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Under the patronage of St. Tammany



Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Tuesday, May 01, 2007  

Song for St. Tammany's Day

Of Andrew, of Patrick, of David, and George,
What mighty achievements we hear!
While no one relates great Tammany's feats,
Although more heroic by far, my brave boys,
Although more heroic by far.

These heroes fought only as fancy inspired,
As by their own stories we find;
Whilst Tammany, he fought only to free
From cruel oppression mankind, my brave boys,
From cruel oppression mankind.

When our country was young and our numbers were few
To our fathers his friendship was shown,
(For he e'er would oppose whom he took for his foes,)
And he made our misfortunes his own, my brave boys,
And he made our misfortunes his own.

At length, growing old and quite worn out with years,
As history doth truly proclaim,
His wigwam was fired, he nobly expired,
And flew to the skies in a flame, my brave boys,
And flew to the skies in a flame.

* * *

Did you know that a folk-legend chief very much like the Dartmouth Indian was hailed in the early days of the Republic as the "patron saint" of America? The feast of St Tammany was celebrated on May Day.

The reasons for choosing Tammany as a "Saint" in the early 1770s are twofold. First, Tammany was already a part of the folk tradition. Secondly, Tammany was portrayed as a benign Delaware chief who helped the early Pennsylvania colonists and was a friend to William Penn. By cloaking themselves as American Indians, the restive colonists could assert their new identity publicly and protest British imperial policies without attacking their own identity.

On May 1, 1772, the Sons of King Tammany met in Philadelphia as the successor to the Sons of Liberty. The Tammany Society toasted themselves, "St. George, St. Andrew, St. Patrick, and St. David." They also proclaimed that all the saints (including the American Indian, Tammany) should "love each other as the brethren of one common ancestor." Furthermore, the Tammany society believed that all the ethnic societies should unite "in their hearty endeavors to preserve their native Constitutional American Liberties."

Thus, the Sons of King Tammany attempted to unify patriotic Americans under a benign American Indian symbol...By 1773, the Tammany society in Philadelphia had grown disenchanted with King George III, so they held a mock "canonization" of King Tammany in order to change their name to the Sons of St. Tammany. With this mock canonization, the organization fused a folk holiday (May Day) with a patriotic organization. Very soon, Tammany societies began to appear in other colonies.

Celebrating a legendary Indian chief once was considered the height of patriotism. So raise a toast today to Tamanend!

* * *

This description of the Tammany May Festival in Philadelphia comes from "May games and noble savages," by Martin Walsh:

Philadelphia newspaper reports from the exuberant years immediately following American Independence allow one to make a fairly consistent composite of the sequence of events on a Tammany May Day according to the "good old custom of our worthy forefathers." The location was the banks of the rural Schuylkill River on Philadelphia's westside. Festivities began at noon with a raising of the colours on three "maypoles" festooned with garlands, the central maypole sometimes dubbed the "Liberty Pole." The flags of the Netherlands and France, America's earliest allies, flanked the Pennsylvania state flag (later the U.S. ensign) which sported a portrait of Tammany on its field. A cannon salute and a marching-band rendition of a popular theatre song in honour of St Tammany then followed, and these would continue to punctuate activities through the rest of the day...

The previous year's officers would next surrender "the ensigns of authority," which were engraved military gorgets. Then the bear-greased, face-painted, bucktailed and befeathered company formed a ring to elect a new chief and thirteen sachems (sub-chiefs), symbolic of the thirteen United States, each with its animal totem. Some of these brothers would even deck themselves out in a shaved head with scalplock fashioned from an animal bladder and horsehair. The new sachems' assumed names had an "authentic" ring, some of them belonging to major Woodland Indian leaders... A large council fire was then kindled - there seems to have also been a "council seat" - and Tammany and other Maytide songs were sung. The most important of these was the pseudo-Indian "Et hoh Song" which seems to have the status of an anthem, travelling wherever the Tammany idea travelled.

Drinking evidently began quite early while sitting about on the banks of the river, the Society never being particularly sensitive to the wide-spread problem of Native American alcoholism - one would suppose because it was a white American problem as well. The motto for the day was that of Rabelais's Abbey of Theleme,
Fay ce que vouldras...

Toward evening the company would retire to a specially constructed "cabin" or bower where the woodland feast was consumed - "The signal being given, every brother repaired with his scalping knife, to the repast." The fare was plentiful and varied: "Rounds of Beef, Barbacued Pig, Sirloin Steaks ... flowing bowls of good punch, lemonade and madeira ... leg of veal and rich spices ... perch, rock and grey squirrels," as well as the occasional sea turtle. The festival structure was decorated with a portrait of "our brave old saint" beneath his motto, together with other topical scenes, in 1783 for example, a "Siege of Yorktown." The banquet always featured thirteen toasts, which were duly printed up in the newspapers, as well as other entertainments such as new Tammany odes.

After sunset the colours were struck and the holiday ground vacated, the "warriors" marching Indian-file back to the city to the tune of "St Tammany's Day." Since the "official" reports continually stress the good order and harmony of the Tammany celebrations, and since there was, simultaneously, an undercurrent of complaint, we may safely speculate that not all these well-primed "Indians" went quietly to their beds upon returning to Philadelphia.

* * *

The saint's namesake was a 17th-century chief of the Lenni Lanape who made treaties with William Penn. The chief's name, Tamanend, meaning "affable," would come to have symbolic resonanance in a number of venues, including:

Tammany Hall. In New York City in 1789 William Mooney started a society called the Society of St. Tammany. It was supposed to be a society to help people. By 1804 it had become a political society. In 1867 William “Boss” Tweed became the head of the society. He and the other members met in a building on Fourteenth Street called Tammany Hall. There was a statue of Tamanend in an arch on the top floor of the building.

The Tammany Regiment. During the Civil War the New York 42nd Infantry was called the Tammany Regiment. They fought in the Battle Gettysburg. Their monument on the battlefield at Gettysburg has a statue of Tamanend on it.

Tamanend statue at Annapolis. The USS Delaware was a wooden war ship. It was built in Norfolk, Virginia, and launched in 1820. Its figurehead was a bust of Tamanend. The USS Delaware was sunk in 1861, but somehow the figurehead was rescued. It was taken to Annapolis, Maryland, along with other wooden figureheads, to the Naval Academy there. Midshipmen started using the statue as a good luck charm. They hoped that it could help them to get good grades. Soon no one remembered who the statue was. They called it Powhatan, then Tecumseh. Eventually the wooden figure began to rot and fall apart. In 1906 the members of the Class of 1891 had the statue carefully cast in bronze. The bronze statue was presented in 1930. It stands today at the Naval Academy.

* * *


* "Tammany" sheet music (1905)

* Tammany procession, NYC, 1870

* The mastodon connection:

In 1795, the New York physician Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchill conjured up another terrifying image of the American monster in a speech he delivered to the Tammany Society, describing the legendary chief Tammany’s battles with "alarming droves of mammoths, carnivorous animals, especially loving to feed upon human flesh."

* Tammany statue, Gettysburg

* Clip: "Pass that Peace Pipe," Margaret Whiting


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