Guy Fawkes Day In America

I’ll be honest here. I have no idea why I wanted to know more about Guy Fawkes Day. That was last week, or about 274 days ago in 2021 time. Maybe I was looking for holidays people celebrated in colonial America? Why I needed to know this for the book I am writing will forever remain a mystery.

My loss time; your gain.

The 5th of November

Guy Fawkes was a Catholic in a time when the king of England, King James I, considered Catholicism a superstition and religious tolerance a waste of his time. Guy and his gang came up with a plan. On November 5, 1605, they were to don masks and blow up Parliament on Opening Day. Reader, it was not a success.

Bonfire with man jumping over it in the middle of a city street.
(Photo via Eazydee | Twitter)

To celebrate the king’s survival of the attempt on his life, the people of London lit bonfires like they just won the Super Bowl.

As the celebration became a yearly event—by an Act of Parliament, revelers added props to the festivities, including but not limited to effigies of the Pope, Devil, and a sundry of political figures. The anti-Catholic dangers of popery sentiments, obviously, remained.

In Colonial America

When colonists took up residence in New York and New England, they brought the good times with them, adding in the fun of poor kids begging for pennies.

Guy Fawkes stylized mask with goatee.
Guy Fawkes Mask. Source: Creative Commons

[Side note: this is also a feature of the Jewish holiday of Purim in which masks are also worn and one religion wanted to do away with another. Sadly, these holidays are at opposite ends of the year, so the crossover stops there. Except, now I want to dress up as Guy Fawkes for next Purim.]

The earliest known Guy Fawkes/Pope’s Night celebration in the colonies took place in 1623 in Plymouth. Drunken sailors built up huge bonfires and burned down several houses, to no one’s surprise.

A hundred years later, things settled down… somewhat. They replaced bonfires by parading the effigies through town and then brought to a specific location to be set on fire. Mostly, this night was celebrated by the “lower sort.” The sailors, laborers, apprentices, artisans, servants, and slaves. Except women. Or at least, women didn’t make the historical record. I, for one, would have loved standing at the back of the crowd just to watch those drunk fools from a safe distance.

South End Forever. North End Forever. Extraordinary Verses on Pope-Night. (A fragment of a song sheet.)
Pope Night Verses, 1768. Boston. Source: Public Domain

A letter to the editor of the Boston Weekly Post-Boy in 1745 laid it out in so many words:

Why the enormity above all others should be winked at, and the Inhabitants of the Town with their Dwellings left to the mercy of a rude and intoxicated Rabble, the very Dregs of the People, black and white, and why no more has been done to prevent or suppress such Riotous proceedings, which have been long growing upon us [ed: like this sentence!], and as long bewailed by all sober persons, must be humbly left to our betters to say.

— A letter to the editor of the Boston Weekly Post-Boy, 1745

I found an answer for our long-winded friend: Because the celebration was anti-Papal, town leaders allowed these wild celebrations to happen.

A conveyance and a parade to burn Guy Fawkes in effigy.
Detail from a 1768 broadside depicting Pope Night in Boston.
Source: Public Domain
Is that a triceratops on the right? What is happening here?

Connection the American Revolution??

Not the answer you were expecting, but twenty years later, those Rabble and Dregs in Boston became the leaders of the Sons of Liberty.

So, did Guy Fawkes Day, or Pope’s Night end because we won the Revolution?

Hold up. Not so fast.

It’s 1775, and General Washington wants to gain control of Quebec and convince Catholic French Canadians to form an alliance with the Americans in fighting the British. That wasn’t going to happen if the Continental Army went around singing anti-Catholic songs. General Washington forbid his troops to continue their “childish custom” and “improper” behavior.

A parade of re-enactors of the American Revolution carrying a Benedict Arnold effigy to where it will burn.
Annual Burning of Benedict Arnold.
Source: AtlasObscura

Even though it was a British victory, Benedict Arnold fought heroically for the Continental Army. In fact, this battle was when he received the injury that set him on a course for treason.

Interestingly, winning the Revolution didn’t dampen our taste for chaos and drunken bonfires (see Super Bowl above). So, for many years we supplanted Benedict Arnold into Guy Fawkes’ honor and celebrated our own brand of anti-treason…

…Until Halloween became a more popular holiday in the 19th century.

Sources:

Rescuing Her Rebel: Lydia's father intends to make a match for her at the winter ball while he ambushes his enemy — the man Lydia loves.


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Bowry Lane

If you had asked me which street in Manhattan is the oldest, I would have answered, “The Broad Way.” And I would have been wrong. Before Chinatown and Five Points, before the street became known as “The Bowery,” it was Bowry Lane, a prior footpath shaped by the Lenape.

Native American dwellings on Manhattan Island, before the Dutch settlement.
Source: John Gilmary Shea, 1886.

The Lenape used the path to travel to and from trading and gathering places, and Collect Pond, the only source of freshwater in Manhattan. (The East and Hudson Rivers are tidal estuaries—or brackish, not fresh.) The Lenape term for the path was Wickquasgeck, which either means “Path to the trading place” or “Birch-bark country.”

Dutch Bouwerij

As the Dutch stripped land for the colonists to become self-sufficient in their new environment, they named the path for the farms, or bouwerijs, on it.

In 1625, the Dutch West India Company sent Crijn Fredericksz, an engineer, to Manhattan to survey the land for a fort, roads, farms, and property lines. In doing so, the Broad Way—broad enough for carriages passing in both directions—extended from the southernmost tip of the island where the Dutch built their fort, straight up to the “Road to the Bouwerij.”

Map of New Amsterdam. Fort at the tip of Manhattan, the Broad Way extending straight up to the “Road to the Bouwerijs” along the East River, 1644.

