Sunday, November 11, 2018

Patriotism - Celebrating in 18C American Public Spaces before & after The Revolution

Before the American Revolution, most colonial public pleasure gardens operated in New York City. The types of public meetings & celebrations taking place in commercial gardens changed dramatically with the Stamp Act in 1765.

From the time of the English occupation, feast days & anniversaries had been observed in New York City with more or less spirit & display. The festivals increased as the population of the city increased. The birthdays of the King & members of the royal family plus the anniversaries of their accessions to the throne, & the gunpowder plot were generally observed. A new governor was received with more or less enthusiasm, & his entry into the city was at tended with imposing formalities. When Governor Andros came to New York, in 1688, he was accompanied by a large & brilliant retinue, received with great ceremony, & escorted to the fort by the city guard—a regiment of foot & a troop of horse, in showy uniforms —where his commission was published, & later at the City Hall.  Before the passage of the Stamp Act, colonists--usually the male gentry--regularly gathered together in tavern gardens to pay respect to the monarchy & institutions of the mother country.

Anne, Queen of Great Britain (1665-1714, r. 1702-1714) painted by Michael Dahl (1659-1743)

On the 15th of February, 1703, the treasurer of New York City was ordered to repay to the mayor £9 10s 3d, which he had expended for a large outdoor celebration which included a bonfire, beer  & wine, on her majesty's birthday,  the 6th of February, & on the 24th of this same month the common council ordered that a public bonfire be made at the usual place,  & that 10 gallons of wine  & a barrel of beer be provided, at the expense of the city, to celebrate the success of her majesty's arms at Vigo & in Flanders, & the housekeepers were ordered to illuminate. Queen Anne (1665-1714) had ascended the thrones of England, Scotland, & Ireland on 8 March 1702. On 1 May 1707, under the Act of Union, two of her realms, the kingdoms of England  & Scotland, united as a single sovereign state: the united kingdom of Great Britain.

On the 6th of October, 1714, the governor gave notice of the death of Queen Anne; & on the 11th, King George was proclaimed in the city. The common council ordered 7 or 8 cords of wood for a bonfire  & 20 gallons of wine for the people.  The expenses of the common council on this occasion amounted to £8 4s, which was ordered to be paid.

King George II of England (1683-1760) by Godfrey Kneller.

To honor the 1748 anniversary of the accession of George II to the English throne, New York's royally appointed governor dutifully stood to review a formal procession of regulars, horse soldiers, & city militia. As the last trooper passed, the royal governor ceremoniously retired with "the Gentlemen of his Majesty's Council, several members of the General Assembly, the Militia Officers, and principal inhabitants of the City" to the commercial pleasure grounds at Spring Garden in New York City where toasts to "his Majesty's and all the loyal Healths, were drank" well into the night.

In 1760, the gentry of New York celebrated King George III's birthday at Bowling Green Garden in the city with "A deal of Fireworks...and many...Loyal Healths...drank by His Honour our Governor, and other principal Gentlemen of this City."

King George III of England (1738-1820)

The public could buy subscriptions to some British American colonial garden ceremonies, while other celebrations were by invitation only. Festivities honoring royal dignity slowed with the end of the Seven Year's War & the onset of revolutionary unrest.

By the middle of the Revoltionary War, commemorations of George Washington's birthday began to replace those honoring George III. In 1781, Washington's birthday was celebrated by American & French officers; & by the next year, the whole town of Richmond, Virginia, observed Washington's birthday with "utmost demonstrations of joy." Before the war's end, patriots in Cambridge, Massachusettes; New York City; & rural Talbot County, Maryland were toasting & dining their hero's birthday.

Detail of Charles Wilson Peale's 1772 Portrait of George Washington of Virginia.

Changing heros did not necessarily make some celebrations any more egalitarian however. By the 1790s, some celebrations of Washington's birthday remained as elitist as those honoring George III had been 30 years before. One resident reported, "There is a great deal of snobbery in Philadelphia, where classes are sharply divided. This is particularly noticeable at balls. There are some balls where no one is admitted unless his professional standing is up to a certain mark...At one of the balls held on February 23, 1795, to celebrate the birthday of Washington, I begged Mr. Vaughan, my near neighbor, and my colleague in the Philosophical Society, to buy me one of the tickets of admission. But he replied that since I was a storekeeper I could not aspire to this honor....I got no tickets, and did not see the ball."

