidal for the volatile Scotsman to be seen again on the streets of Boston. Meanwhile Molineaux and Samuel Adams went to a justice of the peace and applied for a warrant to arrest Mein for firing a pistol during a peaceful assembly. They were accusing the wrong man but they got their warrant. When they showed up at the guardhouse with the warrant, Mein hid in the attic while Adams and others searched for him. After they left, Mein borrowed a British uniform and escaped to a Colonel Dalyrymple's house. He kept on sending messages prodding Hutchinson to provide protection but Hutchinson and his Council refused to use British troops to protect him or put down another disturbance.

Thomas Hutchinson
   On Pope's Day, Sunday, November 5th 1769, aided by friends, John Mein snuck aboard a British ship in Boston harbor and sailed for London 10 days later, never to return to Boston.**

* William Molineaux's importance as a leader at this time should not be underestimated. But for his death in October 1774 , he would be remembered rather than forgotten.
** For a time, it was believed that Mein returned to Boston but it has been sufficiently established that he did not.

   We are not through with Mr Mein, there are severall loose ends that must be wrapped up. In Part Five we will discuss the Pope's Day celebration in Boston.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mein Wars - Part Three

   While Mein was skirmishing with the Boston merchants, his old nemesis, James Otis became involved in an altercation with John Robinson, one of the Customs Commissioners. Otis had become more and more mentally unstable and became very agitated when letters that the Customs Commissioners had sent to England during the Liberty episode in 1768 surfaced. The letters had painted a picture of a Boston consumed by riots and bordering on insurrection, reinforced the impression that misrepresentation had prompted the sending of troops and fueled rumors that that some of the Whig leaders may be tried as rebels. Otis became desperate to find out what was in the letters and had a series of confrontations with members of the Board of Customs Commissioners. On September 2, 1769, Otis had a confrontation with Robinson in a coffee house. Over a cup of coffee, Otis tried to determine from Robinson what the commissioners had written about him. Robinson didn't believe that Otis had been mentioned in the letters but did not want to divulge the contents of what was private government correspondence. Otis complained that his character had been impugned and demanded justice. Robinson, a rather haughty individual, replied that he was "ready to give you the satisfaction you have a right to expect from a gentleman." They then parted.
  During the next few days Otis became even more agitated and the more he thought about the letters the angrier he got. He lashed out in the Boston Gazette writing that the Commissioners were "superlative blockheads" and attacking Robinson stating "I have a natural right if I can get no other satisfaction to break his head." Reading this, Robinson determined to achieve his own satisfaction.
   The next evening Otis and Robinson met at the British Coffee House, a favorite haunt of British army and navy officers, and their friends and allies, to include John Mein. (Historians, I feel, have mischaracterized the nature of coffee houses and taverns in colonial Boston, fostering the impression that individual taverns catered to certain factions and that attendance at one or another of them implied certain political leanings. My view, and I think a more historically accurate one, is that Boston society was very fluid and that individuals moved back and forth between the various coffee houses and taverns without much thought to "political affiliation.") Otis was already in the coffee house, when, sometime between 7 and 8 PM, Robinson entered. Robinson and Otis had identical walking sticks, Otis having purchased one identical to Robinson's, and both demanded satisfaction. Otis suggested that they go outside to fight, but Robinson grabbed him by the nose, an incredible indignity that had to be responded to. Immediately they struck each other with their sticks and continued to flail at each other until bystanders grabbed their sticks and encouraged them to fight with their fists. Patrons of the coffee house then encircled the two combatants and a general melee broke out. John Gridley, a young friend of Otis, came to his rescue when Robinson's friends began to push and pull Otis, thus aiding Robinson in striking Otis. Gridley grabbed Robinson's coat but he was hit in the head with sticks and someone hit him above the wrist, breaking his arm. Robinson's allies threw Gridley out of the coffee house but he returned only to be thrown out again. Gridley, not to be thrawted, entered the British Coffee House through a side door and found a stunned Otis. He got Otis to the front room and sat him down in a chair for a few minutes, after which, with the aid of some of Otis' friends who had arrived in the meantime, took Otis for medical care. Robinson, fearing prosecution or, even worse, the wrath of the Boston mob went into hiding. Despite Gridley's broken arm and a gash on Otis' forehead, neither man had been severely injured but that didn't stop the word being spread that they had survived an assassination attempt.
   William Browne, who reportedly struck Gridley and Otis, was the only one of Robinson's associates who was identified as taking part in the brawl and became a scapegoat. He was detained a day after the brawl and brought before two magistrates and two thousand angry Bostonians at Faneuil Hall that evening. Browne was bound over for trial. When he was unable to post bail, John Murray, a prominent Scottish merchant and friend of the Crown, along with John Mein, posted the surety.
   That same night, the Boston mob visited Mein's bookshop and printing office and smeared the signs on them with excrement, wine and dirt so badly that they had to be taken down.