New Hands-On History Workshop: Worcester and the American Revolution

To study closely a nineteenth-century lithograph or actually touch the impressions of type in the sheets of an eighteenth-century newspaper can be a magical, even transformative, experience. For years I have seen K-12 educators become engrossed and inspired by such activities. However it was only after we conducted a one-day workshop for K-12 educators on the War of 1812 this past autumn that I thought of offering such an opportunity to the general public. At that conference we had a number of non-teachers attend and all were thrilled with the program. This made me realize that many of the folks who come to our lectures might also enjoy engaging in deeper conversations with an expert scholar, literally touching the past by exploring some of the wonderful treasures in our library, and sharing their observations and discoveries with other like-minded people. So we are now offering special programs called “hands-on history workshops.”  Our first such program will take place on Saturday, June 1st from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. when Ray Raphael will lead us in a discussion of Worcester’s role in the American Revolution.

The program will explore two basic themes. The first is the radicalization of rural Massachusetts in the summer of 1774 as described in Ray’s book The First American Revolution. These events culminated in Worcester on September 5th when 4,622 militiamen from thirty-seven surrounding communities lined Main Street and forced Crown-appointed officials to walk a gauntlet and resign their commissions. Similar peaceful demonstrations by common citizens throughout rural Massachusetts seized political power and effectively ended Royal authority throughout the Commonwealth.

May 3, 1775 issue of Thomas' newspaper,the Massachusetts Spy

Our second theme concerns the public relations battle that followed the fighting at Lexington and Concord.  Worcester and AAS’s founder Isaiah Thomas also played a vital role in this war of words in the spring and summer of 1775. Thomas smuggled his press and some type out of Boston on the evening of April 16th and set up a temporary printing office in the basement of Timothy Bigelow’s home in Worcester.  From here he printed the first eyewitness accounts of the battles of Lexington and Concord in his newspaper the Massachusetts Spy and a series of depositions of eyewitness accounts of those events that were widely reprinted on both sides of the Atlantic and were instrumental in shaping public opinion.

Our workshop on June 1st will explore these events and allow participants to examine these early Worcester imprints and other primary source newspapers, pamphlets, broadsides and manuscripts related to both the events in the summer of 1774 and the battles of Lexington and Concord. The world of colonial printers and their role in fermenting the war in general will also be discussed.

The cost for the workshop is $65 for AAS members and $75 for non-members and includes pre-readings, materials, refreshments, and lunch.  To find out more or to register go to http://www.americanantiquarian.org/handsonhistory.

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