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Centennial Oaks 1914 – 2014

 

Jennifer Willson, Daughter of the American Revolution

It has been one hundred years since the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased “the Oaks.” To that beautiful lady on Lincoln Street, I dedicate this blog with the hope to coax from her secret drawers and hiding places the history of her beloved Daughters.

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Revolutionary War Veteran Dies in Prison

Timothy Bigelow Painting

Photograph of a painting of Colonel Timothy Bigelow. Location, age, and artist unknown.

WORCESTER, Mass. — Colonel Timothy Bigelow, 50, was found dead in his jail cell on Wednesday, March 31, 1790.

In regards to the discharge of Colonel Bigelow, the old jail book simply stated: “By Deth.” The Revolutionary War veteran had been imprisoned just six weeks earlier on February 15, 1790 for unpaid debts.

His friend Isaiah Thomas, editor of the Massachusetts Spy (and whose printing press was smuggled out of Boston by Bigelow and hidden in the cellar of the Patriot’s Worcester home just a few days before the Battle of Lexington) had only this to say about the Colonel’s death in the April 7, 1790 edition of the Spy: “DIED. — in this town, Col. Timothy Bigelow aged 50.”

His countenance is not known, save for an unsourced photograph of a painting that has been floating around the internet for many years, attributed to Bigelow but without reference to the artist or location. The painting was rumored to be last seen hanging in the old Worcester District Courthouse before it was boarded up in 2007. Those who remembered him described his “tall and erect, and commanding figure, his martial air, his grave and rather severe countenance, his dignified and earnest address.”

Early Years

Timothy was born in the Pakachoag Hill area of Worcester on August 12, 1739 to Daniel and Elizabeth (Whitney) Bigelow. Prior to his military career, Timothy was a successful blacksmith with a shop located near Lincoln Square, where “he blew the bellows, heated and hammered the iron, shod the horses and oxen, and mended the ploughs and chains for the farms of the country about him.”

tea kettle

Tea kettle made by Timothy Bigelow in his blacksmithing days. Gifted to the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1928 by his great-great granddaughter Louise Bigelow.

He fell in love with Anna Andrews, an orphaned heiress to her family’s fortune, and they eloped on July 2, 1762 in Hampton, New Hampshire, which was the “Gretna Green” of its day.

Military Career

Timothy was known for his eloquent speaking and steadfast convictions. He was a member of the Committee of Correspondence, a delegate to the Provincial Congress, and the organizer of the American Political Society. His military service was lengthy and his dedication unwavering. He trained the Worcester Minutemen on the Common and led them on the alarm of April 19, 1775. He took command of the Fifteenth Massachusetts Regiment in 1776, witnessed Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga in 1777, and he suffered through the winter at Valley Forge in 1778. One of Col. Bigelow’s men stated that “Why, old Col. Tim was everywhere all the time, and you would have thought if you had been there, that there was nobody else in the struggle but Col. Bigelow and his regiment.”

Mistaken for George Washington

In her book Colonel Timothy Bigelow: A Historical Novel great-great granddaughter Louise Bigelow (who said that much of her book was based on old letters, diaries, and the tales of her grandfather) related this story of Colonel Bigelow’s capture in Quebec in 1777:

He was taken to a room with three British officers and repeatedly questioned about his identity. One officer took up the questioning and was so persistent that Timothy was soon greatly irritated.

‘Where did you come from?’ the man asked suspiciously.

‘Massachusetts,’ replied Timothy.

‘I think he came from Virginia,’ another officer interposed. Timothy looked at him witheringly.

‘I came from Worcester, Massachusetts,’ he said with much dignity.

‘Have you any children?’ the first officer continued.

‘Yes,’ Timothy answered proudly, ‘I have five.’

‘Washington hasn’t any children, has he?’ the man asked his companions in an undertone.

‘How tall are you?’ he asked abruptly.

‘Six foot three and a half,’ Timothy replied.