Enslaved Africans

In 1626, the first enslaved Africans arrived in New Amsterdam. Within two decades, many were granted freedom and parcels of land along Bowry Lane.

Now older and manumitted, free Africans were, for the most part, no longer considered “useful” to colonists. But the colonists still found a way to use them: by living on the farthest land from the fort, the free Africans served as the first line of defense against attacks by Native Americans and the British coming from the north.

Ancient View of the Present Junction of Pearl & Chatham Streets
Ancient View of the Present Junction of Pearl & Chatham Streets, 1861. Source: NYPL

Manhattan Changes Hands

When the British took over in 1664, Bowry Lane was already the major road out of Manhattan. It connected to the Boston Post Road, which still exists today, and was literally a posting road that led from New York to Boston.

Montrésor, John, Peter Andrews, and Andrew Dury. A plan of the city of New-York & its environs to Greenwich, on the North or Hudsons River, and to Crown Point, on the East or Sound River, shewing the several streets, publick buildings, docks, fort & battery, with the true form & course of the commanding grounds, with and without the town. Survey'd in the winter,i.e. 1766. [London; Sold by A. Dury, 1775]
Montrésor, John, Peter Andrews, and Andrew Dury, 1766. Source: Library of Congress

In the early part of the 18th century, Bowry Lane was paved, and sidewalks installed. A map from 1766 labels the entire length of road as “the Bowry Lane.” However, after the American Revolution, the northern section was renamed for William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, for his pro-American stance during the war.

The Oldest Home in Manhattan

While New York City became more populated with people and buildings, Bowry Lane remained farms and large estates. To accommodate a greater need for meat, the city established the first public slaughterhouse on the land around Collect Pond, which sits very close to Bowry Lane. Prior to this, slaughterhouses weren’t allowed in the city due to their noise, smells, and effluent matter. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the end to Collect Pond as a source of non-polluted freshwater.

The house is brick, painted dark red. There are Chinese characters below the third floor windows.
Edward Mooney House at 18 Bowery.
Source: Wikimedia

The slaughterhouses were important to Edward Mooney, who was not only important in the “meat business,” but also represented the city’s butchers in the Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen. Wanting to leave near his place of business, he purchased a parcel of land from the Delancey estate at the auction from the Commissioners of Forfeiture in 1785.

During and after the war, Americans confiscated land from loyalists to pay for the war effort. The inhabitants were allowed to take their clothes, some furniture, and provisions for three months. As such, James Delancey, who remained loyal to the British Crown, forfeited his estate. On this land, Mooney built a house at 18 Bowery, and it still stands today.

The architectural style of the house is Early Federal, reflecting strongly its Georgian antecedents in construction, proportions and design details. It is three stories in height, with s finished-garret beneath a gambrel roof, Two features of special note which verif,y the documented age of the building are the hand-hewn timbers framing the roof and the broad width of the front windows in proportion to their height. On the exterior, original splayed stone lintels with double keystone blocks are above most of the windows. At the gable end of the house, Which can be viewed from Pell Street, the garret floor is lighted by a central round-headed window. the upper sash of which contains original wooden tracery. It is flanked by a pair of quadrant windows. The gambrel roof on this side is Within a parapet wall connecting:two large chimneys. The interior of the house also discloses many original architectural details including, in the earliest section, window frames and trim, and in the extension, a stairway with an oval-shaped handrail.
From the Landmarks Preservation Commission, August 23, 1966

The Bowery

The 19th century brought tremendous change to Manhattan and the Bowery, in particular with the influx of immigrants. Over the next two hundred and fifty years, the Bowery would continue to thrive and fail many times over.

Image of the Bowery with people walking on the street, horse-drawn carts, and trolleys below an elevated train track in front of the Bowery Savings Bank.
The Bowery 1897-1898. Source: Wikimedia

Sources:

Rescuing Her Rebel: Lydia's father intends to make a match for her at the winter ball while he ambushes his enemy — the man Lydia loves.


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Love, Liberty, and Quarantine: The Story of Bedloe’s Island

In 1956, the United States Congress officially named the outcrop of land surrounded by New York Bay, and home of the Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island. For almost 300 years prior to this, it was called Bedloe’s Island for Isaac Bedloe, a Dutch colonist, merchant, and shipowner born in New Amsterdam. By the time he purchased it, the Dutch had already forced out the Lenape Indians who had used the island for seasonal hunting and fishing for hundreds of years. Because of its vast oyster beds, the Lenape called it Oyster Island.

That makes for a neat, linear history of a small holding of the Borough of Manhattan situated in the middle of New Jersey waters. There is so much more to tell.

Continue reading “Love, Liberty, and Quarantine: The Story of Bedloe’s Island”

The Sons of Neptune

Prior to 1765, a secret society composed of a diverse, radical group of sailors in the American colonies formed. They called themselves the Sons of Neptune.

The Press Gang, 1770

During peacetime, the Royal Navy sent press gangs through dockside neighborhoods searching for able-bodied men to join their crew. It was imperative to the British Empire to have as strong a naval force as possible to maintain their dominance around the world. That being said, merchant sailors earned higher pay than the navy, and few went willingly into impressment.

Impressment, to the Sons of Neptune, was a prime example of British tyranny. Their response to it launched America’s rebellion.

Continue reading “The Sons of Neptune”

Public Houses, Inns, Taverns

Churches and taverns had a complicated relationship in Colonial America. As early as 1656, it was a finable offense in Puritan Massachusetts for a town not to have an ordinary.

As you can see by their definitions, the words for a drinking-eating-lodging establishment are mostly interchangeable. (Ordinary became the regional word for a tavern throughout New England.) However, only places called “inns” were reliably somewhere to stay while switching horses or waiting for one’s horse to rest for the next length of travel.

Continue reading “Public Houses, Inns, Taverns”