Thursday, February 18, 2010

Men Behaving Badly: Yankee Doodle Dandies

Thursday, February 18, 2010
Susan reports:

Any group of males can soon get into mischief when under-occupied, whether it's a Little League baseball team or a military army.

General George Washington discovered this (doubtless not for the first time, either) in the summer of 1775. While some of his soldiers were usefully engaged in attacking British shipping sailing in and out of Boston Harbor, other Continental soldiers had found a more entertaining way to amuse themselves during the hot August days. While the soldiers were permitted to use the Charles River for bathing, washing, fishing, and general recreation, matters appear to have gone a bit further, as this quote from General Washington's orders for the day reflect:

The General does not mean to discourage the practice of bathing whilst the weather is warm enough to continue it, but he expressly forbids any person's doing it at or near the bridge in Cambridge, where it has been observed and complained of that many men, lost to all sense of decency and common modesty, are running about naked upon the bridge, while passengers, and even ladies of the first fashion of the neighborhood, are passing over it, as if [these men] meant to glory in their shame. The guard and sentries at the bridge are to put a stop to this practice, for the future.

The 1811 print Portsmouth Point, above, by Thomas Rowlandson shows the general shenanigans of English sailors on shore leave. A different continent and a different century, but the spirit seems much the same.


Vanessa Kelly said...

Love the Rowlandson print. It's always fun to pick out the outrageous and entertaining details that make up the whole.

Nancy said...

You gotta love the General's exasperated, scolding tone: "Everything I have to worry about with this war, yet you guys keep flashing the neighborhood ladies!"

nightsmusic said...

Hmmm...why do you suppose the two gentlemen to the far left of the painting are carrying that woman? Could she have fainted from "exposure?" Or perhaps they had a more nefarious reason in mind. Since it's Rowlandson, I wouldn't put it past him. :o)

Let's face it though, that old saying, "boys will be boys" applies no matter the century, place or age.

Jane O said...

I would guess we're talking a bunch of teenagers here, no? Mentally, if not chronologically.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Yes, old George probably had his hands full. Discipline never was the strong suit of the Continental Army. A little too free-spirited and independent for marching in neat lines, those Yankees. But I can just imagine some elderly ladies being surprised by some grinning, naked young men jumping out from under the bridge. Nothing does change....

Theo, this being Rowlandson, I doubt very much that that woman is being carried off to "rest." But from contemporary sources, this scene isn't that far off the mark regarding the sailors' pre-sailing shenanigans.

And yes, Jane, I suspect the maturity levels weren't particularly high....

K. L. said...

Oh this made me laugh! My work involves me with Cambridge history, and it was such fun to read about this. I knew the Continental boys were unruly, but this is too much. To make it worse, at the time this was the ONLY bridge between Cambridge and Boston. Many thanks

Le Loup said...

I spent some months living on an Aboriginal reserve in Arnham Land many years ago. On one rather hot day I decided to take a horse down to the local waterfall and have a skinny-dip. The natives pay no attention, and I like the freedom. But to my dismay when I arrived there I found several nuns having a picnic!!!
It was the only water hole where no one had got eaten by crocks!
Le Loup.

There was an error in this gadget
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket