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Worcester at the breaking out of the Revolutionary War

Worcester at the breaking out of the Revolutionary War

Worcester In The War Of The Revolution: Embracing The Acts Of The Town From 1705 To 1783

By Albert A. Lovell, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1870

It would be desirable, if it were possible, to present a full and detailed representation of Worcester as it was at the time of the Revolution, but as the records of that day are meager, and we so far removed in point of time, it is impossible to produce any full and complete picture of the town at that period of its existence.



At the breaking out of the war in 1775, Worcester contained about nineteen hundred inhabitants. According to a census taken in the year 1763, the population was fourteen hundred and seventy-eight, and by a census taken in the year 1776, it was found to be nineteen hundred and twenty-five, an increase in thirteen years of four hundred and forty-seven, or nearly thirty-one per cent. In 1790 the population was ascertained to be two thousand and ninety-five, an increase in fourteen years of nearly nine per cent.

As to valuation, we find by the list for the year 1772, the town ranked fourth in the County, being exceeded by Lancaster, Brookfield and Sutton. According to the list of 1778 it then ranked third, Brookfield occupying the first place on the list and Lancaster the second. From the returns of the Assessors in the office of the Secretary of State, the following estimate of the principal articles of property for the year 1781 is obtained, viz: houses 216, barns 207, shops 11, other buildings 32. Live Stock cows and steers 778, horses 277, oxen 365, swine 212. Land village 1034 acres, mowing 1074, meadow 1606, pasture 2881, woodland and unimproved 14,912.

The means of communication between Worcester and the other parts of the Province previous to the war and during its continuance were very limited. In 1774, the only regular communication was by a post going once a week between Boston and Hartford, occupying six days in the journey. On the establishment of the Spy in the town in 1775 by Mr. Thomas, he made extensive arrangements for its distribution, sending post riders to Cambridge, Salem, Providence, Fitchburg and other places. The roads were poor and almost all traveling was performed on horseback. On the 15th of November, 1775, the first post office of the town was established, Mr. Isaiah Thomas being postmaster.*

Perhaps in no way can a clearer idea of the general aspect of the town at that time be obtained, than by commencing at the northerly end of the village on the Boston road, and following that and the main road to a point just south of the meeting house, taking note of the more prominent land-marks. About a quarter of a mile above what is now known as Lincoln Square, on the Boston road, on the west side, stood the residence of the Hon. Timothy Paine, for many years a member of the General Court, and a stout government man in the controversies in that body during the years which preceded the Revolution. Near the residence of Mr. Paine a short distance below was the house of Levi Lincoln, Sen., afterwards Governor of the State and Attorney General of the United States under President Jefferson.

Lincoln’s History of Worcester

The grounds connected with this estate were considered the finest in the town. Still farther down, stood the Hancock Arms Tavern, the principal rendezvous of the patriots. At this house most of the people in attendance at the courts were accustomed to stop. It was formerly owned by the lion. John Hancock, and here he usually spent a portion of the summer after the courts had adjourned, and entertained his friends. South of this tavern stood the jail built in 1753. This jail was during the war crowded with prisoners from the British army and tories from this and the other Provinces. On the north side of the present Lincoln Square was the Salisbury Mansion erected in 1770. This house is still standing, and is almost the only remaining relic of those days which preserves a semblance of its original appearance. It has been remodeled to some extent, and raised so that it stands a few feet higher than when built. As originally constructed it provided a commodious residence for Mr. Stephen Salisbury and his mother, while a portion was fitted for and occupied as a store, where he carried on an extensive business, after having abandoned the one which stood on the site now covered by the Worcester & Nashua Railroad Station. On the south side of the Square was the blacksmith shop of Timothy Bigelow.

The only roads converging at this point at that time were the Boston road, now Lincoln street, the road now known as Salisbury street, the road which is now Summer street, and the main road of the village. On the west side of the main road, on the elevation occupied at the present day by the Court Houses, stood the Court House of that day, erected in 1751, a wooden building 36 feet by 40 in size. It was afterwards removed to make room for a building furnishing larger accommodations, and now stands at the intersection of Franklin and Green streets.

The main road, as it left what is now the Square, was very narrow, the bank on the west side extending much farther east than at present. The road to the Court House left the main road near where the Central Church now stands, and terminated at the Court House, although there was a path down the hill toward the Salisbury Mansion, in the recir of a store which stood near where the bank wall now terminates. In front of the Court House was the pillory, whipping post and gallows. This gallows was not used for executions but for the punishment of those guilty of minor crimes, the culprit being compelled to sit with a rope around his neck in view of passers by. The stocks were located near the meeting house, (the Old South,) and stored in that building when not in use.

Nearly opposite where School street now enters Main, was the store of Dr. Elijah Dix, where as physician and druggist, he maintained an extensive practice and thriving business. To this man are we of the present generation greatly indebted for the magnificent elms which grace our principal street, he planting many himself and inducing others to do the same.

At the foot or the present George street lived Mr. Nathan Baldwin. The house which he occupied is still standing on its original site, and now presents the same general appearance as when built. Mr. Baldwin was a master spirit of the patriotic party in Worcester. He was an able writer, and the author of most of the public documents issued by the town find Committee of Correspondence. In his religious views he was a Deist; and John Adams, afterwards President, speaks in one of his letters of Nathan Baldwin as one of three notable disputants in a religious controversy which raged in town when he came here to live in 1755.

