From Ordered Buckets to Honored Felons:
I just got one of my articles published in a history journal--Pennsylvania History. I'm putting the introduction in here. If anyone is interested in the full article, I can attach it for you.
I'm still working on my Jesus paper.
FROM ORDERED BUCKETS TO HONORED FELONS:
FIRE COMPANIES AND CULTURAL TRANSFORMATION IN PHILADELPHIA, 1785-1850*
On Feb. 24, 1845, the United States Hose Company, a volunteer fire company in Philadelphia, held a meeting to decide how to respond to an attack on their hose house by Moyamensing Hose. Seeking to avoid more conflict with the "Moyas," the membership of U.S. Hose voted to not take their carriage outside their immediate neighborhoods of Northern Liberties and Kensington. Such humiliation must have been shocking to the high-flying "Blue-Dick Boys" of U.S. Hose. From 1838 to 1845, U.S. Hose emerged as one of the city’s most prominent fire companies while fire companies were emerging as the most important institutional alternative to Victorian social order. With a rapidly growing membership, U.S. Hose had one of the best-known hose carriages in the city (the "Blue-Dick"), won a highly publicized charity fund-raising contest in 1842, and gave as good as they got with rivals like Columbia Hose and Northern Liberties Hose. Neighborhood boys gathered around the U. S. Hose hose house, eager to run with the hose carriage and join in the next "spree" of mayhem and drunkenness. However, the masculine aura surrounding U.S. Hose was dispelled by the attack of Moyamensing Hose. Unable to either defend themselves or exact any kind of revenge, U.S. Hose rapidly lost standing as they stopped participating in fire company violence, sold their hose carriage, and gave up sponsoring balls and excursions. Although "respectable opinion" might have applauded the retreat from violence, the company lost most of its membership and fell into near-inactivity within four years.[i]
In Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850, Bruce Laurie argues that the violence of fire companies during the 1840's and 1850's was associated with "traditional” or “pre-industrial culture." Following E. P. Thompson’s analysis in “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” Laurie’s analysis of lower-class cultures in Philadelphia focused on the relation between culture and work. According to Laurie, traditional culture was defined by a casual approach toward work in which artisans shared drinks, games and other forms of workday leisure with employers and exercised enough control over their work to take time off when they wished. Thus, ante-bellum "fireladdies" were part of traditional culture because they left work to answer fire alarms just as readily as they and other workplace "traditionalists" dropped their tools for impromptu vacations, workplace drinking, and street carnivals. As was the case with Thompson, Laurie gave little attention to analyzing the symbolism of leisure, the organization of leisure practices, or the relation between daily leisure and major celebrations. Instead, Laurie viewed the fire companies of the 1840’s as a variation of the traditionalism characteristic of all human societies before industrialization. For Laurie, the traditional world of work and leisure contrasted sharply with the "revivalist" or "industrial" culture of evangelicals and temperance activists committed to "habits of industry" and "love of employment." as a result of protracted conversion experiences. Although many working class converts could not maintain their pledges, Laurie emphasized that evangelical and temperance workmen still went through a "fundamental change in . . . morality and social personality" that was "a quantum leap from the culture of traditionalism."[ii]
However, current research on popular culture raises many doubts about Laurie’s broad concept of traditional culture and his sharp contrast between the violent fire companies and industrial culture. Current studies treat popular culture between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries as specifically “early modern” rather than broadly traditional. Hutton and Cressy argue that much of what is thought of as traditional culture in England—mumming, church ales, morris dancing, Robin Hood plays, St. George ridings, and ascension days—was inaugurated between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. As was the case with workplace leisure, fairs and carnival, these activities were characterized by mutually reinforcing displays of individuality and affirmations of collective solidarity. According to Mikhail Bakhtin, Renaissance festivity created wide latitude for participants to display their individual selves as they swore oaths, exchanged insults, launched charivari, put on theatrical presentations, carried out prodigious feats of eating and drinking, and engaged in other kinds of public performances. The focus on individual performance also provided a model for the exercise of freedom that was crucial to the crowd’s understanding of themselves as a “people” asserting a collective liberty against the claims of feudal hierarchy. The democratic dimension of early modern festivity created considerable ambivalence between the “gathered people” and the authorities. Monarchies had a great deal of success in popularizing themselves through celebrations of royal birthdays, ascension days, military victories, and foiled coups, but popular festivity was also a readily available resource for political dissidents ranging from the German peasant rebels of the 1520’s to the Wilkesite movement in 18th century England. Partly as a result, popular festivity was the target of on-going official supervision, criticism, and restriction.[iii]
