In provincial Boston, the birth of a prince of England was cause for celebration. When news of the birth of Prince George William reached the colonists in March 1718, cannons were discharged, a party was held at the Old State House and crowds gathered to cheer ‘huzzah.’
Bostonians didn’t just celebrate royal births. They celebrated royal birthdays, accessions, coronations and anniversaries of coronations and accessions with pageantry and ceremony. Richard Bushman, in King and People in Provincial Massachusetts, refers to ‘the incessant round of ceremonies exalting the king.’
Bushman argued the reason for such demonstrative allegiance to the monarchy was the belief that the king had a reciprocal obligation: to protect his people. When the king showed he no longer intended to provide that protection, the people were no longer obliged to be loyal to him.
Though the colonists didn’t always agree with their monarch, they demonstrated their loyalty to him up until the eve of the Boston Tea Party.
Any Royal Reason for a Party
Puritan Bostonians, sympathetic to the Parliamentarians during the English civil wars, weren’t thrilled with the accession of the Roman Catholic James II to the throne in 1685. But when they were ordered to proclaim him king, thousands assembled in High Street to cheer with ‘huzzahs’ and to hear the drums beat, the trumpets sound and the volleys fired.
When the Protestant King William was proclaimed king in Boston on May 29, 1689, the colony threw the biggest, happiest celebration ever. People came from all over to view the procession of provincial leaders and gentlemen, followed by a militia regiment and companies of horse and foot from all over the countryside. Dinner was served to the upper classes at the Old State House, and wine was served to the crowds in the street, where cheering filled the air until 9 p.m., when the bells rang and people went home.
Birthday celebrations for William were well attended until his death in 1702, which was widely mourned, according to diarist Samuel Sewall. As the years went by, the celebrations for the English monarch grew more elaborate.
In 1716, the Boston News-Letter described King George’s accession to the throne: the artillery of the fort at Castle William was discharged, and the Town House was ‘finely illuminated’ with toasts given to the royal family, the royal governor and others.
Celebrating the Birth of a Prince
On March 17, 1718, the Boston News-Letter reported on the celebration of the birth of a prince: George William. A ‘handsome entertainment’ was held at the Old State House for the governor, his council, civil and military officers, gentlemen and merchants. The firing of artillery was followed by ‘great demonstrations of joy.’
Since news traveled so slowly in those days, the colonists hadn’t yet learned the infant prince, born in November, had already died on February 17.
On May 30, 1720, Samuel Sewall noted in his diary ‘Colours are out, and Guns fire for K. Charles 2d Birth, Return.’ King Charles II had returned to England to claim the throne on his 30th birthday – in 1660, 60 years earlier.
When King George II acceded to the throne in 1727, he was proclaimed in Boston ‘with all possible demonstration of loyal zeal and affection, and with much more state solemnity and magnificence than was ever before seen among us,’ according to the New-England Weekly Journal. Three militia regiments and five troops of horse formed in front of the Old State House, while people covered the roofs. Bells rang all day, and at night the people lit bonfires and set off fireworks, while three and four rows of candles illuminated the windows of houses on Boston’s main streets.
The birth of another royal baby was reported in the Boston News-Letter on May 14, 1738. The new prince was the grandson of King George II and the future King George III.
In late 1760, the news of George II’s death reached Boston. Royal Gov. Francis Bernard led a procession under military escort from the Old State House to Council chambers. Outside stood a militia regiment and a vast crowd of people, who listened as George was proclaimed king from the balcony.
We…do now, with full Voice and Consent of Tongue and Heart, Publish and Proclaim, That the High and Mighty Prince George, Prince of Wales, is now … become our only Lawful and Rightful Liege Lord George the Third … To Whom we acknowledge all Faith and constant Obedience, with all hearty and humble affection: Beseeching God … to bless the Royal King George the Third, with long and happy Years to Reign over us.
He concluded with “God save the king” and the crowd gave three huzzahs. The militia fired three volleys, and 63 cannon were discharged at Castle William. That night the town was illuminated by candles and entertainment was held at Faneuil Hall.
The king’s coronation day. In the evening I went with mamma to Col. Marshal’s in King Street to see the fireworks.
That was the last official celebration of an English monarch’s coronation in Boston. The next year, George’s coronation would be overshadowed by the events leading up to the Boston Tea Party.