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|
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,