Patriotic verse printed on the back of a playing card in pre-Revolutionary New York.
This wonderful ephemeron is neither dated nor signed, but Evans attributes it to New York printer John Holt in 1768. This view is elaborated on in Luke John Feder’s The Sense of the City: Politics and Culture in Pre-Revolutionary New York City. Feder argues that it is an artifact of two intertwined conflicts, one between New York City’s Sons of Liberty and less radical patriots, the other the vicious rivalry between the DeLancy and Livington factions for dominance of New York’s political life. During the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765-66, events transpired that brought the DeLancy faction into close alignment with the Sons of Liberty and the Livingstons with the more moderate faction.
Here the Livingstons are represented by John Morin Scott (1730-1784) a prominent New York lawyer, major owner of land in lower Manhattan, military officer and politician. During the Revolution he served in the Provincial Congress and as a brigadier general under Washington in the New York campaign. After the war he served as New York’s first Secretary of State, a State Senator, and a delegate to the Continental Congress, but he lost his campaign against George Clinton to become the state’s first governor. Though a patriot, he had taken a more temperate approach toward the British, counseling moderation during the Stamp Act crisis and rejecting the Sons of Liberty’s extralegal measures.
Printer and publisher John Holt (1721-1784) was firmly in the DeLancey camp. Holt was a native of Williamsburg, Virginia, where he’d run a failed mercantile business and served as assistant Postmaster General under Franklin. He migrated to Connecticut and then New York, where he worked for James Parker at the New York Gazette and Weekly Post-Boy, ultimately taking over the paper and renaming it the New York Gazette or General Advertiser in 1766. The Gazette was for some years the mouthpiece of the DeLanceys and the Sons of Liberty.
When Scott ran for the New York Assembly in 1768, Holt’s press circulated a number of thinly-veiled poetic attacks. Some of these, such as the “Word of Advice” offered here, were printed on the verso of playing cards, either for convenience or possibly for ease of concealment from hostile eyes. The verse attacked Scott for his arrogance, his demagogic use of anti-Anglican sentiment to stir up fear among New York Protestants, and his rejection of the violent tactics of the Sons of Liberty during the Stamp Act crisis. (Feder, pp. 97-98) It reads as follows:
“Mark well the Barretor! [i.e., barrister] / Who daily strives the People to misguide, / Religion prostitutes, for basest Ends, / And sows Dissention, ‘twixt the dearest Friends: / He who could tamely see his Country’s Wrongs, / And brand with Treason, Liberty’s brave sons; / Who basely strove with more than common Pains, / To banish Freedom, and to fix our Chains. / Mark well this Rule, by Heav’nly Wisdom plan’d, / “That a divided House can never stand.”/ Firmly united, you may brave each Friend, / But if divided, Freedom’s at an End; / As a direful Mischief’s do from discord flow, /Unite in Time, against this common Foe, / Convince the Wretch that all his Arts are vain, / That his vile Purpose he shall ne’er obtain, / This once prevent him, in his enterprise, / He’ll fall like LUCIFER, no more to rise.”
The only other known example of this verse is held by the New York Public Library, probably printed on the verso of a seven of spades. Another playing card is known bearing the same title but an entirely different anti-Scott verse beginning with the line “Beware my good friends of the wolf’s griping paw” (Evans #11125, only known example also at NYPL). Yet other playing cards of the period are known bearing election tickets or ballots for the New York legislature and for the Continental Congress. All are extremely rare.
Wegelin’s Early American Poetry makes no mention of this verse, either in this or any other context.
Early American Imprints, first series (#11126), describing the New York Public Library example. Not in Wegelin, Early American Poetry. OCLC lists digital and microfilm editions only. Americana Exchange lists no examples having ever appeared on the market. Background on the DaLancey-Livingston / Holt-Scott feud from Luke John Feder, The Sense of the City: Politics and Culture in Pre-Revolutionary New York City (dissertation at SUNY Stonybrook, 2010).
Minor discoloration, but about excellent