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1775 CENTRAL MASS. TOO TOUGH FOR BRITS
Author and historian Ray Raphael, speaking Thursday at the Worcester Historical Museum, says Worcester was such a hotbed of revolution in 1775 that the British backed off and instead targeted Concord. (T&G Staff/Betty Jenewin)
By Steven H. Foskett Jr.
Telegram and Gazette Staff
14 March 2014
WORCESTER — English Gen. Thomas Gage had sent spies throughout the state in 1775 to help him determine where to send reinforcements.
Those spies reported back that large stockpiles of armaments in Worcester, Concord, and Salem made them logical places to reassert British rule of the colonies.
Gage first ordered troops to Salem, but that didn’t work out. Something about a drawbridge and saving face and a shouting match.
That left Concord and Worcester. The decision made to send troops to Concord sounded partly like a typically Boston-centric view of Worcester in 2014: It was too far away, and the roads were too winding.
But the decision to go to Concord was also political, and it was a matter of common sense. Less than a year earlier, a county convention pulled together more than 4,000 men from the city and surrounding towns to shut down the county court system and to remove the governing council. Worcester had built a reputation as a hotbed of radicalism, and there was little support for the crown here. The citizenry was well-mobilized in and around Worcester, and would likely put up a good fight against any reinforcements, historian and author Ray Raphael told an audience of more than 100 people at the Worcester Historical Museum Thursday night.
“Concord was more vulnerable,” Mr. Raphael said. “And it was closer.”
The chain of events that followed — Paul Revere’s rides, the “shot heard round the world,” and the war that ensued — are of course enshrined in the record of the birth of the nation.
But the importance of Worcester’s act of defiance the previous year cannot be overlooked, said Mr. Raphael, author of “The First American Revolution: Before Lexington and Concord.” That day in September 1774, when militiamen forced British officials out of court and through a gantlet on North Main Street, got the attention of the Continental Congress, Mr. Raphael said. Sam Adams, usually encouraging those sorts of things, urged people to slow down, and discouraged an attack on Boston that some supported. Such drastic action could jeopardize support of other colonies, he believed. John Adams said the concept of “independency” was startling to people, and also urged caution, Mr. Raphael said.
Cooler heads did prevail, and as Mr. Raphael described it, there was a degree of reasonableness to how the actions in Worcester were carried out. Lower-level members of the government were even given the opportunity to keep their jobs in exchange for their loyalty to the new movement. Without a court system, people were urged to settle disputes amicably. The people of Worcester and the surrounding county did not want anarchy, and they didn’t want to be considered an unruly mob, Mr. Raphael said.
Mr. Raphael’s talk was part of a series of events planned by several groups as part of the “Worcester Revolution of 1774” series that will culminate with a re-enactment Sept. 7.
He said passage of the so-called Intolerable Acts, a series of bills passed by the British Parliament in spring 1774, sparked the decision by Worcester and other communities to take action.
Mr. Raphael said the Massachusetts Government Act in particular, which took away many of the colonists’ rights to representative government, incensed people in Worcester County, Mr. Raphael said. Residents took their access to local, representative government seriously. For example, council members who were formerly elected were now appointed by the crown.
“There was no accountability whatsoever for any government action,” Mr. Raphael said.
Mr. Raphael talked about how the events of Lexington and Concord overshadow Worcester’s role in the revolution.
But the more the events of September 1774 make it into the public consciousness, the better chance the city has at cementing its place in history.
“Once you get a narrative going, it has its own steam,” Mr. Raphael said.
Contact Steven H. Foskett Jr. here. Follow him on Twitter @SteveFoskettTG