A Day in Worcester’s Hidden History

by Jacleen Charbonneau
Worceser Magazine
28 August 2014



Playwright Jim Moran and Elizabeth Tivnan, Regent, Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. (Photo by Steven King/Worcester Magazine).
Worcester Revolution of 1774, Inc., a consortium made up of a number of local organizations to preserve and teach Worcester's early history, will celebrate and raise awareness of a lesser-known piece of Worcester's past at an all-day festival on Sunday, Sept. 7.

"This event is to celebrate the little-known story of Worcester and Worcester County's role in starting the American Revolution," says James Moran, director of outreach at the American Antiquarian Society (AAS). "[Worcester County] essentially overthrew the royal government months before Lexington and Concord, set up our own provisional governments, and essentially started running the United States before the United States was even crowded."

Termed the Worcester Revolution of 1774, this hidden piece of history is thought by many in Worcester as being too significant to be ignored. It all started in the early 1700s when laws were established by the British government to gain power, creating chaos throughout New England towns. Matters only became worse when the French and Indian War took place, throwing the British government into a bad financial situation. This resulted in higher taxes for Massachusetts and the British government's withdrawal of the Massachusetts Charter. Finally, in the late summer of 1774, months before the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the affected New Englanders had had enough. Rallying nearly 5,000 men of 37 towns onto Worcester's Main Street, the group succeeded in shutting down the county courthouse and, on September 6, 1774, overthrowing British authority without any use of violence.

"We have this ... vision that Paul Revere kind of woke up our sleeping countryside, when in fact, that's just the opposite. The countryside was already awake and ready to go to war," says Moran.

Festival activities will be held in the area of Worcester's Institute Park, starting at 10 a.m. on Sept. 7. Time period appropriate musical performances by Sir Jeremy Bell, the Jolly Rogues Quartet and the Salisbury Singers will provide the soundtrack to the day, along with Ray Raphael, author and historian, who will join the community for the reading of "First American Revolution." Realistic Worcester Revolution reenactments, activities suitable for children, historical documents and stories will tell a monumental part of Worcester's history.

One such story will be a play written by Moran, himself, titled "The Chains of Liberty," which will be performed at the Sarah Wyman Whitman Gallery of the Worcester Area Mission Society, at 6 Institute Rd. Offering two show times, 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., "[The play] tells the story of Worcester's role in the Revolution," says Moran. "It outlines the events that happened in the summer of 1774, including the closing of the Courts and forced resignation of different government officials, including Timothy Paine, who is a well-known and wealthy loyalist in Worcester."

Moran has written multiple plays, films and radio programs in the past. Although a fictional plot, the play's historical roots and teachings remain authentic. "It also talks about people who, in the midst of all this political rebellion and seeking of political freedom, are not being freed," he says.

Moran includes recognizable names in his work, including Paine and blacksmith Timothy Bigelow, a leader of the Whig movement and main protagonist of the performance. "[Bigelow] was very active in lots of organizations that are trying to overthrow the Tories and the loyalists," says Maron. "And then, afterwards, he becomes a war hero; he goes and fights the American Revolution."

Additionally, the play includes historical characters with little rights that audiences can sympathize with, including widowed Mary Stearns, whose tavern serves as a meeting place for the Whigs and Tories, and even Winslow Worcester, Timothy Paine's teenage slave. Audiences will experience Winslow Worcester's struggle of a restricted life due to his social standing, where the events of 1774 served as a glimmer of hope.

"Some of this [play] is based upon the fact that, in this same time period from 1773 to 1775, there are five different petitions by slaves to the government … seeking freedom," explains Moran, adding that one petition was written by slaves in Worcester County. Moran has incorporated such petitions into his fictional storyline, allowing Winslow Worcester to be involved in such protests.

"I think it's kind of an interesting dynamic to talk about," says Moran. "We're all talking about liberty and freedom. White men are talking about being enslaved by Parliament, but in fact, there are also other people living amongst them who are truly enslaved or essentially don't have many rights."

Directed by J.T. Turner and performed by The Actors Company, "The Chains of Liberty" will be performed for the public, free of charge with a runtime of under one hour. Many of the festival's additional events will be within walking distance of each other, with the last activities of the day ending at 5 p.m. For a detailed schedule of free activities, locations and times, visit www.revolution1774.org.