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(African Americans – “Bobalition” Broadside)
DE GRADEST BOBALITION DAT EBER VUS BE!!! 4rt ob July, 1827, cum on de 5ft.

285 Water-street, [New York City]: [J. M’Clelland], 1827. Broadside, 19 ¾”h x 11 ⅜” wide at greatest extent, uncolored. Six lines of headline type surrounding two cuts, followed by two columns of text with a typographic divider. Minor-moderate soiling and staining, creasing along old folds, small losses at fold intersections affecting a few letters but not the sense, some losses along left edge well away from printed area.

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       The “Bobalition” broadside as a specific genre of American racism originated in Boston as a series of so called “bobalition” broadsides, which appeared in Boston between at least 1816 and appearing regularly at least up to 1837. The example offered here is the only known example of its kind to have originated in New York City. This example is an extremely rare 1827 “Bobalition” broadside featuring a crudely racist parody of New York City’s first Emancipation Day celebration.

 The “Bobaltition” broadside, in newly contrived pseudo-black dialect of mispronunciations and malapropisms, made fun of the annual festivities of the Boston African American community commemorating the closing of the slave trade in 1808. These Abolition Day celebrations were a holiday for northern free blacks, usually celebrated on January 1, but in Boston held on July 14th as a contra July 4th celebration. In the broadsides “Abolition” was transmogrified into “Bobalition,” thus giving the name to this genre.

     Public parades and assemblies were common forms of civic expression in early America, and the Abolition Day celebrations were assertions of citizenship by the free blacks of the North. These were sober and solemn events, and the several printed sermons and speeches on the occasion by African Americans comprise an important and early genre of African American writing. The Bobalition broadsides reflect the growing racial antagonism among whites, who resented competition from black labor and increasingly denied any role for African Americans in American political and civic life. In the broadsides the grotesque dialect is a marker of African American inferiority, portraying the notion of black civic and political equality as ridiculous and threatening. They seem, as historian David Waldstreicher describes, “important artifacts in the history of American racism.”


      Similar celebrations were inaugurated in New York City in 1827, when on July 4th an 1817 law took effect that completely abolished slavery in New York State. On that date, some 4600 enslaved African Americans in the city were freed, and the first “Emancipation Day” was celebrated on July 5th (The 5th may have been chosen so as to reduce the risk of conflict with inebriated whites during Independence Day festivities.)


“The largest celebration in New York City on July 5, 1827, saw 2,000-4,000 celebrants gather at St. John’s Park, led by marshal Samuel Hardenburgh. Numerous groups participated; the first in the parade line was the New York African Society for Mutual Relief. From the park, they paraded to Zion Church, and then to City Hall on Broadway where they met Mayor William Paulding Jr.” (Wikipedia)


Sadly, emancipation meant neither racial equality nor harmony: In 1821 the New York Constitution had been amended to extend universal suffrage to all white males while restricting it to only those African American males who owned substantial property. In 1834, violence broke out at an integrated Emancipation Day celebration at the city’s Chatham Street Chapel. This spiraled into the week-long anti-abolitionist riots, ultimately put down by the State Militia.

     “De Gradest Bobalition Dat Eber Vus Be!!!”

         The 1827 Emancipation Day celebration catalyzed the issue of this broadside, which to my knowledge is the only example of the “Bobalition” genre printed in New York City. As with the many “Bobalition” texts issued in Boston, the anonymous author sought to create a jarring contrast between the formality of structure and tone and the supposed African American English spelling and syntax, which would have been all-but incomprehensible to the target audience of racist white readers.

         Three quarters of the text is taken up with a supposed recap of the celebration, beginning with a short speech by the “great Ourang Outang” addressed to his “Bredren ob color”:

“De day hab mos cum ven de heart ob ebery vun will beat like a lam’s tail, an de sudern tyrant quiber in he slipppers like de heart ob a snappen turtle, to hear de sou nob freedom pour down de gran canal ob de mortal Clintun, trew de nort riber, an flow all ober de state of Nu York, to bring de tide in ob our liberty!”

          The speech is followed by an alternating series of toasts and songs. For instance the first toast, by “Dancy Cocks”, expresses the wish “De man dat say, “all men free an equal;” may he memory neber fade like de ole coat.” This is followed by the tune “Den he git him scowred”, surely a reference to a popular song, though I have not been identify the title. Further down the lyrics of another song are given in full:

“De day has cum ven freedom brite

To dis grate city rove,

An dough he long hab loved de white,

De n[****] now he love,

And now he come

To bless dere home,

An like a dead shad gleam,

To wake us all to light an life,

From slabery’s horrid dream.

To wake us all to light an life,

From slabery’s horrid dream.”

          The broadside concludes with a reprint of a piece attributed to the New-York Spy, a short-lived paper published in the city by W. C. Armstrong from 1827-1828. Also rendered in a crude simulacrum of African American speech, it describes the celebration and a series of toasts given and songs sung at a “feas ob de fus order”.

           The broadside is illustrated by two cuts, both with the look of “stock” images repurposed for this broadside. The one at left is an animal with pretensions to dignity–whether a dog or monkey or something else, I can’t say–but certainly black, wearing a suit or uniform and a hat with cockade, and standing on its hind legs. On the right is what appears to be a demon (or clown?) bearing a placard reading only “I’m free!”

              Most “bobalition” broadsides I have seen were issued anonymously, perhaps from fear of retribution from the African American community or the opprobrium of the “respectable” white community. This one however bears the imprint “Printed and Sold, wholesale and retail, at 285 Water-street”, which from 1824-1829 was the address of New York City printer and publisher Joseph M’Clelland (or M’Cleland). The catalog of the American Antiquarian Society attributes to M’Clelland fewer than 10 publications issued at this address, mostly broadside verse.

           The broadside is extremely rare. OCLC lists a broadside of the same title held by both the New York Historical Society and New York Public Library but makes no mention of a “285 Water-street” imprint. It is not clear whether this reflects incomplete cataloguing, whether the imprints on those copies have been trimmed away, or whether perhaps they are variants sans imprint.

     In all, an offensive broadside that makes for almost unbearable reading, but also a rare and significant artifact of race relations in 19th-century New York City.


     Probably OCLC 58786304 (New York Historical Society and New York Public Library only, as of May 2023). Not in Shoemaker, Checklist of American Imprints for 1820-1829. Not in Library Company of Philadelphia Catalog.

      See: Lapsansky, Phillip, Afro-Americana From Abolition to Bobalition, Annual Report of the Library Company of Philadelphia 2003, pp. 36-39