Map of Boston in 1774

Of all the American towns that regularly observed the 5th of November, Boston had the largest and most raucous celebration. The 1765 provincial census counted 15,520 people in the town, including over 4,000 boys under the age of sixteen—more people, and more boys, than in any other town in British North America but Philadelphia and New York.

Those youths defined themselves in part by whether they came from the North End or the South End, as determined by the Mill Creek, which ran more or less along the route of the modern Central Artery. The Old State House, then called the “Town House,” was in the neutral center of town.

The North End gang planned their 5th of November bonfires on Copp’s Hill. The South End gang preferred to repair to the Common. The trouble started when the gangs tried to burn the other side’s paraphernalia as well.

Statistics source: J. H. Benton, Jr., Early Census Making in Massachusetts, 1643-1765 (Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed, 1905).

Image source: Customized map from Boston 1775.

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