Before Lexington: The Worcester Revolution of 1774

The City Clerk Department of Worcester, David Rushford, City Clerk is distributing an excerpt of notes from author Ray Raphael, a California resident who is preparing to have published a re-write of American history that places Worcester at the forefront of the revolutionary spirit that gripped the masses in Colonial America in the early 1770s.


The American Revolution did not start on the morning of April 19, 1775. When the British fired upon a small group of hastily assembled patriots on the the Lexington Green, they were attempting to gain control of a colony they had already lost. The real Revolution, the transfer of political authority to the American patriots, had already occurred more than half a year earlier when thousands upon thousands of farmers and artisans deposed every Crown-appointed official in Massachusetts outside of Boston.

During the late summer of 1774, each time a court was slated to meet under British authority in some Massachusetts town, great numbers of angry citizens made sure it did not. Thes patriots were furious because they had been disenfranchised by the Massachusetts Government Act. Having lost control of the governmental apparatus, and in particular of the courts, they feared their arbitrary rulers might soon seize their tools, their livestock, or even their farms.

Worcester was at the center of this massive uprising. It was the patriots of Worcester who first called for a meeting of several counties to coordinate the resistance. It was at Worcester, on September 6, 1774 that the British conceded control of the countryside. For the preceding month, General Thomas Gage had proclaimed he would hold the line at Worcester by sending troops to protect the court, but on the appointed day, he backed down. When British troops failed to show, 4,722 militiamen from 37 towns in Worcester County lined both sides of Main Street and every official and every prominent Tory in town to resign or recant thirty times over, hats in hand, as they made their way through the gauntlet from Heywood's Tavern (at Exchange Street) to the County Courthouse. This was by far the greatest assembly of people ever to convene in the Town of Worcester which had fewer than 250 voters. Some towns, having armed and trained for a month, sent virtually every adult male. Shortly thereafter, the Town of Worcester was the first to urge that a new government be formed "as from the Ashes of the Phoenix".

Through it all, the revolutionaries engaged in a participatory democracy so thorough it is difficult for us to fathom today. At every turn, all decisions were made by the full body of the people. No action could be taken without running the matter through the entire rank and file.

According to the Random House dictionary, a "revolution" is a forcible overthrow of an established government or political system by the people governed. There can be no doubt that the people of Worcester County staged a full scale revolution, long before Lexington and Concord. This Revolution has been obscured for many reasons: it was bloodless, it had no famous leaders, it was basically middle class and far from the media center in Boston, it has been overwhelmed by the repeated telling of Paul Revere's ride. But we should not be misled: the patriots of 1774 staged a very potent Revolution precisely because they were nameless yet ubiquitous, aggressive yet bloodless.  The staggering power of the "body of the people" precluded serious resistance. Local Tories, overwhelmingly outnumbered, had no choice but to acquiesce. Officers of the British Army looked on helplessly, not knowing where, when or how to deal with an uprising of such breadth and magnitude. All British troops withdrew to Boston, and General Gage reported back to London that "the flames of sedition" had "spread universally throughout the country, beyond conception". For seven months, the patriots ruled supreme in rural Massachusetts, unchallenged until the counter-revolution of April 19, 1775.

(The documentation of these accounts by the author R. Raphael comes from newspapers accounts, various old letters, including those of Gage to Lord Dartmouth, town meeting records, minutes of the country conventions, accounts of deposed officials, the minutes of the patriotic American Political Society of Worcester, Ebenezer Parkman's diary and Stephen Salisbury's letters to his brother Samuel. All of these are available at the Antiquarian Society, the last three as original manuscripts. A book is being published on this account of the real Revolution. Raphael has published ten other books.)


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