Despite the efforts of godly reformers, early modern popular culture also flourished in the English colonies. Local governments in Boston and Philadelphia initially sought to limit taverns and suppress popular celebrations. However, David W. Conroy argues that early modern popular culture was re-established in early eighteenth-century Boston as celebrations of Christmas and royal birthdays were revived, popular festivals sprang up around weddings, funerals, training days, and court days, and shared drinks once again became a token of hospitality, friendship, and trust. It appears that the ban on taverns was never enforced in Philadelphia and Peter Thompson’s history of taverns indicates that tavern leisure in Philadelphia involved the same emphasis on individual display and group solidarity that Bakhtin saw in the popular culture of the Renaissance. Because most eighteenth-century Philadelphia taverns catered to crowds of mixed social standing, even the haughtiest of elites felt pressed to display their abilities before crowds that included lower-class men and participate in rituals designed to create unity with lower-class tavern goers. Philadelphia elites and members of the lower orders gradually stopped attending the same taverns after the Revolution. However, artisans and laborers continued to participate in early modern leisure into the nineteenth century. Work breaks, street encounters, tavern socializing, and holiday celebrations were organized as situations of performance in which participants displayed their wit, craft knowledge, or “character” before “companies” of other men. Men experienced themselves as “independent,” “virtuous,” and “honorable” when they received the acclaim of the gathered company while the collective solidarity of the company was reaffirmed through group judgment of individual performance.[iv]
Certainly, some elements of the violent fire companies can be viewed as continuous with early modern popular culture. The enthusiasm with which violent firemen in Philadelphia left their workplaces to fight fires was consistent with the early modern integration of festivity into the workday. However, violent firemen both organized their activities and represented themselves in a manner that was more like the Washingtonian temperance movement than early modern popular culture. Contrary to the focus on individual performance in early modern culture, the fire companies of the 1840’s and 1850’s organized their activities in terms of collective performance and representation. Companies raced to fires, fought rivals for access to plugs, and attacked rival companies on the streets as groups rather than individuals. They also staged a variety of ceremonies designed to celebrate the value and prestige of the company as a collective, including balls, the triennial firemen’s parade, escorts for new engines and hose carriages, and visits by companies from other cities. This emphasis on collective identity represented an important shift away from the organizational and symbolic modes of early modern popular culture in Philadelphia. Indeed, there was considerable overlap between the violent fire companies and the Washingtonian movement in Philadelphia. Laurie points out in “The Fire Companies of Southwark” that violent fire companies like Weccacoe Fire Company were temperance companies. In fact, Northern Liberties Hose and Fairmount Fire Company two of the companies most strongly identified with the Washingtonians were also two of the most famous of the rioting companies.[v]
Another difference between the violent fire companies and early modern popular culture was the representation of gender. In early modern popular culture, masculinity was posed in terms of an opposition between an independent, improvisational “self” and a person, set of persons, forces, or objects that threatened the self’s independence. Africans, Jews, the sea, cats, pigs, and various kinds of physical deformities could be portrayed as the “other” against which independent masculinity defined itself. The most prevalent vehicle for portraying otherness, indeed, perhaps the model for opposition to masculinity, was the feminine. Within early modern popular culture, males viewed themselves as “unmanned” when they associated their behavior with supposedly feminine qualities of passivity, cowardice, excess passion, and sensuality. Early modern men also were ambivalent about any imputation of independent standing to women because it threatened the prerogatives associated with masculine independence. Female control over their sexuality, involvement in childbirth, education, property holding, and presence in public space all raised intense anxieties among early modern men.[vi] To the contrary, ante-bellum fire companies incorporated substantial feminine symbolism into their representations of themselves. According to Amy Greenberg, firemen in Baltimore, St. Louis, and San Francisco viewed their fire engines and hose carriages as feminine entities of beauty, purity, and chastity. Greenberg also argues that the expansive firehouses built by the fire companies mimicked the feminine domesticity of Victorian houses. Given that a fire company’s apparatus and firehouse were two of the most prominent representations of its collective identity, the fire companies were identifying themselves with stereotypically feminine qualities in a positive way that would not have been tolerated in early modern popular culture.[vii]
In this paper, I argue that Philadelphia's volunteer fire companies underwent a two-step transition from early modern culture to industrial modernity between 1785 and 1850. The first transition, which occurred between 1803 and the early 1820's, was a permutation of early modern culture occasioned by the switch from buckets to hose as the primary means of conveying water to fires. Before 1803, the bucket companies of Philadelphia were characterized by a relatively loose coordination between individual and group activities. The companies demanded that members individually perform duties like serving as clerk in order to maintain their affiliation with the company. In turn, membership in the company enabled members to participate in group activities like firefighting that provided them with opportunities to seek recognition. Between 1803 and the early 1820's, Philadelphia fire companies underwent dramatic changes as the companies changed from buckets to hose. With the switch to hose, all fire company activities were collectivized as occasions for seeking recognition and the fire companies began to engage in inter-company competition. At the same time, fire company membership became significantly younger and more artisanal in character. These changes all reinforced early modern cultural patterns because they resulted in a more thorough integration of early modern "processes of recognition" into fire company activities and created a more festive atmosphere at fires.