‘He’s taken off half an inch,’ the officer laughed sneeringly, ‘the last I heard, he was six foot four.’

‘Come on now, you might as well admit it, General,’ he demanded, suddenly curbing his laughter. ‘We know who you are. What’s the use in lying about it?’

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ Timothy said in bewilderment. ‘I am not lying. I have told you the truth in everything I have said.’

‘I could swear he is General Washington,’ the commanding officer said audibly enough for Timothy to overhear. ‘He is certainly tall and powerful enough to be. Well, let’s not take any chances. If he is Washington, we don’t want to put him in the Chateau.’

So Timothy was taken away to large pleasant room overlooking the river . . . excellent food was brought to him and this kindly treatment went on for about two weeks . . .”

According to Louise, once it was realized that he was not Washington,  he was thrown into an English prison ship. He was held for almost a year, a year which took a toll on his health from which he never fully recovered.

After the Revolution

Bigelow returned home from war a broken man, failing in both body and spirit. The government paid him for his years of service by granting him over 28,000 acres of Vermont wilderness, but that did nothing to offset his inability to successfully revive his blacksmithing business. The post-war inflation drove him heavily into debt, and he was subsequently thrown into prison where he died six weeks later.  He left behind his wife, Anna Andrews Bigelow (1747 – 1809) and six children: Nancy Bigelow Lincoln (1765 – 1839 ) Timothy Bigelow Jr. (1767 – 1821), Rufus Bigelow (1772 – 1813), Lucy Bigelow Lawrence (1774 – 1856) and Clarissa Bigelow (1781 – 1846) His son Andrew (b. 1769) predeceased him in 1787.

Bigelow Monument

Like most men of vision, Bigelow’s sacrifices went unrecognized for over 70 years, until his great-grandson Colonel Timothy Bigelow Lawrence erected a monument on the Common in his honor in 1861.

1861

Bigelow Monument in 1861.

WORCESTER SPY
10 APRIL 1861

THE BIGELOW MONUMENT — The remains of the late Col. Timothy Bigelow were on Monday exhumed from their burial place, in the northwest corner of the old cemetery on the Common. They were found in remarkable state of preservation. By direction of the committee having the matter of the monument in charge, they were encased in a metallic casket prepared for the purpose, and deposited in their last resting place, near the old spot, in the center of the lot in which the monument is to be erected.

WORCESTER SPY
17 APRIL 1861

THE BIGELOW MONUMENT — Friday noon, Mr. Hersey, in the presence of Col. T. B. Lawrence, Rev. Dr. Bigelow of Boston, a grandson of Col. Bigelow, Gov. Lincoln, and a large number of other gentlemen, deposited in the cavity made for them on the top of the first marble layer, two boxes full of documents prepared for the purpose of preservation there. The second layer of marble, a huge block weighing nine thousand pounds, suspended over it, was then let down and properly adjusted. The other layers were then put on, and the erection of the whole monument, with the exception of the putting in of the supporting pillars around the sides, completed about seven o’clock in the evening. The large crowd present celebrated the event by enthusiastic cheering.

Daughters of the American Revolution

In 1899, a Worcester chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was formed, and it was decided to name the chapter in honor of Colonel Timothy Bigelow. The mission of the DAR is to promote historic preservation, education, and patriotism.

“I have long since come to the conclusion, to stand by the American cause, come what will. I have enlisted for life. I have cheerfully left my home and family. All the friends I have, are the friends of my country. I expect to suffer with hunger, with cold, and with fatigue, and, if need be, I expect to lay down my life for the liberty of these colonies.” — Colonel Timothy Bigelow.

References:

The Story of Worcester, Massachusetts by Thomas F. O’Flynn c. 1910

The Celebration by the Inhabitants of Worcester, Mass of the Centennial Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence c.1876.

