Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Commemoration Date Set to Honor the Worcester Revolution of September 6, 1774

Nearly eight months before the American War of Independence began with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, 4,622 militiamen from 37 towns marched down Main Street in Worcester, shut down the Crown-controlled county courthouse and, for the first time ever in the American colonies, effectively overthrew British authority.  The date was September 6, 1774.  Not a shot was fired.

William Wallace, executive director of the Worcester Historical Museum, sums up the importance of this largely untold story.  “The Worcester revolt is noteworthy because it was the first actual ‘revolution’ in the War of Independence – the first real seizure of political and military authority to ever occur in the American colonies. And it happened almost a year before the first shot was fired at Lexington and Concord. That's significant."

The Worcester revolt came about in response to the detested Intolerable Acts, a series of bills enacted by Parliament in the spring of 1774.  A key provision of the Acts limited the colonial right to representative government.  This presented a significant problem for the middle-class farmers, shopkeepers and craftsmen who relied on the county courts as their primary source of civil authority and contact with government.  Ultimately, the citizens of Worcester “demanded that the courts be run, as they had been, by officials ultimately accountable to the voters through their representatives, and not to court officers beholden to the Crown,” according to Melvin H. Bernstein, author of the essay Setting the Record Straight: The Worcester Revolt of September 6, 1774.

The impact of the revolt was immediate and widespread.  “The spectacle of the Worcester rebellion against British authority and public humiliation of its officials sent a shock wave across the Massachusetts colony, all the way to Philadelphia where the First Continental Congress was in session,” says Bernstein.  “Worcester’s militiamen had set the stage for an inevitable later, larger confrontation with the British military.”  The following spring, when General Gage decided to mount an offensive, his spies warned him not to attack Worcester, where arms and powder were stored and where patriots were too strong, but to go after Concord instead.  The rest, as they say, is history.

No one’s sure why this story has been untold for so long, but a local coalition is out to change that.  Comprised of historic and cultural organizations from throughout Worcester County, the Worcester Revolution of 1774 is on a mission to develop a sense of community pride in the role the region played in the founding of America.  “We want to raise awareness of this pivotal event in American history to a level on par with that seen in Lexington and Concord,” said Michael Fishbein, coalition spokesperson.  The communities of Lexington and Concord are well-known for elaborate annual celebrations in honor of their revolutionary heritage.  Each year, they proudly celebrate their role in history with authentic reenactments and colorful parades to honor the historic battles fought there.

To do this, a consortium of organizations has developed a website,, and is planning a region-wide, year-long celebration encompassing Worcester proper and the 37 surrounding towns that particip0ated in 1774. The series will be coordinated with a common brand--Worcester Revolution of 1774--to build momentum and leverage the effect of each event on another.

For more information contact Michael Fishbein at (508) 538-1776 or or visit 

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