By Jeff LaBonte
As the story goes, the American Revolution began in Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. But historian and author Ray Raphael, in his book The First American Revolution: Before Lexington and Concord (The New Press, 2002), asserts that the Revolution really started in Worcester, MA. This Sunday, September 7, a coalition of preservation organizations will celebrate and recreate this historical event, and you are invited.
Say again? That’s not what they taught in 4th grade social studies! Right, but Raphael recounts the fascinating events precipitated by the British Parliament passing the Massachusetts Government act in 1774. This act basically vacated the original (1691) charter establishing the Province of Massachusetts Bay, taking all governing authority away from residents and granting it to the British-appointed governor (at the time, one Thomas Gage).
The Patriot response was swift and decisive. From the revolution1774.org website:
On September 6, 1774, at dawn and through the morning, militia companies from 37 rural townships across Worcester County marched into the shiretown (county seat) of Worcester. By an actual headcount taken by Breck Parkman, one of the participants, there were 4,622 militiamen, about half the adult male population of the sprawling rural county. This was not some ill-defined mob but the military embodiment of the people, and they had a purpose: to close the courts, the outposts of British authority in this far reach of the Empire.
These militia lined Main St. in Worcester, forcing out over two dozen British court officials. This scene was repeated in Springfield, Great Barrington, Plymouth and other towns. Except for Boston proper, the Massachusetts residents had ousted British rule.
A number of organizations including Preservation Worcester, Worcester Historical Museum, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester Area Mission Society, Sons of the American Revolution, and Old Sturbridge Village collaborated to produce the daylong event.
According to Preservation Worcester’s Susan Ceccacci, Sunday will feature free bus tours, music, John Hancock’s trunk (of Revere’s Ride fame), Thomas’ printing press, kids activities, reenactments, lectures and more. Everything is free, except for outside food and vendors.
William Wallace, Executive Director of the Worcester Historical Museum, explained some of the significance of the “Worcester Revolution.”
“Raphaelput forth this idea that not only was Worcester the site of this first revolution, but that it was a non-violent revolution” says Wallace. “There are parallels we can look at between 1774 and 21st century non-violent revolutions.”
Auburn is notably absent from the list of townships that sent militiamen to Worcester on that historical day in 1774. Where were we in all this?
“There was no ‘Auburn’ in 1774” says Edith Mathis, one of the driving forces behind the Worcester Revolution celebration. “Auburn was still part of Oxford, Leicester, Sutton and Worcester.”
Auburn was incorporated in 1778, and was originally called ‘Ward’ after Revolutionary War hero Gen. Artemus Ward. Ward became ‘Auburn’ in 1837. (No one really knows why the name ‘Auburn’ was chosen.) So, while men from what is now Auburn were certainly a part of the 1774 Revolution, they would have been residents of other townships.