Colonel Timothy Bigelow: A Historical Novel by Louise Bigelow c. 1941

Ceremonies at the Dedication of the Bigelow Monument c. 1861

The Massachusetts/Worcester Spy c. 1790, 1861

Some Historic Houses of Worcester c. 1919

Reminisces of the Military Life and Sufferings of Col. Timothy Bigelow by Charles Hersey c. 1860

Meeting minutes from the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Worcester c. 1898/1899

History of Worcester, Massachusetts by William Lincoln c. 1837

The Musket That Fired the Shot Heard ‘Round the World

Munroe musket

Meeting Hall at the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Worcester, Massachusetts,  home to Ebenezer Munroe’s musket.

When Ebenezer Munroe awoke on his 23rd birthday, he probably couldn’t have imagined that his musket would be the one to fire “the shot heard ‘round the world,” or that it would end up in the home of a Loyalist judge, under the care of the Daughters of the American Revolution, in a city whose claim to fame is that they effectively ended British rule without firing a single shot.

But it’s true.

On this particular day I was sitting alone in the meeting hall of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter house, looking up at Ebenezer’s musket.  I had just mounted it above the fireplace.  I stared at it in awed silence, as though I were viewing the painting of a master in some cathedral . . . but this was more than a work of art.

It had taken me a long time to realize the significance of this musket.   When I first saw it in our collection, I thought, “oh how nice.  We’ve got a musket from the Battle of Lexington.” At the time, I wasn’t yet familiar with the story of this unassumingly presented artifact, which had been stored out-of-sight in a wooden coffin, along with a 3-ring binder stuffed haphazardly with handwritten notes, pictures, and newspaper clippings.  Once I took the time to read through the jumbled binder, I realized that Ebenezer’s musket wasn’t just “a musket,”  it was “THE musket,” and the weight of that recognition both thrilled me and frightened me, and made my heart pound.

Ebenezer Munroe (19 Apr 1752 – 25 May 1825) of Lexington, later of Ashburnham, was a yeoman farmer and militia corporal who answered the call to arms on April 19, 1775.   The following is an excerpt from his Deposition, (given on April 2, 1825 less than two months before his death) regarding the events of that day:

“Some of our men went into the meeting-house, where the town’s powder was kept, for the purpose of replenishing their stock of ammunition. When the regulars had arrived within eighty or one hundred rods, they, hearing our drum beat, halted, charged their guns, and doubled their ranks, and marched up at quick step. Capt. Parker ordered his men to stand their ground, and not to molest the regulars, unless they meddled with us. The British troops came up directly in our front. The commanding officer advanced within a few rods of us, and exclaimed, ‘Disperse, you damned rebels! you dogs, run!—Rush on my boys!’ and fired his pistol. The fire from their front ranks soon followed. After the first fire, I received a wound in my arm, and then, as I turned to run, I discharged my gun into the main body of the enemy. As I fired, my face being toward them, one ball cut off a part of one of my ear-locks, which was then pinned up. Another ball passed between my arm and my body, and just marked my clothes. The first fire of the British was regular; after that, they fired promiscuously. . . . When I fired, I perfectly well recollect of taking aim at the regulars. The smoke, however, prevented my being able to see many of them . . . I did not hear Captain Parker’s orders to his company to disperse . . .the balls flew so thick, I thought that there was no chance for escape, and that I might as well fire my gun as stand still and do nothing . . .”

After Ebenezer’s death in 1825, his musket was passed down through the generations,  until eventually it was sold to antique gun collector Granville Rideout of Ashburnham in the summer of 1950 for four dollars.   According to Granville, the musket had been left untouched in the Munroe family attic for many, many years, and it was still loaded when he bought it.

Granville kept the musket safe for over 50 years, while still managing to give it “public appearances” at local historical societies and museums.   On April 19, 1975, he rode on horseback to the reenactment on the Battle Green in Lexington, where Ebenezer’s musket was fired once more.

Granville Rideout 1975.jpg

Granville Rideout with Ebenezer Munroe’s musket, riding to Lexington Battle Green on April 19, 1975.

