Colonial House

American Angels [SACD]

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

and roots for this beer, and they also vended it on the streets during Election week. An Election sermon was also preached.

Boston had two Election Days. "Nigger 'Lection" was so called in distinction from Artillery Election. On the former anniversary day the election of the governor was formally announced, and the black population was allowed to throng the Common, to buy gingerbread and drink beer like their white betters. On the second holiday the Ancient and Honorable Artillery had a formal parade, and chose its new officers, who received with much ceremony, out-of-doors, their new commissions from the new governor. Woe, then, to the black face that dared be seen on that grave and martial occasion! In 1817 a negro boy named William Read, enraged at being refused the high privileges and pleasures of Artillery Day, blew up in Boston Harbor a ship called the Canton Packet. For years it was a standing taunt of white boys in Boston to negroes:

            "Who blew up the ship?
                  Nigger, why for?
            'Cause he couldn't go to
                  'lection An' shake paw-paw."

Paw-paw was a gambling game which was played on the Common with four sea-shells of the Cyproea Moneta.

The 14th of July was observed by Boston negroes for many years to commemorate the introduction of measures to abolish the slave trade. It was derisively called Bobalition Day, and the orderly convention of black men was greeted with a fusillade of rotten fruit and eggs and much jesting abuse. It was at one of these Bobalition-Day celebrations that this complimentary toast was seriously given and recorded in honor of the newly elected governor: "Governor Brooks—May the mantelpiece of Caleb Strong fall on the hed of his distinguished Predecessor."

In other localities, notably on the Massachusetts coast, in Connecticut, and in Narragansett, the term "Nigger 'Lection" was applied to the election of a black governor, who held his sway over the black population. Wherever there was a large number of negroes the black governor was a man of much dignity and importance, and his election was a scene of much gayety and considerable feasting, which the governor's master had to pay for. As he had much control over his black constituents, it is plain that the black governor might be made useful in many petty ways to his white neighbors. Occasionally the "Nigger 'Lection" had a deep political signification and influence. "Scaeva," in his "Hartford in the Olden Times," and Hinman, in the "American Revolution," give detailed and interesting accounts of "Nigger 'Lection."

A few rather sickly and benumbed attempts were made in bleak New England to celebrate in old English fashion the first of May. A May-pole was erected in Charlestown in 1687, and was promptly cut down. The most unbounded observance of the day was held at Merry Mount (now the town of Quincy) in 1628 by

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