The 5th of November Wagons in 1767

The 5th of November in 1767 was an especially momentous celebration. The new Customs Commissioners arrived in Boston that day; the London government had sent them to collect increased tariffs on a range of goods, tea in particular. Also on hand was the Swiss artist Pierre Eugène du Simitière, looking for an American town to make his home. (He eventually settled in Philadelphia.)

The “Pope-Night” gangs that year made the Customs Commissioners, Commissioner Charles Paxton in particular, the targets for their lampoons. And Du Simitière was on hand to sketch their wagons and take notes about what their signs said. The result are extremely rare images of a Revolutionary political protest drawn on the scene.

The North End’s Pope Night wagon featured, from the left, the “Nancy Dawson,” a British flag to show patriotism, the effigy of the Pope seated on his throne, a boy blowing a horn, and a giant horned Devil effigy holding a lantern.

The large lantern on the front of the wagon (to the left) bore the mottos “LOVE and UNITY” and “No. 45, THE NORTH BRITON” The second referred to John Wilkes’s celebrated free-press case in Britain, showing how Bostonians saw themselves in common cause with politicians seeking reform in London.

The front of the South End wagon’s lantern had labels reading “The Loyal Arms” (of the king) and “the loyal American”—the gangs still felt King George III was on their side, and wanted people to see their patriotism. Over a man’s face on another surface of the lantern were the words “TERROR” and “DESPAIR.”

On the rolling platform were a hanged man, the Pope, the “Nancy Dawson,” a small devil, and the large effigy of the Devil, his tail held up by a wire. Du Simitière noted that the South-enders had four horses for their wagon while the North-enders, from a more crowded, less wealthy neighborhood, had only two. The artist also took notes on who the South End gang had hung in effigy.

Du Simitière also sketched a third, unidentified wagon, shown here.

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

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