What could Massachusetts’ military governor, Thomas Gage, do about the uprising? Nothing. In Salem, the temporary provincial capital, patriots held a town meeting one block from the governor’s office, in direct violation of the Massachusetts Government Act. Then, when Gage arrested seven so-called ring-leaders for calling the meeting, three thousand farmers formed in an instant and marched on the jail, forcing the prisoners’ release. In neighboring Danvers, a town meeting continued “three howers longer than was necessary, to see if he [Gage] would interrupt them.” He did not. “Damn ’em,” he was said to blurt out. “I won’t do anything about it unless his Majesty send me more troops.”
Those troops finally arrived the following April, and it was then that Gage, under extreme pressure, moved to recapture the province that had been lost the previous year. Before sending out his troops, Gage dispatched spies to determine where to attack. They reported that a march on Worcester, a patriot stronghold and the largest storehouse of weaponry and powder, would be disastrous. Gage decided to go after Concord instead.
Most accounts of the revolution consider the beginning of open rebellion to be the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord on April 19th, 1775. But from mid‐August to mid‐September of 1774, the citizens of Berkshire, Springfield, and Worcester Counties, mostly farmers, ended British rule over themselves and on their countryside forever. With no real organization, no official leaders, no fixed institutions, and no bloodshed – they went up against the most powerful empire on earth and won. It was not the Stamp Act, Tea Tax, or the Massachusetts Port Act alone that provoked the actions at Lexington and Concord. Rather it was the series of events, both political and rebellious, that predate it.
The most stunning of these events broke on the morning of September 6th, 1774 when 4,622 militiamen from 37 towns of Worcester County marched to Main Street in Worcester to take the town. An advance party of militia had seized the Worcester courthouse, barricaded themselves inside, and awaited the arrival of 25 Crown appointees. When the court officials arrived, about five thousand militia and citizens lined along Main Street to force the officials to walk the street with hats off to to repeat over and over again, so that all who gathered could easily hear, the disavowal of holding courts under the British laws. Other Tory supporters were also forced to recant their loyalty to the Crown and the Massachusetts Government Act. The British control over Worcester County was thus gone forever - without violence, yet with a humiliating retraction of loyalty to the crown. Following the debacle of September 6th, General Gage had no choice but to admit to Lord Dartmouth that British Civil government was near its end.
The spectacle of the Worcester Revolution sent a shock wave across the Massachusetts colony, all the way to Philadelphia where the First Continental Congress had met for the very first time the day before. Worcester's militiamen had irreversibly set the stage for an inevitable confrontation with the British later. That confrontation freed the remaining parts of Massachusetts left under British rule – notably the British garrison in the city of Boston.
Given the momentous actions on September 6, 1774, it remains a mystery why we have yet to honor or commemorate such an extraordinary day, unique to America's heritage. Unlike Worcester, the towns of Concord, Lexington and their surrounding communities proudly celebrate their revolutionary heritage with painstakingly authentic reenactments, eloquent narratives of the events, and colorful parades in honor of the historic battles fought on April 19, 1775.
A celebration to reestablish the memory of the history and pivotal role of Worcester County in the American Revolution is being held throughout 2014 through a series of workshops, lectures, city walks, publications, and a public fair. We will commemorate the remarkable events of September 6, 1774 to make the story a vital part of the core narrative of the beginnings of the American Revolution, and to develop a sense of pride in the role Worcester County played in the founding of America.
The recognition of Worcester County’s role will run from Fall 2013 to September 7th, 2014. It will include activities across the cultural and historical organizations of Worcester and the 37 towns that participated in 1774. We expect to see workshops on the subject for teachers, visits by re-enactors to classrooms, exhibits of historical artifacts of the period, walking tours of the historical sites, and a series of presentations by authors and academics.
On October 4, 1774, the town meeting of Worcester, Massachusetts, declared that British rule was over and it was time to form a new government, not answerable to the Crown and Parliament. This act by a public body was twenty-one months before Congress approved its own Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
In the late spring of 1774, Parliament yanked away the Massachusetts Charter of 1691, which had granted people considerable say in their government. In response, on
This Massachusetts Revolution in the late Summer and Fall of 1774 wasn’t centered in Boston. Rather it grew in the countryside, where 95% of the people lived then, and came to a head in Worcester. There, on Sept. 6, 1774, called together by the Committees of Correspondence, 4,700 mostly unarmed militia from 37 towns, assembled along Main Street in defiance of an ultimatum from General Gates and prevented the puppet government’s courts from meeting.
A week before the “Worcester Revolution”, the Committees of Correspondence had issued a declaration which stated that “The Citizens of Massachusetts are intitled to life, liberty and the means of sustenance, by the Grace of God, and without the leave of the King.” Note that they said not “pursuit of happiness”, but “means of sustenance”. This revolution was not about a lifestyle choice. It was about survival, for ordinary people.
The Worcester Revolution marked the end of British authority outside of Boston. The following month, in October 1774, delegates from across the Commonwealth assembled in Concord to organize a provisional government. Six months later, British troops marched out of Boston in a first attempt to re-conquer Massachusetts and reverse the revolution. The war we call the Revolutionary War, but which perhaps we should call the War to Defensd the Revolution, was on.
The 1774 closing of the courts in Massachusetts was coordinated by county conventions of the committees of correspondence. These were quasi-official bodies, since each local committee was attached to a town meeting. The proceedings of each county convention are available in William Lincoln, ed., The Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and
Early in 1779, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, Worcester selectmen and assessors consulted the list of “valuations” that determined taxes to create a list of who would be eligible to vote in that year’s town meetings. (Voting at the time was limited to “ratable polls,” or taxpayers.) Look over the 218 names and
The letters of merchant Stephen Salisbury to his brother Samuel in Boston, also a merchant, are housed at the American Antiquarian Society.. On July 22 Stephen wrote that although business in general was slow, he was all out of gunpowder. The demand was so great, in fact, that he was thinking of building his own powderhouse. On August 20 he wrote, “Guns are in good demand as well as powder. I would therefore have you send me all the Longest guns that you have.” On August 25 he asked Samuel to send him, along with chocolate, pepper, and Spanish indigo, some “Barr Lead,” “Gun Locks,” and “Bullets–25 to the pound.”