Early Modern Times – boiling Thomas Lobster

Early Modern Times - boiling Thomas Lobster

Dear readers,

Welcome to September! The beginning of term follows a trip I took to Boston MA for a recent conference. Boston, as you know, was a hotbed of the American Revolution; and among the many relevant historic sites in Boston are the Old State House (where the Declaration of Liberty was read out on the east balcony) and Faneuil Hall (pictured above, in a photograph I took on Sept. 1), a meeting place for American revolutionaries and thus dubbed the ‘Cradle of Liberty’. A plaque in Faneuil Hall explains that it was built in 1742 by Boston Merchant Peter Faneuil, of Huguenot descent–thus stressing the building’s roots in the pursuit of liberty, as in the case of French Huguenots fleeing Catholic persecution back in Europe. The plaque does not mention, however, that Faneuil’s fortune was made off American commodities (such as molasses and rum) sold to Europe for manufactured goods, and exchanged along the west coast of Africa for slaves (or perhaps this information was originally included, but erased through a process of ‘plaque removal’?). And though Faneuil Hall indeed served not only as an open food market but also a meeting space for eighteenth-century Bostonians disgruntled with British taxation policies, as well as for anti-slavery rallies in the 1840s and 1850s, the tourist literature does not mention the pro-slavery rally held there in 1835–described in the Boston Commercial Gazette, reports the New England Historical Society’s website, as ‘an assemblage of fifteen hundred or two thousand highly respectable gentlemen.’ So it seems that Faneuil Hall was also at times a cradle of slavery.

Faneuil Hall, then, was the site of protests against the British Empire’s Sugar Tax of 1764, Stamp Act of 1765, and (perceived) unjust taxation of tea. It played a key role in the coming uprising of the 13 colonies against Britain (described as resistance to ‘absolute Despotism’ and ‘absolute Tyranny’, as the Declaration of Independence puts it, while denouncing ‘merciless Indian savages’ attacking the American frontier). Boston heated the pot in which to boil ‘Thomas Lobster’, as Christopher Hibbert refers to the British forces (given the longstanding nicknames ‘lobsters’ and ‘lobster-backs’ for the red-coated British soldiers) in the companion documentary to his 1990 book Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes. Nearby, British soldiers fired upon and killed five members of a raging mob in the 1770 Boston Massacre. The ‘Sons of Liberty’, led by Samuel Adams and other Boston smugglers, met in Faneuil Hall throughout the 1760s and 1770s to call for resistance–including the dumping of a consignment of British tea into the Boston harbour in the December 1773 ‘Boston Tea Party’, animated by the slogan ‘No Taxation Without Representation’. With the outbreak of the war, Boston was a stronghold of revolutionary forces after the Pyrrhic victory of British forces at the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill was followed by General Washington’s entry into the city in 1776.

Less well-known is the local historical building run by the British Crown which doled out beverages brewed with a common perennial herb under the false pretense that this drink was good for calming revolutionary sentiments: Fennel Hall, the ‘Ladle of Fibber-Tea’. It was in Fennel Hall that the Brits tried to placate the settlers with offers of agricultural plots in the colony (the Boston Mass.-acre) and free cosmetics (the Boston Mascara). The fact that the Sons of Liberty and their cohort dressed up as Mohawks when dumping tea in 1773 led the Fennel Hall officials to ridicule the incident as the ‘Boston Tea Parody’, though they were aware that revolution was thus ‘brewing’, at least in the Boston harbour. But they disagreed over what the revolutionary slogan meant: was it a call for votes in exchange for secretarial work (‘no dictation without representation’)? For breastfeeding (‘no lactation without representation’)? Or for the dissemination of Spinoza’s work on theology and politics (‘no Tractatus without representation’)?

The speculators employed in Early Modern Times’s Department of Counterfactual History have pondered the consequences of successful British suppression of the ‘American Rebellion’, as it would be called. Would we now be living in the United States of Canada? And what would be the alternative-universe EMSP courses this Fall at the University of King’s College, New York? Dr. Laura Penny would teach the 2nd-year core class on evolutionary history of colonial carpentry, Structures of the Modern Shelf. Dr. Kathryn Morris would offer the 3rd-year core class on bucolic breeding-bulls in sixteenth- to early nineteenth-century Europe, The Stud of Nature in Early Modern Europe, as well as electives on the fires used to incinerate the essence of pigs in large casks (The Ham-Pyre: Porker-ity & the Hogshead) and on citrus fruits in works by Margaret Cavendish, Cyrano de Bergerac, Jonathan Swift, and others (The Oranges of Science Fiction in Early Modern Europe). I would offer the 4th-year core course on angry fits arising from the dullness of non-consumption of alcohol and from the delegation of powers to the provinces (Conniptions of Stale Sobriety & Devolution in the Early Modern Period) and an elective on special outfits worn by the bodyguards of the founder of Ballets Russe, protecting them from attacks with electric rifles (Tasers & the Vest: Sentries of Diaghilev). Dr. Jannette Vusich would teach her popular course on Renaissance depictions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s forgotten tales of Hobbit bird-breeding and housecleaning, Doves, Dust, & the Shire in Italian Renaissance Art. Dr. Daniel Brandes would engage his students with studies of late eighteenth-century German philosophical views on revolutionary and destructive beetles, Kant and Radical Weevils. Dr. Kyle Fraser would shed light on the strange pagan religions which worshipped inflammable sticks, large felines, and acorn-trees, regarded bed-coverings as satanic, and can still be found in restaurants which don’t provide wifi (Matchstick-, Lions-, & Oak-Cults: From Anti-Quilts to Post-Modem Eateries). And finally, Dr. Stephen Snobelen would examine highly emotional ads featuring timid insects causing repeat injuries (Shy-ants & Re-lesions: Hysterical Prospectives).

‘Til next week,

Simon Kow

Director, Early Modern Lobster-Boil Studies Program

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