Before the Revolution, a broader cross section of the colonial population celebrated Christian religious saint days together with feasting, drinking, & parading at public pleasure gardens in New York. On most religious holidays, colonials randomly gathered together in commercial gardens; &on the traditional patron saint day of specific organizations, often members would join together to celebrate in a commercial garden.

In 1761, pleasure garden guests feasted the anniversary of St. Patrick at Bowling Green Garden. Traditional processions--the forerunners of New York City's modern St. Partrick's Day Parade--often accompanied the revelry. Several years earlier in 1753, the Ancient & Right Worshipful Society of Free & Accepted Masons arranged to gather together at New York's Spring Garden to celebrate their traditional Feast of St. John the Baptist & "being properly cloathed, made a regular Procession in due Form."

The private clubs & closed societies popular with males during the 18th century in the British American colonies sometimes held their secret meetings at outdoor pleasure gardens. Shortly after New York's Bowling Green Garden changed its name to Vauxhall in 1758, the St. Andrews Society decided to hold their quarterly meetings at the pleasure garden.

The practice of planning regular club meetings at commercial gardens continued after the Revolutionary period. The Washington Garden in New York City was the home of the Columbia Anacreontic Society, the Buskin Club, the Royal Arch Masons, & other organizations in the early 19th century.

Simply curtailing public garden celebrations honoring the British royalty was not enough for many angry patriots in 1765. Just before the Stamp Act, British Royal Artillery Regiment Major Thomas James had sublet New Yorker Samuel Francis' New Vaux Hall Garden as his personal headquarters. When Grenville's Parliament passed the stamp duties for the colonies, inflamed New Yorkers displayed anti-stamp placards, marched in torchlight parades, & broke glass windows & lamps.

After the actual stamps arrived in late October of 1765, some 2,000 enraged colonial patriots burned effigies of New York's royal governor, the lieutenant governor, & the devil on the Bowling Green just outside the British Fort George in Manhattan on November 1, 1765.

The Sons of Liberty had placed placards all over the city declaring "First man that either distributes or makes use of Stamped Paper let him take care of his House, Person and Effects." The huge crowd marched on Fort George, where the Stamps were stored. A letter was sent to Lt. Governor Cadwallader Colden warning him "Not to fire on the town, unless you want to die a martyr to your own villainy and will be a memento to all wicked governors."

The Sons then informed the Fort's Commander, Major Thomas James, they would tear down his house, if he did not give them the stamps. He refused. Major James had been reported to say he would "cram the stamps down the throats of the people" with the end of his sword. One incensed group split from the mob heading for Major James' residence at the New Vaux Hall Garden, on the Hudson at the end of Warren Street just below King's College.

There they ripped the house apart "leaving it a mere Shell; also destroyed the Summer Houses, and tore up and spoiled the Garden." The New Vaux Hall House and Gardens continued to play an integral part in the conflict, as they were converted to a military hospital & convalescent area during the Revolution.

Just as colonial reaction to the Stamp Act curtailed most pro-British celebrations, it slowed down most other activities in commercial gardens as well. People had less disposable income & less interest in spending money for the purely recreational merriment that colonial public pleasure gardens traditionally had offered their patrons. Many patriots believed it was "highly improper that such Entertainments should be exhibited at this Time of public distress, when great Numbers of poor people can scarce find Means of Subsistence."

When the First Continental Congress passed the "Articles of Association" in 1774, the 8th article read "We...will discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation especially all horse-racing, and all kinds of gaming, cock-fignting, exhibitions of shews, plays, and other expensive diversions and entertainments."

Widespread voluntary compliance temporarily closed many places of public entertainment & slowed business in most commercial pleasure gardens. The line was drawn, & colonials began to take sides, even in their public pleasure gardens. Most pleasure gardens remained open during the hostilities; but in order to survive financially, the owners began to cater to one side or the other.

During the Revolution some public gardens in occupied New York City openly catered to the royal military, while others attracted the adamantly revolutionary. New York patriot Abraham De La Montagne took over the King's Arms Garden in 1769, as tensions were rising between the colonies & the mother country. As the Sons of Liberty began to congregate at the tavern garden, they quickly stopped referring to it as the royal sounding King's Arms Garden & called it simply Montagne's. It later became the Atlantic Garden.

Even before the Revolution, discontented colonials began to drop royal names from their personal businesses. Since the settlement of British America, colonials & their British sponsors chose names for both their commercial establishments & public places to honor England's royalty or the appointed royal governors.