Beginning with the Washington Centennial of 1832, however the fire companies began a second transition in which they abandoned early modern culture. Where early modern popular culture was organized around individual performances, Philadelphia fire companies became focused on the symbolic representation of the company. On the one hand, company meetings became increasingly devoted to symbolic issues such as uniforms, color schemes for the apparatus, silver horns, mottoes, banners, and arranging ritual occasions like parades and balls for the display of company symbolism. On the other hand, racing and rioting between rival companies enhanced the value of company symbols by demonstrating the “character” of the company in opposition to the supposed cowardice and impotence of rivals. Participants in early modern culture had sought to identify with the dominant values of independence and honor by overcoming opponents through their performances. They identified their own masculinity with the virtues they manifested in defeating their opponents and femininity with the threats posed by those opponents. In the rioting companies of the 1840’s however, individual firemen demonstrated their fidelity to the company by exposing themselves to the pistols, knives, brickbats, and clubs of other companies. Identifying themselves with exposure to danger and with protecting others from such exposure, the fire companies integrated representations of feminine vulnerability and the protection of the vulnerable into company symbolism. Like the temperance societies of the 1840’s, the rioting fire companies integrated a strong identification with the feminine into their sense of masculine identity.
*The bulk of the research for this paper was funded by a travel grant from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Follow-up research was supported by a Faculty Research Grants and Summer Research Grants from Morehead State University. Michelle Woolwine and Amy Prince provided valuable research assistance.
[i]For attack by Moyamensing Hose, United States Hose Company, Minute Book, Fire Company Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Feb. 24, 1845; for “Blue Dick,” Ibid, Feb. 9, 1842; for charity contest, Ibid, Sept. 20, 1842; for conflict with other hose companies, Ibid, Apr. 12, 1843, Sept. 2, 1844; for sprees, Ibid, Jan. 12, 1842 and Mar. 9, 1842; for selling of hose carriage, Ibid, Apr. 12, 1848.
[ii]E. P. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” Past and Present, 38, 1967, 70-74; Bruce Laurie, “‘Nothing on Compulsion:’ Life Styles of Philadelphia Artisans, 1820-1850,” Labor History, 15, 1974, 343-349; Bruce Laurie, The Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980), 46, 58-60, 116, Frank H. Schell, "Old Volunteer Fire Laddies, the Famous, Fast, Faithful, Fistic, Fire Fighters of Bygone Days," Frank H. Schell Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
[iii]The term "early modern culture" is adopted from Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (Hants, Eng.: Scolar, 1994), 1978; for mumming, St. George Ridings, church ales, and Robin Hood plays, see Ronald Hutton, The Rise and Fall of Merry England (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 7, 33-34, 55, 59, 66-67; for accession days and monarch’s birthdays, see David Cressy, Bonfires and Bells: National Memory and the Protestant Calendar in Elizabethan and Stuart England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), xii, 50-56, 57, 60-61, 64. For the emphasis on the performative and democratic elements in early modern popular culture, see Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. by Helene Iswolsky (Cambridge, Mass.: M. I. T Press, 1968), 153-154, 160, 165, 167-168, 172, 185. For discussions of the political implications of early modern popular culture in Europe, see Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, 182; Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), 12-17.
[iv]David W. Conroy, In Public Houses: Drink and the Revolution of Authority in Colonial Massachusetts (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 22-27, 78-82, 146; Peter Thompson, Rum Punch and Revolution: Taverngoing and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 22-23, 25, 83, 92-102, 153-54, Ric Northrup Caric, “‘To Drown the Ills that Discompose the Mind’: Care, Leisure, and Identity Among Philadelphia Artisans and Workers, 1785-1840,” Pennsylvania History 64, 1997, 465-489.
[v]For examples of racing, fighting, and attacks on other companies, see Schell, "Old Volunteer Fire Laddies, the Famous, Fast, Faithful, Fistic, Fire Fighters of Bygone Days,” 5-11,20-21 and the Public Ledger, May 7, 1841. For examples of balls, triennial parades, escorts, and visits, see Public Ledger, Mar. 7, 1840, March 28, 1843, Aug. 5, 1841, April 5, 1842, and Oct. 20, 1841 respectively. For Fairmount Fire Company’s involvement in the Washingtonian movement, see Public Ledger, Oct. 4 and Nov. 1, 1841; for Northern Liberty Hose’s involvement in both the temperance movement and rioting, see Public Ledger, May 7, 1841.
[vi]For construction of early modern masculinity in terms of the opposition between self and “other,” see Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 9; for constructions of otherness, see Stallybrass and White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression, 37-39, 47-49, Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (New York: Random House, 1985), Ric Northrup Caric, “To Drown the Ills That Discompose the Mind,” 465-89; for the construction of women as the other, see Mark Breitenberg, Anxious Masculinity in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 20-26, 160-161; Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare’s Plays, Hamlet to Tempest (New York: Routledge, 1992), 3-4, 16-17, 147-154; Toby L. Ditz, “Shipwrecked; or, Masculinity Imperiled: Mercantile Representations of Failure and the Gendered Self in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia, Journal of American History, 81 (1994), 51-53, 59, 61; Carol Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (New York: Random House, 1987), 103-104; Susan Branson, These Fiery Frenchified Dames: Women and Political Culture in Early National Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001).
[vii]Amy S. Greenberg, Cause for Alarm: The Volunteer Fire Department in the Nineteenth-Century City (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 70-75.