As I read through the binder, I could tell that Granville agonized over finding a final resting place for Ebenezer’s musket. He was worried that it would fall into the hands of a private collector and never be seen again.  In 2003, two years before his death, he gifted the musket to the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, on the condition that it be displayed and publicized, and be used to educate the youth about the founding of the United States of America.

If you would like to view Ebenezer Munroe’s musket, you can visit the Col. Timothy Bigelow Chapter House at 140 Lincoln Street in Worcester, Massachusetts during our summer tour season.   The dates are June 11, July 9, August 13, September 10, and October 8 and the hours are 1-4pm.  For more information or to schedule a group tour, you can contact us at col.timothybigelowchapter@gmail.com.  We are also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/col.timothybigelowdar/.

Postscript:  The title of this blog is in reference to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Concord Hymn,” in which he writes: 

“Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.”

The reference is not a claim to the literal first shot of that battle, but rather a symbol of the American spirit,  their willingness to stake their lives for freedom.  Was Emerson talking about a specific shot, or was it a metaphor for that moment when the colonists crossed the threshold from yearning into action?  As a farmer who was present and whose deposition (and the deposition of others) confirms that he was one of the first ones to return fire on that historic day, Ebenezer Munroe did indeed fire a “shot heard round the world.”  

 

Oaks Lang Syne

I have one Christmas ornament that I love above all the others.    It is nothing more than a square of ceramic on a paper clip, made to look like a Christmas present.  The ribbon is painted on, and the package is dotted with glitter that somehow still survives even after all these years. For as long as I can remember, my eye and my hand have always gone to this ornament first.  I always put it near the top of the tree because it is my favorite, because it reminds me of being little, because it was made by my brother . . . and because this year marks the beginning of a lifetime of Christmases without him.

I started to think about the nature of ornaments.  Everyone has a box of them that makes its return from the attic or the basement each winter.    The collection changes every year.  Some get broken, others are added, but still the box persists as the years go by . . . a dizzying array of styles, trends, generations, and moments.   The ornaments tell the history of our lives with incredible breath even though they glitter in perfect silence on our trees.

It has been trendy in recent years to decorate a tree with a theme — maybe a single color or two, with uniform, repeating ornaments and sophisticated white lights.  Even the tree itself has been carefully grown and manicured.  I don’t see trees like I did in my youth — the scrawny, scrappy Charlie Brown kind, with colored lights and a mish-mash of ornaments ranging from plastic and glass to popsicle sticks and glitter.  To me, my Charlie Brown tree is the most beautiful of all, because the ornaments leave a trail that leads backwards through time, and my memory follows.   This trail of ornaments is a thread that weaves itself through my life, connecting all of my former lives into the present, and it will be waiting for me in the future.

In the same way, the chapter house for the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Worcester, Massachusetts is an eclectic home of historical worth.  Though born just prior to the American Revolution, “the Oaks” is not simply of the Revolution.  She has seen many Christmases.  She is Loyalist and Patriot.  She is Georgian and Greek Revival.  She has spent holidays as a soldiers barracks, a residence, a tea house, a war time Red Cross Headquarters, and as a DAR chapter house.    She even endured twenty Christmases alone as the world moved on without her.  She is old fashioned and modern, simple and chaotic,  youthful and decrepit, classy and kitschy.  She is history.

The Oaks’ Daughters understand and embrace the vast spectrum of  her life.  The tendency these days may to be to decorate an historical home in a strictly “Colonial Williamsburg” fashion.  This year at the Oaks, the decorating style changed from room to room, celebrating the eclectic nature of this historic home in every century.  There were modern teddy bears sitting on  antique spinning wheels,  a dinner table adorned with a 19th century epergné amid 21st century embellishments, plastic fruit (remember that? My grandma used to keep a bowl of it on her kitchen table) mixed in with boughs of fresh pines, and a fireplace decorated with a very 1960s “Mad Men” flavor.

