Paraphernalia in Protests and Cartoons

Historians have seen similarities between the paraphernalia of the 5th of November and the imagery of Boston’s political protests and cartoons in the 1760s as the town resisted new taxes enacted by Parliament.


On August 14, 1765, Bostonians found an effigy of the man designated to collected the new stamp tax hanging off a large elm in the South End, alongside an effigy of the Devil—a pairing familiar from “Pope-Night” wagons. This was the first large public protest against the Stamp Act in North America, and started a wave of similar demonstrations from Halifax to Savannah. For the next ten years that elm, dubbed “Liberty-Tree,” would be a symbol and rallying-point for the Patriots in Boston, and more effigies were periodically hung off of it or in other public places.

In early 1770, boys set up picket lines outside the shops of the few merchants and shopkeepers who were defying a town boycott and importing goods from Britain. Among the signs they set up was a pole holding up a large, carved wooden head—like the heads of the “Pope-Night” effigies. On February 22, a Customs official tried to knock down that pole, prompting a confrontation with the young protesters. They followed him to his home in the North End and mobbed the house. He fired a gun down from a second-story window, killing a boy about eleven years old. The poorly preserved woodcut above shows the carved head on the pole slightly left of center, below the smoke from the Customs official’s gun.


New Englanders’ loudest objection to the Quebec Act of 1774 was that it made the Catholic Church the official church of that province. Silversmith and engraver Paul Revere expressed the problems he and his townsmen saw in such an arrangement in this cartoon for Isaiah Thomas’s Royal American Magazine, entitled “The Mitred Minuet.” Like the 5th of November processions, this image combined the Devil, political enemies, and Catholic bishops, here dancing around a copy of the Quebec Act.

Image sources: Woodcut of protest from Minuteman Printshop clip art collection, Walden Font Company. “Mitred Minuet” cartoon from the Boston 1775 library.

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