J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Worcester Revolt and the American Revolution Round Table

The Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the American Revolution has published Melvin H. Bernstein’s essay “Setting the Record Straight: The Worcester Revolt of September 6, 1774” on its website. A shorter version appeared last month in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette.

This essay discusses the organized uprising to close the Worcester County courts before their September 1774 session, effectively ending royal government in the region seven months before the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The local populace demanded that men holding royal commissions refuse to act under them as long as Parliament’s Coercive Acts remained in effect.

Bernstein advocates a regional commemoration of the 1774 uprising next year on its 240th anniversary:

Taking note of the odd revolutionary historical vacuum that persists in Worcester, a local initiative was launched in 2012 to organize a commemorative day for September 6, 1774, to be held on that date in 2014. The initiative encompasses the following core group of revolutionary, historical and cultural organizations: Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, Worcester Daughters of the American Revolution, Preservation Worcester, and the Worcester Historical Museum.
Cambridge could likewise commemorate the massive uprising four days earlier, later named the “Powder Alarm.” That came to a head on Cambridge common and at the house of Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver on the Watertown road. Worcester County men were also part of that event, though it doesn’t show up in the essay. That militia mobilization warned Gen. Thomas Gage that the rural population was largely united against him, prompting him to rescind his optimistic call for new legislative elections. Together those and similar demonstrations elsewhere in Massachusetts produced a largely peaceful de facto change in government leading to the Provincial Congress.

Bernstein’s essay grew out of discussions of Ray Raphael’s book The First American Revolution as part of the American Revolution Round Table, which he chairs. Another meeting of that group is coming up on at 7:00 P.M. on Monday, 4 February, in Lincoln. The topic will be Samuel A. Forman’s biography, Dr. Joseph Warren: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty, with the author on hand to discuss his work. Seating is limited, so anyone hoping to attend should contact Melvin Bernstein about the possibility of reserving a place.


Anonymous said...

This early aspect of the Revolution is fascinating and largely unknown today. I feel a commemoration is overdue, and in fact, that it should be a national one. Please continue helping Americans understand the period between the Boston Tea Party and the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Many thanks for your interesting and informative blog, Joe Bauman

Jimmy Dick said...

Is it me or does the Worchester Revolt regarding the closure of the court system sound very similar to what took place in 1786 during the Shays Rebellion? The goal in both cases was to end the ability of government to operate albeit in different circumstances. One is a patriotic event while the other is seen as evidence of mob rule and a division between urban and rural areas. Yet, look at the similar goals.

J. L. Bell said...

It was very much the same. And the western counties of Massachusetts kept their courts closed all through the Revolutionary War to the Shays uprising. Or "regulation," as those men described what they were doing—showing a link to the North Carolina backcountry Regulators of a few years earlier as well.

The similarity of the court closings in 1774 to those of 1786—which American society and government came to condemn—might be one reason why the earlier events aren't so well remembered. Of course, in both cases the demonstrations were overshadowed by actual shooting. But the real difference might be that the Boston establishment applauded the actions of 1774, condemned those of 1786, and wrote the histories of both.