The exhibit hall payed homage to generations of history.    Visitors admired  everything from Mrs. Paulauskas’ button collection to a musket fired at Lexington Green on April 19, 1775.  There were stories about the early days of the Chapter, when the Oaks was a tea house and a workplace for the Betsy Ross Squad during WWI; and a display that gave a nod to the Worcester Fire Society (predecessor of the WFD) with artifacts dating back to its inception in 1793.  Guests sang Christmas carols with us at the piano, then stood in awed silence in front of George Washington’s chair.  There was so much to see in every corner of the house.  It was a joyful celebration not just of the Oaks’ Revolutionary origin, but to the memory of all who have passed through her doors over the years.  The Oaks is unlike any museum house that you will ever see: she is beautifully imperfect, lived in, and real.

If you are interested in visiting the Oaks, or arranging for a private group tour, please contact us at col.timothybigelowchapter@gmail.com.

Part of the exhibit hall paying homage to the early history of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter.

Part of the exhibit hall paying homage to the early days of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter.

Worcester directories dating back to the 1880s, located in the library.

Worcester directories dating back to the 1880s, located in the library.

Teddy bears in honor of Theodore Roosevelt and his first wife Alice Hathaway Lee. Alice was the great-great-great granddaughter of Loyalist judge Timothy Paine, who built the Oaks in 1774. Roosevelt visited the city of Worcester in 1902.

Teddy bears in honor of Theodore Roosevelt and his first wife Alice Hathaway Lee. Alice was the great-great-great granddaughter of Loyalist judge Timothy Paine, who built the Oaks in 1774. Roosevelt visited the city of Worcester in 1902.

Fireplace mantle in the parlor at the Oaks.

Fireplace mantle in the parlor at the Oaks.

The boardroom for the Col. Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the DAR, all decked out in blue and silver.

The boardroom for the Col. Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the DAR, all decked out in blue and silver.

Fireplace mantle in the Paine room at the Oaks.

Fireplace mantle in the Paine room at the Oaks.

Silk dress circa 1854 next to the 25th anniversary DAR plaque, gifted to the chapter in 1923.

Silk dress circa 1854 next to the 25th anniversary DAR plaque, gifted to the chapter in 1923.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Candidate Stamps

atticIn a house as old as the Oaks, where two hundred and forty-one years of history beckons mightily around every corner and calls resolutely from every aspect of every room,  sometimes the quiet lure of the attic can be the strongest of all.  I am still trying to get my bearings in my new role as “Curator” in a place that is just overflowing with undocumented, unlabelled artifacts, commanding my attention and begging to tell their tales.   When the sensory overload of the Oaks gets to me I often find myself retreating to the attic for a reprieve, where history resides in a softer tone under a layer of dust in the shadowy eaves.

On this day I was sitting in the office of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow chapter house, shuffling unproductively through scrapbooks in search of a blog post.  I was feeling overwhelmed and getting ready to lock up and call it a day . . . and that’s when Deb emerged.  I gasped, realizing that I had completely forgotten about my Vice-Regent whom I had left in the attic.   Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was prone to getting sucked in, I thought to myself with amusement.  She was holding a thin, dirty chipboard in her hands with old newsprint glued to either side, and it was embellished on one corner with a splat of bird poo.  She had obviously found a treasure.

Candidate Stamps description

Candidate Stamp Company advertisement.

QUICK MONEY FOR HUSTLERS.

DEMOCRATS.                                                          REPUBLICANS.

SHOW  YOUR COLORS.

Put one of our Candidate Stamps upon either the front and back of every piece of mail, Letters, Envelopes and Post Cards, every package of goods, and upon everything to which they will stick that leaves your house or place of business, until Election Day.  Something entirely new, neat, and catchy, costs but a trifle, and lets the whole world know who are your favorite candidates.  A badge or button is only seen by a few, these stamps are seen by everybody.

Agents wanted everywhere, in the United States.  Men and women, boys and girls, you can make more money selling these stamps in three months, than you can in a whole year at anything else, but you must act quick.  “Make hay while the sun shines.”  Write at once for agents terms and territory.

