In the mid-1700s, the 5th of November was one of Boston’s most popular holidays. On that day, apprentices and young men paraded through town with giant effigies of the Devil, the Pope, and current political scapegoats, demanding coins from householders and passersby.

At nightfall, Boston’s North End and South End gangs met in the middle of town and brawled. The winners hauled away the other side’s paraphernalia and burned all the effigies in a festive bonfire. In 1764 the event became so violent that a young boy was killed, his head crushed by a wagon wheel.

In the decade that followed, the 5th of November processions became closely linked to the town’s protests against Parliamentary taxes. That political conflict led to the American Revolution. Ironically, the Revolutionary War ended up doing away with the 5th of November holiday in America.

This online exhibit collects recollections and rare images to explore a forgotten facet of Boston’s religious and political history. In Britain that holiday was “Guy Fawkes’ Day,” but New Englanders called it Pope’s Day or

Image sources: Woodcut and headline from broadside titled “Extraordinary Verses on Pope-Night,” An American Time Capsule, American Memory Collection, Library of Congress.

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