General George Washington replaced the royal monarch as the favorite new place name with the onset of the Revolution. In 1776, Manhattan Island boasted a Fort Washington as well as a Washington Heights. Proud patriots renamed counties, towns, & colleges for the national hero during the conflict.

Under revolutionary sympathizer Montagne, his tavern garden, the old King's Arms, quickly became one of New York City's favorite meeting places for the Sons of Liberty who defiantly erected a liberty pole in the park directly across Broadway. This enraged the British soldiers who fired upon the tavern claiming it was the headquarters of radicalism in the city.

Raising the Liberty Pole in New York City.

Each year on or near March 18, from 1770 until his death in 1774, Montagne offered a public dinner at his tavern garden to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.

In the middle of the conflict, patriot Montagne died, & widow Mary apparently had an emotional & political about-turn & married a Loyalist named John Amory. The tavern & garden immediately became his. Shortly after Amory arrived on the scene, members of the Zion Lodge of the Ancient, Free, & Accepted Masons celebrated St. John's Day at the widow's inheritance drinking "loyal toasts."

From 1777 until 1781, when John Amory left the business, loyalists took the place of the Liberty Boys at the public garden. Even when Amory gave up the tavern garden to return to his prior occupation of whipmaking, the next proprietor continued the garden's loyal leanings by hanging up the sign of "H.R.H. Prince William Henry" after the Prince Royal (later William IV) who was serving with the British fleet stationed in New York in 1782.

A similar public pleasure garden in New York, the White Conduit House informed "the gentlemen of the (royal) Army and the Navy of...good accomodation." The British army occupied New York City in August of 1776, & a battalion of Hessian grenadiers camped in the neighborhood of the White Conduit House.

When the garden's management changed in 1780, its loyalist sentiments remained in tact. The new host proudly advertised that he was a "veteran in his Most Gracious Majesty's service" who hoped for the "smiles, protection, and encouragement of the Gentlemen of the army and navy." British gentlemen in service of the king could avail themselves of "the superb garden...most elegant boxes prepared for the reception of the Ladies." The loyalist White Conduit House closed permanently in 1782.

Its situation paralleled the last years of its New York City neighbor, the Corlear's Hook Tavern and Garden. When Daniel Campbell assumed the lease for Corlear's Hook Garden before the Revolution, he renamed the house & garden Campbell's Tavern. Campbell even bought newspaper space to declare his loyalty to the crown as the British occupied the city; but Campbell's business fell off; a& in 1777, he put the property up for sale. The loyalist tavern garden did not sell until the end of the war in 1783. Patriotic sentiment ran high, & neither of these loyalist tavern gardens would ever again serve as a public pleasure garden.

Except for the orations at public assemblies, victory banquets, balls, & fireworks that greeted the end of the Revolution, business remained slow in commercial gardens until the middle of the 1780s. Generally Americans agreed that the new republic should remain free of the decadence & vain amusements afflicting Europe & the mother country. Violating Sabbath laws, profanity, playing at balls or billiards, horse racing, cockfighting, drunkeness, prostitution, & adultery were publically frowned upon by many citizens during this period. This new patriotic morality changed the public pleasure garden.

No longer would Americans emulate the British prototype commercial gardens. The majority of entertainments in the public pleasure gardens of the new republic now would center on patriotic symbolism or on the healthy rural sports of shooting, fishing, & swimming rather than the decadent recreations that encouraged wagering, drunkeness, & promiscuity-- well, at least for a while.

After the ratification of the Constitution, commercial public pleasure gardens occasionally served as vehicles of democracy. One of Baltimore's pleasure grounds became a formal political meeting place where the town's future was debated. A 1794 Baltimore newspaper announcement called, "The inhabitants of the meet at Gray's order to take their sense respecting the incorporation of Baltimore-town...on the plan proposed by the...last session of the General Assembly." Of course, it was the male, property-owning "inhabitants" who gathered together in the Baltimore garden to participate in the new democracy.

The colonial public pleasure gardens that served as stages, where mostly males honored Britain's royalty before the Stamp Act, dramatically changed to stages, where mostly males honored & enacted democracy after the Revolution.

The number of commercial gardens grew quickly after the Ratification of the Constitution, but the new combination of divided political loyalties, class divisions, & increased competition forced public pleasure gardens to grow more factional, specialized, & less egalitarian than in the unifying early years of the fight for a new democracy.