                                                 CANDIDATE STAMP COMPANY,

                                                                              5  Park Square,

                                                                                              Boston, Mass.

Room 16.

Candidate Stamps

Roosevelt/Fairbanks campaign poster, 1904 election.

I took it for granted that I would be able to find something about “candidate stamps” or the Candidate Stamp Company but so far I have turned up nothing.  I am not even certain if the Candidate Stamp Company advertisement is even related to the small Roosevelt/Fairbanks 1904 campaign poster that is glued to the other side.   If anyone out there can shed some light on this curious bit of election ephemera, please share.

Why I Belong to a Lineage Society

Last year if you had asked me why I was joining the Daughters of the American Revolution, I would not have had a good answer for you.  Truth be told, I didn’t quite know myself.   I didn’t know much about the organization, and my perception was that women joined as a matter of pride or for bragging rights, or because their great-grandmother was a member.  I had a stereotypical image in my mind of older women who were very proper and had a lot of tea parties.

My own ancestry had been much of a mystery for many years.  I knew of my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents who left eastern Europe in the early part of the 20th century in search of a better life (family legend has it that when my grandfather left his little German town, six months of his salary couldn’t buy a pack of cigarettes in the post WWI economy), and I knew that my paternal great-grandmother was named Jennie . . . and that was pretty much it.

I don’t have much hope for being able to research my maternal side since WWII destroyed much of my grandfather’s home town, and what was left was absorbed by Poland.  However, in recent years I have been able to shed some light on my paternal side.  Years of genealogical digging and a DNA test led me to make a pivotal connection — a connection that has most definitely altered the trajectory of my life.  Making contact with my 7th cousin John Zafiris Jr. set into motion a whole series of events . . . and I often wonder with amusement where I would be today if I hadn’t spit in that test tube.

One night after comparing notes and looking through each other’s trees, John suggested to me that I join the DAR since I had Revolutionary ancestors in my tree.  I knew that he was a member of the SAR and very passionate about the community.  “Meh,” I thought.  I was a little doubtful.  Proper older women after all.  But what the heck.  Up until that point my life consisted of two things: taking care of the living at the hospital during the day and searching for dead relatives on my computer at night.  Maybe it was time to peel off the surgical gloves and get out from behind the computer.  At the very least I could get a snazzy certificate to hang up on my wall.

I went to the DAR national website and filled out a form for more information.  I don’t think more than 20 minutes had gone by since hitting the “send” button when my phone rang.   A local DAR woman in charge of membership talked to me for a few minutes, and then suggested I check out the Colonel Timothy Bigelow chapter in Worcester, Massachusetts.    “You’ll really like it,” she told me.   “They are a really active, progressive group.”

Everything since that moment has been such a fantastic blur.  I spent the first few months in close contact with the chapter’s registrar Ginger, who was so sweet and encouraging,  and was truly instrumental in helping me prepare my application for Washington, and she prodded my wallflower self to engage in the chapter activities.  I met a number of wonderful women of all ages who welcomed me with open arms, and it didn’t take long before I fell in love with them and the 241 year-old chapter house affectionately known as “the Oaks.”

Looking back upon the last year (has it only been a year?) I think about all the ways I have become involved (and here are just a few):

Historian:  this was my first commission in the DAR, and a fun way to begin. I kept the scrapbook of our events, and I also helped organize in the newly designated office 100 years worth of scrapbooks and ephemera that had previously been stuffed into the narrow pantry at the Oaks.

How to Make an 18th Century Cockade Workshop:  Cockades have been popular throughout the centuries, and often denoted a person’s political allegiance or rank.  In the early days of the Revolution when the Patriots had no uniforms, they would wear different color cockades on their hats to delineate officers.  I led two workshops that first summer, teaching other members of the chapter how to make them.

