Celebrating the Peace

1. A Peace Parade

Although strongly opposed to the war, Boston knew how to put on a great celebration once peace had arrived. On February 22, the day was begun at sunrise when “salutes were fired by artillery on the common, and at the forts.” At ten o’clock, “the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary departments of the government were escorted by the Independent Cadets to King’s Chapel, where the solemn services ordered by Legislature were performed.” Salutes were again fired when this company returned to the State House. Then came the parade, “consisting of citizens and members of the several Mechanic Associations, and of the Washington Benevolent Society.” Marshalls on horseback led each unit. The Masons followed a car “on which was a brick house partly built, and several very active workmen, assiduously engaged to complete it.” Carpenters were at work, inside and out, at erecting a temple of Peace. The Printers followed a small printing press and two printers, printing an “Ode on the return of Peace,” which were handed out to the crowd. The truckmen and hackmen followed, and last came a sled, “drawn by 17 handsome horses, and loaded with bales of New Orleans cotton. After the parade came “an elegant dinner, attended by the members of the government of Massachusetts, the professors of Harvard University, the officers of the militia of Massachusetts, and “Capt. Popham and other British officers in Boston.”

                                                          –Boston Daily Advertiser, February 24, 1815

2. A Peace Ball

From New London: “At the Peace Ball in New London, last week, we understand there were forty three British officers present, mingling with their old and new friends in the festivity of the occasion. All parties of citizens united in the celebration.”

                                                            –Boston Daily Advertiser, March 3, 1815

3. Illuminations

On the evening of February 27, 1815, New York City celebrated the peace that ended the War of 1812. Such illuminations were also held in England and on the continent to celebrate happy events: usually the towns suggesting to their citizens they light their windows with candles after dark.   We are told that, one the occasion of one of Czar Alexander’s relatives being married, every window in St. Petersburg was lit. At the time, most cities did not even have gas light, so the spectacle created by the lighted windows would draw crowds to the streets to celebrate.   The New York Evening Post described the scene on that evening of the illumination:

Last evening this city, in celebration of the long desired Peace, exhibited with uncommon splendor, the joyful appearance of an almost general illumination. The streets, although extremely wet under foot, were thronged with countless multitudes of ladies & gentlemen, & all sorts and classes of people, without distinction, to gratify a laudable curiosity, to testify their boundless joy at the occasion, and join in exclamations of admiration and applause.

While at first, the illuminations consisted of simply candles in windows, in New York they became more ingenious and colorful, and ranged from the modest to the elaborate. One of the simplest was at Mr. Jacob Barker’s: “A full length Portrait of the President in the act of signing the Treaty: words: Treaty Ratified.” The portrait would have been painted on a transparency, and illuminated from behind. The illumination at Mr. Waldo’s was a transparency painted by himself which was more detailed: “two Cupids, one bearing the Olive Branch, the other blowing the trumpet proclaiming the Glad news–They are united by a ribbon on which is written Peace and Unity, and are trampling as they run the broken implements of war.”

Mr. Alexander Gesselain was responsible for the illuminations at the house of John Jacob Astor, which were described as giving “a most brilliant appearance”:

The house of John Jacob Astor was illuminated with a variety of elegant transparencies emblematic of the happy return of Peace–The door represented the entrance of a temple, right and left were two elegant marble pillars, decorated with garlands of Roses, above which the word PEACE in large letters of Roses, under which was eighteen Stars, representing the States, forming an arch in the Centre, above the pillars two large lamps round which was entwined the American colors–on each side of the door two oval wreaths of laurel containing the names of American Heroes–immediately over the entrance was the American Eagle, letting all the sword, viewing with exultation the word Peach which appears in the Clouds. On one side the Goddess of Peace, holding the Treaty in one hand, in the other a Palm. On the other side Plenty. . . . Each side of the house was decorated with transparent sashes of various colors.

City Hall presented transparencies on all its sides. Thought and labor went into the decorations: the paintings decorating the Hall “were executed in five days by Messrs. Holland, Smith, Robertson and Dunlap.”

About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden