Lexington MA History

Programs for Students - Come Explore History!

Group Programs for Students 13_08_p2'Colonial Kids' fits very well with the social studies curriculum. The kids liked it a lot. They had never seen a 'horn book' before nor a 'block' of tea. The program brought to life what we studied for months.

3rd grade teacher, Lexington, MA

As summer segues into autumn, teachers are preparing for the classroom. To  support educators in their wish to enrich classroom learning with engaging history field trips, we offer three fantastic, hands-on programs that bring history to life. Each offers a through grounding in solid historical research and interactive structure. All programs are aligned to the Massachusetts Department of Education's history and social science curriculum framework. We also enjoy working with groups from independent schools, homeschool groups, and scouts. Our programs are conducted by professional staff, who know how to engage and inspire students through developmentally appropriate interpretive techniques.

Colonial Kids allows participants to explore how the children of Lexington's Brown family experienced daily life in 1773. Visiting third-graders discover that Lexington's residents had their own "tea party," days before the famous Boston Tea Party of December, 1773. They engage in critical thinking about what the concept of "protest" meant to families of the era, as well as considering how aspects of daily life - clothing, dairy production, and schooling - in the 1770s compare to their own. Kindergartners through second-graders participating in the program explore the everyday life of the Brown family, real people who lived in Lexington at the time of the American Revolution. From how they helped in the house and on the farm to what school was like, the Brown children are brought to life through an engaging narrative and plenty of objects to handle and consider. You can read about the third-grade version of the Colonial Kids program here. Here is more information about the Lexington tea-burning protest - and here, as well.

The Archeology Lab helps 4th- to 8th-graders walk in the footsteps of archeologists who study New England's colonial past. Participants clean, identify, and interpret artifacts from a fictitious Massachusetts town, discovering archeological methods as they work. Students work together to assemble clues about how the artifacts were used in the 1700s and about the people who left them behind. We have posted supplementary material to our archeology program here.

From Union Jack to Old Glory is a flexible program that introduces first through fifth-graders to the history and meaning of the Stars and Stripes. Featuring the Museum's rare and enormous 15-star flag as its centerpiece, the program employs a variety of hands-on activities, games, and challenges. Participants consider how we handle and display our national flag, as well as discover the fascinating course the development of its physical appearance and use has taken since the first years of the American Revolution to the present.

We appreciate your willingness to meet our needs. You are wonderful!

5th grade teacher, Newton, MA

We are glad to accommodare a visiting group's interests and needs. To learn more about the programs described here, our fees for student groups, and how to inquire about booking a program, refer to our Groups and Tours webpage. We are always happy to share information about these programs - drop us a line at [email protected] or call at 781-457-4121.

Our monthly newsletter will help keep you in touch with programs, exhibitions, and special events. You can sign up to receive it by clicking on the "Join Our E-Mailing List" icon at the museum's website.

 


A Tax Protest Relic

GL2004_1868a-e Vial of Tea croppedWhat is in this little vial, only 2½ inches tall?  Its contents are a carefully preserved relic; one that harkens back to a celebrated tax protest in Revolutionary-era Boston.  The material collected in this container is tea, said to have been caught in the boots worn by one of the participants in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.  It was on view in the exhibition "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution."

In the 1700s, Britain fought a number of wars in the colonies--in particular, the French and Indian War (1756-1763)--at huge expense. These wars, in part undertaken to preserve and protect these settlements, effectively doubled Britain’s national debt. To pay this debt, the British parliament instituted new taxes on the American colonies. Used to setting and collecting taxes at the town and colony levels through their own elected representatives, residents balked at the change.  Many felt the new taxes went against their basic rights as Englishmen.  Protests greeted the first taxes in the 1760s and continued as the British government tried different ways to generate tax revenue from the colonies.

Boston’s port-town economy relied on trade, so taxes on imported goods especially pained city residents.  The 1767 Townshend Act taxed imported glass, paper, paint and tea. To voice their objections to it, colonists harassed the customs commissioners and boycotted the taxed goods. These protests, coupled with the high cost of enforcement, prompted the British government to repeal the act in 1770.  However, parliament retained the tax on tea in the act that followed because, as David Hackett Fischer has stated, it was “so small that British ministers believed even Boston might be willing to swallow it.” 

This law, the 1773 Tea Act, brought tensions between the colonists and the British government to the breaking point.  The almost bankrupt East India Company asked the British government for assistance with their dire financial situation. The Tea Act granted the company the right to sell tea in the colonies tariff and duty free.  As a result, the company representatives’ tea was cheaper than that sold by local merchants. Both Boston’s merchants and people concerned about principles of representation and liberty—two groups that had not always seen eye-to-eye—were moved to protest.  

Some colonists, like the residents of Lexington, Massachusetts, expressed their views about the tax by agreeing as a community to not use tea in their homes.  They declared anyone who did “an Enemy to this Town & to this Country.” Residents promised that those who purchased and drank tea, “…shall by this Town be treated with Neglect & Contempt.”  To underscore their views Lexingtonians, as it was reported in the Boston papers, “brought together every ounce [of tea] contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire.”  You can read more about the bonfire in a previous post.

Some Bostonians chose to protest in a more violent manner. On December 16, 1773, about 150 men disguisedBoston Tea Party from the LOC as Native Americans dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston harbor.  Interestingly, the protesters—even as they destroyed the East India Company’s product—took care to respect others’ property and public order.  Organizers punished one protester who purloined tea for his own use.

The British government took a dim view of this protest.  A government investigation of the event called it a, “…crime of high treason, namely to the levying of war against His Majesty.”  The government retaliated for these, “violent and outrageous Proceedings at the Town and Port of Boston” by passing what the colonists called the Intolerable Acts in 1774.  Just sixteen months later, Massachusetts militia members and British Regulars exchanged the first shots of a civil war at Lexington and Concord. 

Did participants know they had taken part in a history-shaping protest?  Perhaps. Several people collected and later preserved relics of the event, such as another sample of tea found the next morning on the shores of Dorchester Neck that is part of the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.  In 1973, as the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and other organizations in the commonwealth prepared for the American Bicentennial, Paul Fenno Dudley (1894-1974) donated this vial of tea to the Grand Lodge’s Museum.  The Grand Lodge's collection is now housed at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library in Lexington.

Photograph:

Vial, 1800s or 1900s. Unidentified maker.  Tea, 1700s.  Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts Collection.  Gift of Paul F. Dudley, 1973, GL2004.1868a-c.  Photograph by David Bohl.

“Americans Throwing the Cargoes of the Tea ships into the River, at Boston.” Engraving from W.D. Rev. Mr. Cooper. The History of North America. London: E. Newbery, 1789. Library of Congress.

References:

Theodore Draper, A Struggle for Power:  The American Revolution (New York: Times Books, 1997), 415.

David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1994), 25-26.

Charles Hudson, History of the Town of Lexington, Vol. I, (Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), 84.

Massachusetts Historical Society, “Object of the Month: ‘Boston Harbor a tea-pot tonight.’” http://www.masshist.org/objects/2006february.cfm (accessed on May 22, 2012).

Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, exhibition labels from “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution,” 2007 through the present.

Anita P. Worthen, The First Tea Party Held at Lexington? (Lexington, Massachusetts:  Lexington Bicentennial Committee, 1973).


Visit Us on Patriots' Day!

Join Us for Patriots' Day Activites!

DSCF7856There is always plenty to do in Lexington when April vacation rolls around. The town and neighboring communities have many traditional events that commemorate the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775 and celebrate the community spirit of today. While you and your family are out, plan on dropping by the Museum for some fun programs. We've scheduled them conveniently so that they fall before or after the main reenactments and parades. Please note that the Museum will be open on Patriots' Day, Monday, April 16.

Farmer-soliderSaturday, April 14
11 a.m. & 2 p.m.
Gallery Talks: “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution”
Get the inside scoop on the tendencies and tensions in Lexington before the British marched into town on April 19, 1775. Join Museum staff for this free gallery tour.

Monday, April 16
10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Patriots’ Day Activities
Celebrate Patriots’ Day with arts and crafts activities exploring life in 1775. While you are here, take the opportunity to view "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution." $5/family (members); $7/family (non-members).

You'll also find the Lexington Alarm Letter on display in the Museum's lobby.

Revere ladleVisitors will be interested in exploring our exhibition "Curators' Choice: Favorites from the Collection." There, you'll find two objects related to the most famous midnight rider, Paul Revere. One is a wonderfully crafted silver ladle that showcases Revere's great talent as an silversmith. It's no wonder his works were coveted in their day. The other is much more recent - it dates to 2009. It's an ice cream carton. Brigham’s, a local ice cream company, created a special edition flavor called “Paul Revere’s Rocky Ride.” The name was the contest-winning suggestion by a couple from Charlestown, Massachusetts, where Paul Revere began his ride late at night on April 18, 1775. Come see what else you can discover in Curators' Choice.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Photo Credits

Farmer, 2007. Joe Farnham, National Heritage Museum.

Ladle, ca. 1765, Paul Revere, Jr. (1734–1818). Boston, Massachusetts. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2088.


The Lexington Alarm Letter on View at the Museum!

LexingtonAlarm_A95_011_1T1_croppedEach year around the time of the Patriots' Day holiday, the Museum is proud to display the Lexington Alarm Letter. Our document is a copy, made at Brooklyn, Connecticut on the morning of April 20th, of the original letter, written on the morning of April 19, 1775. The Connecticut copy was made by Brooklyn town officials from the original, now lost, which was sent by post rider to notify the colonies south of Massachusetts that war had begun. Visitors will have the opportunity to see the letter during its annual appearance between Wednesday, April 10 and Saturday, April 21. Please note that the Museum will be open on Patriots' Day, Monday April 16.

What makes this hand-written document such an exciting piece of American history is the urgency with which it was written. As we read the text, we can sense the shock and concern of its author, Joseph Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, a near neighbor to Lexington:

Watertown Wednesday Morning near 10 o’Clock

To all the Friends of American Liberty, be it known that this Morning before breake of Day a Brigade consisting of about 1000 or 1200 Men landed at [David] Phip’s Farm at Cambridge & marched to Lexington where they found a Company of our Colony Militia in Arms, upon Whom they fired without any Provocation and killed 6 Men and Wounded 4 others.

By an Express from Boston this Moment, we find another Brigade are now upon their march from Boston supposed to be about 1000. [...]

I have spoken with Several Persons who have seen the Dead & Wounded. Pray let the Delegates from this Colony to Connecticut see this they know.

Why does Palmer emphasize the events in Lexington, failing to mention the confrontation in Concord? Perhaps he wanted to spread news that portrayed the colonists as victims in order to garner sympathy for the cause of rebellion? Certainly this was popular strategy of the patriotic colonial press, perfected in broadsheets such as "A List of the Names of the Provincials who were Killed and Wounded in the late Engagement with His Majesty's Troops at Concord, &c." 

Or perhaps there is a simpler explanation. The letter was written at 10 o'clock, only one half-hour after the skirmish at Concord's North Bridge. Not enough time had passed for witnesses of the second phase of the Battle of Lexington and Concord to reach Watertown. The encounter between Lexington's militia under Capt. John Parker and the force of 700 or so Regular Army soldiers sent out from Boston was much earlier, at around 4:30 a.m. Palmer has spoken to witnesses of the destruction at Lexington and fears that more unprovoked attacks are to come from the second brigade he has learned is on its way from Boston. His letter spreads the news of unfolding events, the outcome of which he does not yet know.

When you visit the Museum to view the Lexington Alarm letter, don't miss "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution." In the exhibition, you'll find a map that traces how a group of riders spread the alarm throughout eastern Massachusetts. The adventures of some of these riders, such as Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott, are the stuff of legend. However, countless men rode through the night of April 18 and into the morning of April 19, 1775, to let the countryside know of the unfolding events. Colonial leaders who opposed the Crown, anticipating a move by the British Army, had set a communication network in place. Towns had prepared systems using bells, drums and gunshots to call militia units to gather at specified locations. Throughout April 19th, militias from 23 Massachusetts towns fought in the battles, and many more towns were alerted.

Those curious about how the people of Lexington experienced the beginning of the American Revolution, mark your calendars and and join us for our "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty" gallery talks. We'll be offering two this year, both on Saturday, April 14. Join us at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for these free programs that explore of life in this small community where ordinary people took extraordinary actions and shaped history as a result.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Photo credits

Lexington Alarm Letter, 1775. Daniel Tyler. Brooklyn, Connecticut, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, # A95/011/1.

 


New Version of Popular School Program

CK presentation The National Heritage Museum is excited to announce the new version of our popular third-grade program, “Colonial Kids.”  The existing program offered only a peek into the daily life of a colonial-era Lexington family.  By taking a cue from one of the grade 3 standards –Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for History and Social Sciences (“Explain important political, economic, and military developments leading to and during the American Revolution”) – and incorporating new research, we refocused the program to highlight one of Lexington’s most interesting pre-Revolutionary War events. 

On December 13, 1773, Lexington residents took deliberate action to go along with the town’s recently drafted “Resolves against the Tea Act,” subsequently published in newspapers around the colonies.  According to a contemporary article, “… they brought together every ounce (of tea) contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire.”  This event, overlooked in history for its much more spectacular sister-protest, the Boston Tea Party, that took place three days later, demonstrated Lexington’s role as a quiet hotbed of rebellious rhetoric.  So, for this new program, we chose December 13, 1773, as the day we would interpret and incorporated that event into our story.

To make our “day in the life” concept work, we chose an historic Lexington family with young children.  Students can easily relate to children their own age. We also wanted a family that might have had some involvement with the tea burning.  We settled on the Benjamin and Sarah Brown family.  They had seven children between the ages of 3 and 25 at home on December 13, 1773. The Browns were also well represented in primary sources, including tax assessments, Benjamin’s will, and town meeting records. We even learned that the town paid for daughter Sarah to keep school in the family’s house.  Her father, Benjamin, was also one of the select group of five men unanimously chosen to draft the “Resolves against the Tea Act” at Lexington town meeting.

To develop engaging activities, we researched the types of chores members of the household would do at that time of year, as well as the types of food they ate, the clothing they wore, and leisure activities they engaged in.  Unusual questions popped up during the research, such as “Did the Browns own a tall-case clock in 1773?” (likely) and “Was there a bell ringer for the town?” (yes).  With further research into primary and secondary sources, and help from historian Mary Fuhrer, we were able to find answers.

The final program contains activities to teach students about clothing, dairy production, and schooling, as well as critical thinking questions to help them understand the concept of “protest” and the similarities or differences between lifestyles in 1773 and now.  Upon testing the program, we found third graders studying the Revolutionary War relate well to the concepts of protest and boycott.  They also love to hear that Lexington beat Boston to the punch by burning their tea three days before Samuel Adams and friends dumped the East India Company’s tea into the harbor.

The new “Colonial Kids” program is now available for school groups in grades K-3.  For information on this and other tours and programs, and to find out how to make reservations, please visit the National Heritage Museum’s website.  You can also see our previous post on the Lexington Tea Bonfire.


Patriots' Day Lasts All Week at the Museum!

Doolittle Battle 87-49-2a Patriots' Day is a long-standing Massachusetts holiday celebrated each year on the third Monday of April. The day is set aside to commemorate the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first military engagements of the American Revolution. If you live in the area, however, "Patriots' Day" stretches into "Patriots' Day Week." Public schools enjoy a week-long spring vacation and families take day-trips to the many local events related to the holiday.

If you have a bit of free time during this special week, the National Heritage Museum offers programs and exhibitions that will help you celebrate.

Farmer-solider Join us on Saturday, April 16, at 2:00 PM for a gallery talk featuring "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution," our keystone exhibition that explores life in this small farming community where ordinary people made extraordinary choices that shaped history. Museum staff will give you the inside scoop on Lexington before British soldiers marched into town on April 19, 1775. The gallery talk is free.  

Meeting Billy On Patriots’ Day itself, Monday, April 18, the Museum will be open to the public from 10 AM to 4:30 PM. After attending the reenactment of the Battle of Lexington at the crack of dawn and breakfasting on pancakes prepared by one of the town's civic organizations, come to the Museum. From 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM, visiting families are invited to drop in to celebrate Patriots’ Day with arts and crafts activities exploring life in 1775. The admissions charge for the craft activities is $5/family (members); $7/family (non-members). While you are here, take the opportunity to explore “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution.” Families with young children who visit the exhibition can look forward to meeting and reading about Billy the Patriot Mouse.

LexingtonAlarmLetter An exciting piece of American history will make its annual appearance at the Museum during the holiday week. You won't want to miss seeing the Lexington Alarm Letter, on view from Saturday, April 16 through Saturday, April 23. This document was written on the morning of April 19, 1775, and was used to alert the colonies that war with England had begun. Previous posts to our blog include: a transcription of the letter's text; details on the important role it played in the 24 hours after the Battle; and a reconstruction of the route the letter took to New York City.

If you are interested in learning more about Patriots' Day and the Battle of Lexington, take a look at related posts to our blog. In exploring the following links, you'll learn some incredible facts about the beginnings of the American Revolution in Lexington and see some fascinating objects from our collection:

Finally, if you are an educator or a student of the Revolutionary era, check out the following posts:

We look forward to seeing you at the Museum. If you have questions about our April programming or about our exhibitions, please call the Museum at 781-861-6559. Please refer to our website for opening hours and directions.

Photo credits:

The Battle of Lexington,” 1775. Amos Doolittle (1754-1832), New Haven, Connecticut. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut

Farmer, 2007. Joe Farnham, National Heritage Museum

Meeting Billy, 2007. Sheli Peterson, National Heritage Museum

Lexington Alarm Letter, 1775. Daniel Tyler, Brooklyn, Connecticut. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A95/011/1


Say Hello to Billy the Patriot Mouse on Patriot’s Day!

Drilling for blog In 2007, at the opening of “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution," the museum introduced Billy the Patriot Mouse.  Since then, visitors to the exhibition, especially younger ones, have enjoyed following Billy through pictures in the gallery and a book that tells his story.  Museum staff, working with illustrator Sheli Petersen, created Billy to help young children engage with the exhibition.  Looking out for Billy in each section of the exhibition allows families to experience the events of 1775 through his eyes (or at least imagine them). 

Billy lives with the Estabrook family of Lexington and participates in happenings throughoutBilly on farm small "Seeds of Liberty."  Billy steals cheese in the Loring kitchen, listens to political gossip at John Parker's wheelwright shop and watches the Lexington Tea Bonfire.  After the battle at Lexington, he travels with Prince Estabrook (by pocket) and later fights with the troops in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. Although Billy is placed at the eye-level of a child, he has attracted the attention of visitors of all ages.   Many visitors note on comment cards that Billy is who they would most like to meet of all the people introduced in the exhibition. 

We hope you will seek out Billy on your next visit.  The museum is open this Patriot's Day.

 

Credits:

Illustrations by Sheli Petersen, 2007, National Heritage Museum


Does This Building Ring a Bell?

91_037_2aDP1 Did you know that the Old Belfry is the only site in Lexington, Massachusetts, to ever appear on an official United States coin?  In 1925, the United States Mint issued over 162,000 Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollars to mark the 150th anniversary of the opening battles in the American Revolution.  Each silver half dollar bore the image of the Old Belfry on the reverse or back side, along with Daniel Chester French’s (1850-1931) Minute Man statue from Concord, Massachusetts, on the obverse or front.  The National Heritage Museum owns two of these coins, which it received in 1991, along with their original presentation boxes.

The town of Lexington originally built the Old Belfry in 1762 on land owned by Jonas Munroe. Six years later, the Belfry was moved to the town common, where it stood during the Battle of Lexington. On the night of April 19, 1775, the Belfry’s bell sounded the alarm that the British regulars were coming.  While the original Belfry was destroyed in 1909, the Lexington Historical Society built an exact replica in 1910 on its original Belfry Hill location. 91_037_2aDP2

During the months leading up to the anniversary celebration, the United States Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Commission came up with the idea for the commemorative half dollar, and created a preliminary design for the coin.  Next, the Commission, which was primarily composed of residents of the two towns, hired noted sculptor Chester Beach (1881-1956) to turn their blueprint into a metallic reality.  While Beach is most famous for his marble and bronze statues and busts, including The Unveiling of Dawn (1913) and Fountain of the Waters (1927), he also designed the Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half Dollar (1923), and produced the models for the Hawaii Sesquicentennial Half Dollar (1928).

91_037_2bDP1 Although Beach had his own ideas of how the coin should look, the Commission insisted that he follow their predetermined design.  In the end, he reluctantly created models for the coin that met the Commission’s exact specifications, but refused to sign the design as he had done for his previous half dollars.  Each coin came in a pine presentation box, with the Concord Minute Man and the Belfry, respectively, printed on the lid and the bottom of the box.  While Beach may not have been satisfied with the final product, fairgoers in Lexington and Concord liked the coins enough to buy 60,000 of them between April 18 and 20, 1925.  An unseasonable snowfall impacted the turnout for the fair, which featured a reenactment of the battle at the North Bridge in Concord, and an elaborate military parade afterward.  Collectors in New England bought most of the leftover coins.  

While the Massachusetts State Quarter, issued in 2000, showed a figure resembling the renowned Minute Man statue in Concord, the Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar remains the only legally issued American coin to depict a Lexington landmark.  Will the Mint recognize Lexington again in 2025, for the 250th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord?  We hope so!

References:

"1775 Battle Acted at Concord Bridge: Great Crowds See a Pageant in Which Minute Men Again Face British Regulars. Throngs at Lexington Dawes and Pershing Take Part In Series of Exercises Beginning With Paul Revere's Ride." New York Times (1857-Current file), April 21, 1925, www.proquest.com (accessed January 11, 2010).

Murphy, Ian. “Lexington Belfry Has Storied History.” The Concord Journal, April 11, 2007, http://www.wickedlocal.com/concord/fun/entertainment/arts/x1605763781 (accessed January 21, 2010).

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. “1925 Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar.” Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, http://www.ngccoin.com/CoinDetail.aspx?ContentID=161 (accessed January 8, 2010).

Opitz, Glenn B., ed. Dictionary of American Sculptors: 18th Century to the Present. Poughkeepsie, NY: Apollo, 1984.

Tour Lexington, Massachusetts. “Historic Sites and Museums.” The Liberty Ride, http://www.libertyride.us/historic.html (accessed January 11, 2010).

Yeoman, R.S. A Guide Book of United States Coins, 2010 (63rd Edition): The Official Red Book. Edited by Kenneth Bressett. Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, 2009.

Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar and Box, 1925, U.S. Mint, Washington, D.C., National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Dorothy L. and Stephen W. Smith, 91.037.2a-c.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Hancock Church Silver in “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty”

Among the many treasures on view in “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution” are some wonderful examples of communion silver.  Residents of Lexington first used them to take communion as part of their worship over 240 years ago.  In addition to playing an essential role in the service, these cups, associated with different members of the Hancock family, were fashioned to be enduring memorials.

In the 1700s in Lexington and other New England towns, only church members took communion from these during Sunday services. Not all who attended the First Church in Lexington were members. To become a member, a man or woman needed to publicly confess their transgressions and be saved.  During that time, in Congregational churches, church goers commissioned communion silver that could be passed easily from hand to hand.  As well, they selected forms based on the kinds of vessels they used in their own in households, including beakers and cups like these.   Although these forms may have been familiar to Lexingtonians, the fact that they were crafted of a precious metal made them anything but ordinary.

EL99_001_11a-bT1 On a gray day, polished silver would have glinted, shone and added glamour to the meeting house.  In addition to their aesthetic properties, the monetary value of these cups ensured they were well looked after.  In fact, these cups may have been among those cared for by the elder church deacon, Joseph Loring (1713-1787), at his home in 1775. On April 19, still in shock from the morning's battle, Lexington residents worried that British soldiers might loot homes on their way back from Concord. To protect her family's and the church's valuables, the deacon’s daughter, Lydia (b. 1745), hid these portable valuables under a pile of brush behind the house. She was smart to have done so.  British soldiers pillaged the Lorings' home and burned itto the ground, but Lexington did not lose its communion silver. 

Both of these cups both memorialize Hancock family members.  Successful Boston businessman Thomas Hancock (1703-1763) grew up in Lexington. He was the son of John Hancock (1671-1752), the town’s first minister. Upon his death, he left £20 to his father’s former church, specifying it be used to make “two silver cups for the communion table.”  Thomas Hancock, with his wife Lydia, raised his nephew, also named John Hancock (1736/7-1793).  The younger John Hancock later served as the President of the Continental Congress and in that capacity added his now-famous signature the the Declaration of Independence.   
 
EL99_001_7S1 small Also a son of the Reverend John Hancock, Ebenezer Hancock (1710-1740) followed in his father’s footsteps and served as his assistant for six years. He died at the age of thirty, possibly in a diphtheria epidemic.  Made of valuable, long-lasting material and permanently marked with his name, this present to the church endured well after the memory of Ebenezer’s contributions to town life faded.

The National Heritage Museum is grateful to the First Parish Church of Lexington, Unitarian Universalist, for the loan of the communion silver that helps tell the story of April 19, 1775.

Photographs:

Footed Cups, 1764. Nathaniel Hurd (1729/30-1777), Boston, Massachusetts. Loaned by First Parish Church of Lexington, Unitarian Universalist, EL99.001.011a and.011b. Photograph by David Bohl

Beaker, ca. 1740. Jacob Hurd (1702/03-1758), Boston, Massachusetts. Loaned by First Parish Church of Lexington, Unitarian Universalist, EL99.001.7. Photograph by David Bohl


The Lexington Tea Bonfire

Most fans of colonial history know about one of the era’s now-famous historical protests, the Boston Tea Party, when, on December 16, 1773, about 150 men disguised as Native Americans dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbor.  You can see tea thought to have been dumped from these chests in “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution.” Here at the museum, we also like to talk about this event’s earlier and lesser-known cousin, the Lexington Tea Bonfire.

 

Like the Bostonians who protested the 1773 Tea Act, Lexington residents took issue with the  act that gave the East India Company a lock on the tea market in the colonies by exempting that company from paying a duty on the tea they exported to the colonies.  These colonists disagreed with Parliament’s privileging the East India Company (and thus impeding local businesses’ ability to turn a profit selling tea) and objected to Parliament taxing subjects without their input.
 
Green and white teapot 91_025-12a-bT1 In early December 1773, Lexington voters gathered to discuss "the tea sent out of the East India Company to be sold in America subject to a duty imposed by Act of Parliament."  As often happened at a meeting of Lexington freeholders, the group appointed a committee to put together a report on the topic for the town to consider and discuss.  On December 13, voters passed a hotly worded resolve against the Tea Act, describing it as a “... Measure to distress, Enslave and destroy Us.”  To this resolve, they added a statement declaring, “That if any Head of a Family in this Town or any Person shall from this time forward and until the Duty be taken off purchase any Tea or use or Consume any Tea in their Families such person shall be looked upon as an Enemy to this Town and to the Country and shall by this Town be treated with neglect and Contempt.”

 

Further expressing their outrage and resolve, as a Boston newspaper recounted, Lexingtonians “… brought together every ounce [of tea] contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire.”  Published in the Massachusetts Spy on December 16, 1773, this account confirms that Lexington residents were ahead of the curve when it came to protesting the Tea Act.

 

Teapot, ca. 1765. England. National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 91.025.12a-b.  Photograph by David Bohl.


References: The Marketplace of Revolution:  How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence, T. H. Breen (Oxford University Press: New York) 2004, pp. 294-331.


See also the NHM curriculum and NHM’s Learning Blog.