The Boys of November

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 boy in the middle of the picture above holds such a board. It displays, from left, a little Devil, a little Pope, and a little lantern—a miniature version of that year’s big wagons.

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.”
On the 5th of November, older boys and young men dressed up in silly costumes. Both the woodcut on the young printers’ broadside and Pierre Eugène Du Simitière’s picture above show that boys wore tall pointed hats, perhaps meant to imitate bishops’ mitres. Others dressed as devils in garments covered with tar and feathers, or as the “Nancy Dawson.”

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.”

Quotation sources: Joshua Coffin, A Sketch of the History of Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury (Boston: Samuel G. Drake, 1845), 249. “Extraordinary Verses on Pope-Night,” An American Time Capsule, American Memory Collection, Library of Congress. Boston Gazette, 3 Feb 1772.

Image source: Pierre Eugène du Simitière, Library Company of Philadelphia.

Text copyright © 2007 by J. L. Bell and The Bostonian Society.