In the article, “From Folklore to Revolution: Charivaris and the Lower Canadian Rebellion of 1837”, Allan Greer introduces the reader to the historical custom of charivaris and how that custom changed and became an important part of the rebellion of 1837 as it gave a voice to the people.
Through use of both primary and secondary sources, the article reads well balanced in truth. The first source that was used is an excellent primary source from 1817 written by John Palmer who witnessed first hand a charivari that had taken place. [i] This first hand account allows the author to prove the history of the event as it was seen in 1817.
As time marched on form 1817 and into 1837, Greer is able to establish a timeline of the changes to the charivari process. In the beginning the victims of a charivari “were punished through both humiliation and monetary exaction, two penal techniques favoured by the church and criminal courts of the period.”[ii] Once the individuals who participated in the charivaris were invited into the victim’s house and paid a fine, all was forgiven and the victim was then left alone. [iii]This is quite different from the political driven charivaris of 1837 where the charivaris “became a weapon of revolt against the state”. [iv]
During the revolt of 1837, the charivaris became more violent and tended to shy away from just signing in an effort to annoy and humiliate. Dudley Flowers of St Valentin who refused to step down from his position of Lieutenant saw this change first hand when a group of men attacked his home throwing stones at his house and breaking his windows. . [v] He states that the group who had asked him to step down “began yelling in the most frightful manner”[vi], and that one of the “large stones (passed) very near one of my children and would have killed him if it had struck him.” [vii]The men in the group tried to then burn down Flower’s “barn full of oats” without success, as it was too damp. [viii]
The attack on Flowers and his family is an example of how the charivari had shifted. Before 1837, charivaris still showed the intention of violence with “coffins, and skill and cross-bones designs”[ix] however people knew they were not in any danger. This is unlike “during the Rebellion”, where “the threats were much more explicit.”[x]
In conclusion, by educating the reader on the past history of charivaris, the author, Allan Greer, is able to show the transition of charivaris from it’s beginning as a religious custom targeting newly married couples to a politically charged message of revolt.
[i] Allan Greer, “From Folklore to Revolution:Charivaris and the lower Canadian Rebellion of 1837, Social History, Vol 15, No.1 (Jan 1990) p 26
[ii] ibid 30
[iii] ibid 31
[iv] ibid 40
[v] ibid 39
[viii] ibid 40
[ix] ibid 40
[x] ibid 40