BackStory is a weekly public radio show and podcast hosted by Peter Onuf, Ed Ayers, and Brian Balogh. We take a topic and try to find the most interesting stories to help give that topic context through three centuries of American history.

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“Remember, remember the 5th of November; Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot.”
Tonight is Guy Fawkes’ Night in the UK – an annual commemoration of the failed 1605 plot by English Catholics to blow up Parliament and kill the Protestant King, James I. But Americans used to “remember” the 5th of November too.
After the Glorious Revolution of 1689, in which a Protestant monarchy was firmly established, Guy Fawkes’ Night came to be celebrated as a Royal Holiday throughout Britain and the colonies. It was especially popular in New England, where it was known as “Pope’s Night.” In Boston, it became a rowdy and unabashedly anti-Catholic event, complete with warring street gangs, bonfires, and papal effigies (The Bostonian Society has a great account of the festivities). George Washington even forbade soldiers of the Continental Army from celebrating it in 1775, while encamped in Boston, for fear its anti-Catholic message would alienate French sympathies for the American cause.
While the celebrations of “Pope’s Night” gradually died out after the revolution, the anti-Catholicism it reflected long continued to be an important force in American life.
Image: Broadside celebrating “Pope-Night,” printed in Boston, 1768. From the Library of Congress time capsule project. 

“Remember, remember the 5th of November; Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot.”

Tonight is Guy Fawkes’ Night in the UK – an annual commemoration of the failed 1605 plot by English Catholics to blow up Parliament and kill the Protestant King, James I. But Americans used to “remember” the 5th of November too.

After the Glorious Revolution of 1689, in which a Protestant monarchy was firmly established, Guy Fawkes’ Night came to be celebrated as a Royal Holiday throughout Britain and the colonies. It was especially popular in New England, where it was known as “Pope’s Night.” In Boston, it became a rowdy and unabashedly anti-Catholic event, complete with warring street gangs, bonfires, and papal effigies (The Bostonian Society has a great account of the festivities). George Washington even forbade soldiers of the Continental Army from celebrating it in 1775, while encamped in Boston, for fear its anti-Catholic message would alienate French sympathies for the American cause.

While the celebrations of “Pope’s Night” gradually died out after the revolution, the anti-Catholicism it reflected long continued to be an important force in American life.

Image: Broadside celebrating “Pope-Night,” printed in Boston, 1768. From the Library of Congress time capsule project. 

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    Remember, remember, the 5th of November
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    Little bits of history matter!