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The Birtwhistles of Craven and Galloway

 

 

 

 

 

the seeds of the future War of Independence had already been sown. The imposition of a stamp duty in the previous year was deeply resented, even by Americans who were otherwise sympathetic to the Crown. Benjamin Franklin, who would later be one of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence, and would  bring the French into the war in 1778, first  emerged as a leading American spokesman when he successfully  appealed to the House of Commons for a  repeal of the Stamp Act. However, in repealing the act, the British parliament asserted its right to impose direct taxation anywhere in the empire, and it was the tax on tea which would eventually bring America into direct conflict with the home country.

On Feb 6 1770 the Sons of Liberty erected a “liberty pole” in New York, in defiance of British troops who had previously torn down four other “liberty poles”. John Vardill satirised this act in his The Procession, with the Standard Faction, which he set to the tune of Yankee Doodle. Although it has previously been thought that the version of Yankee Doodle we know today originated as a revolutionary song of 1775 or 1776, it has more recently been suggested that it originated as a loyalist song, composed by John Vardill, and was only   adopted by the rebels after their first successes in battle in 1775.

The first of the many classical “trademark” pseudonyms employed  by John Vardill when  writing  political propaganda appears to have been Poplicola ( the name of a  Roman consul who is said to have been a friend of the people). Under the name  Poplicola, John Vardill wrote in support of  British taxes, particularly the tax on tea, support which caused him to be vilified by colonists with rebel leanings.  In 1775 the Bostonian poet Trumbull included a  mention of Vardill in his modern epic poem McFingal

 

                                            Vardill that poetic  zealot

           I view a lawn bedizen’d Prelate

           While mitres fall, as ‘t is there duty,

           On heads of Chandler and Auchmuty.

 

(Chandler and Auchmuty were both Kings College loyalists, Auchmuty later joining the British Army and eventually becoming Commander- in- Chief of the British forces in Ireland). Also in 1775, Vardill appeared in a rare early American satirical engraving of the Boston Tea Party. Titled Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression, the engraving shows John Vardill, alias Poplicola, among the protagonists. Facing the defiant Indian bows was the British party, headed by the Prime Minister, Lord North, John Vardill being dressed in  academic regalia and in conversation with the Chairman of the East India Company. The bubble above Poplicola’s  head shows Vardill saying to the chairman I prostituted my reason and conscience to serve you and therefore am  entitled to some reward, to which the reply was  if we had succeeded you would have been provided for.  While the engraving was not intended to be a compliment to John Vardill, it does illustrate the exalted political circles in which the young John Vardill moved. Only two years after the Boston Tea Party he would have an office in Downing Street, from where he would advise the British Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues about the  progress of the war in America.   

      His contemporaries appear to have regarded John Vardill as one of the most brilliant students of his generation and, in 1773, at the age of 21, he was appointed to the position of Professor of Natural Law at Kings College. One of his students was John Parke Custis, step-son of George Washington, and a courteous letter written by George Washington from Mount Vernon in December 1773, and  now in the Library of Congress, thanked Vardill for providing him with a report on his step-son’s progress. On the following day, colonists dressed as Indians threw a valuable cargo of tea belonging to the East India company into Boston harbour. The colonists and the home country were now on a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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