On the opposite side of the road, on land occupied at the present day by the Bay State House, was the Heywood Tavern, owned at this time by Daniel Heywood, a young man under age, to whom it was bequeathed by his grandfather, Dea. Daniel Heywood. Upon the incorporation of Worcester County in 1731, a chamber in this house was fitted up and used for a jail until the County provided a building for that purpose.

Farther south, on the west side, where the Lincoln House now stands, stood the King’s Arms Tavern, kept by the widow Mary Sternes. It was, in the early days of the war the tory head-quarters, and the place where most of the schemes for defeating the purposes of the patriots were devised. In front of this tavern was a sign post on which swung the sign of the King’s Arms, but which was taken down and burned at the first celebration of the Declaration of Independence in this town in 1776.

On the opposite side, where Clark’s block now stands, was the Sun Tavern, and in front a swinging sign on which were represented the setting sun and a dying oak. Next south of this tavern stood the house of Col. John Chandler, for many years Town Clerk and a strong sympathizer with the British Government, and adjoining was the store of that gentleman, located on what is now the corner of Main and Front streets. This building “the Old Compound” was removed about twenty-five years since.

Just south of the junction of the Hard wick road, now Pleasant street, with the main road, stood a fine elm, one of the largest in the town; and standing back some distance, with a large unenclosed yard in front, was the house of John Nazro, a prominent merchant. This house was formerly the residence of Rev. Isaac Burr, Pastor of the Parish from 1725 to 17-15. Precisely opposite the present City Hall was situated Mr. Nazro’s store.

On the Ilardwick road, where High street now joins Pleasant, stood a small red house which was occupied by Mr. Isaiah Thomas after his arrival in Worcester.

On what is now Front street situated between the present Salem and Trumbull streets, was the house of Capt. Palmer Goulding, a prominent citizen, and for some years Town Clerk.

On the spot now occupied by the new Union Depot, where at that time was a sandy knoll, took place in the year 1778, one of the most remarkable executions for capital crime which ever occurred in this country. Four malefactors, one of whom was a woman, were here executed for the crime of murder. About five thousand people from this, and neighboring towns, thronged to witness the spectacle. A terrible thunder shower occurred at the time, and everything conspired to produce “a compound scene of horror.” The details were published in the Spy of Aug. 6, 1778.

Returning to the Main road, south of the store of Mr. Nazro, on the site now occupied by Taylor’s block, was the residence ot Col. Gardner Chandler, High Sheriff of the County. This house was considered one of the finest in the interior of New England. Near the present junction of Portland and Park streets, stood the house of Rev. Thaddeus Maccarty, pastor of the Parish. At the point where Park street now joins Main, stood the residence of James Putnam, Esq., the able lawyer and the last Royal Attorney General of the Province. After Col. Putnam fled to Boston, the house was occupied by Joseph Allen, Esq., and still later by Mr. Samuel Flagg. It was destroyed by fire in 178G. Just south of this house was Jones’ Tavern, another rendezvous of the tories.

The territory lying between the store of Col. Chandler on the north-west, the house of Palmer Goulding on the east, the houses of Rev. Mr. Maccarty and Col. Putnam on the south, and the main road on the west, was the Common, on the east side of which was the public burial place of the town, surrounded by a high stone wall. The Common at that day was not enclosed, and was used as a common in the most literal sense. Traveled ways, some of which had been established by the authority of the town, and some by use, traversed this tract in all directions. On the west side near the main road, on the same site it now occupies, stood the meeting house built in 1703. The original dimensions were TO feet in length by 55 in width, with a tower on the north surmounted by a spire 130 feet high.

The erection of this building was commenced June 21, 1703, and although not fully completed, the first public service was held Dec. 8, of that year, that being the day set apart for Thanksgiving in this Province. The principal entrance was through a porch on the west side, and there was also an entrance through a porch at the south end, and another through the tower on the north. The porch at the main entrance had wide double doors in front and single doors at the sides. The entrance through the tower was also by doors on the three sides. The floor of the meeting house was provided with sixty-one large square box pews* and seven long pews on each side of the broad aisle, these last being free. Those at the right on entering were assigned to the men, and those on the left to the women. In front of the pulpit was the pew for the deacons, and the pew for the aged and deaf. Over the pulpit was the high sounding board with its pendant dove. On three sides was a very deep gallery, the pulpit being raised high enough to be in full view of every seat. The pew at the right of the pulpit on the floor of the house, was assigned to the Hon. John Chandler, as being the most’ desirable, in acknowledgment of his generous contribution of £40 towards the erection of the edifice.

The building committee consisted of John Chandler, Jr., Joshua Bigelow, Josiah Brewer, John Curtis, James Putnam, Daniel Boyden, James Goodwin, Jacob Hemmenway, David Bigelow, Samuel Moore, and Elisha Smith. They were originally limited by the town to an expenditure of £1200, but the entire expense amounted to £1542. No change took place in the exterior until the year 1827, when the west porch was removed, wings added to the tower, and various minor alterations made. In 1834, the south porch was removed and 25 feet in length added to the building; the addition preserving the general style of architecture sis it was at the time the church was first erected. In 1871, the outside was modernized, five long windows being substituted on each side in place of the eighteen which had lighted the building before, leaving but little to remind us of its former appearance.

Having taken this hasty glance at Worcester as it was at the time of the Revolution, we can realize, to some extent, the changes of a century. A small town of less than two thousand inhabitants has become a thriving city of nearly fifty thousand, with a total valuation of forty-nine millions of dollars. Its village highway is today a busy thoroughfare, and scarcely aught remains of one hundred years ago.

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