The Girls of November

On the broadside issued by the “Printers Boys” of Boston in the early 1760s, the long verse mentions girls only once:

“The Girls run out to see the Sight,
The Boys eke ev’ry one;
Along they are a-dragging them,
With Granadier’s Caps on.”
The “grenadier’s caps” probably refers to the tall, pointed caps worn by the Pope effigies that the boys were “a-dragging” along, not to what the girls wore.

Girls may have wished to join in the 5th of November festivities instead of just watching, but there are no descriptions of them participating in the revelry. At this time, females tended to stay in the “domestic sphere,” looking after the home, and not to get involved in politics or violence.

The Nancy Dawson

There was a female figure on many “Pope-Night” wagons, according to men who looked back on the celebrations in the early 1800s. This figure was called the “Nancy Dawson.” Artist Pierre Eugène Du Simitière sketched “Nancy Dawson” to the left of the British flag on the North End’s 1767 wagon.

“Nancy Dawson” was not a young woman, but a young man in a dress—a masquerade that New England usually frowned on.

The real Nancy Dawson was an English actress and dancer. Little girls in America learned to perform a dance named after her, and a popular song was renamed in her honor. Dawson does not seem to have had any connection to the Stuart family or Catholicism, so it appears that the actress herself was not one of the “Pope-Night” revelers’ targets. Rather, they adopted her name as a generic term for a female dancer.

Quotation source: “Extraordinary Verses on Pope-Night,” An American Time Capsule, American Memory Collection, Library of Congress.

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

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