Worcester Revolution 1774: this was a day long event to celebrate Worcester’s role in the American Revolution, in which over 3000 Patriots from all around Worcester county descended upon the courthouse on September 6, 1774 and forced the magistrates to walk the street and rescind their authority.  British rule in Worcester was effectively ended on that day without firing a single shot.  The Oaks was under construction that same year, 1774, and belonged to Loyalist judge Timothy Paine who was among those forced to recant. For the celebration my chapter dressed in costume and opened the doors of the Oaks to visitors and we entertained children with colonial games and crafts. I was also able to meet my 7th cousin John, (the man responsible for pointing me in the direction of DAR) in person on this day, who as it turns out descends from the same Revolutionary family as mine.  My Patriot was married to his Patriot’s sister.

Revolutionary cousins: meeting my 7th cousin John Zafiris Jr. for the first time.

Revolutionary cousins: meeting my 7th cousin John Zafiris Jr. for the first time.

Seamstress: As a result of wanting to dress up for the Worcester Revolution, I made my own costume (which is really amazing considering up until that point I had never done much sewing other than what my mother insisted I learn as a child, and the footless bald eagle that I made in 8th grade home-economics class).  Making my Revolutionary dress ignited my sewing gene after 40-something years, a talent and a love I didn’t know I had, and I have gone on to make more colonial outfits, each one a little better than the last.

Finance Committee:  Clearly, this is going to be good, practical life experience.  (“Join the finance committee!” they said.  “It’ll be fun!” they said.  Next thing I knew I was sitting in the financial advisor’s office signing my name on the line that said “Trustee.”  Eeep!)

Newspaper clipping from the May 23, 2015 issue of the Milford Daily News.

Newspaper clipping from the May 23, 2015 issue of the Milford Daily News.

Elementary school presentation on the American Revolution: This was Verne Thayer’s idea,  a charming and charismatic member of the Colonel William Henshaw chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution . . . and as it turns out, also a cousin.  The DAR and SAR joined forces to do a presentation at the Hopedale Memorial School school in Milford.  Public speaking was out of my comfort zone, but I thought, what the heck, I’ll give it a try.  A little classroom of third graders can’t kill me, right?   (“Come join me!” he said.  “It’ll be fun!”  he said.  Before I knew it, the little classroom of third graders swelled to over two hundred students in the gymnasium.  Terrifying!)

Blogger:  Vice-Regent Linda Hart planted that seed in my head one day while we were organizing a century’s worth of chapter history in the office, and so “Revolutionary Oaks” was born.  I had always wanted to be a writer, but somehow ended up detouring through a degree in Biology instead.

Docent:  Almost as scary as talking to a gymnasium full of  little people,  but I have learned to love it.  Once a month I dress up in costume and give tours of our chapter house to the locals.

Preparing the historic Oaks for tours. A woman's work is never done, in any century.

Preparing the historic Oaks for tours. A woman’s work is never done, in any century.

Curator:  my most recent role for which as a Surgical Technologist I am most uniquely unqualified, but I am so grateful to have this opportunity that not many people get.   With the assistance of the current Historian and Librarian, we hope to have the Oaks take her permanent place in Worcester’s historical memory by becoming an effective museum house.

Even with the flurry of activity of the past year, and with all the practical life skills I am gaining by being a member of the DAR,  there is still and always a quiet place in my mind and in my heart for the lives that came before me, for all the roads that were traveled and all the souls that converge within me to bring me to this moment in time.  I can think as far back as my Patriot, Ephraim Warren, who at the age of 81 had buried most of his 13 children and was a destitute farmer . . . he applied for a pension from the government and was awarded 8 dollars a month.  Unfortunately he died four months later, and so was paid a grand total of 32 dollars for his service in the War of Independence . . . or I can think as recently as my German grandfather, who bravely came to this country at the age of seventeen, with no money and no family.  He was a truly a self made man, learning the language and working hard on construction projects like the Quabbin Reservoir.  Eventually he put himself through school, started his own welding business and raised a good family and became an American citizen.  Under similar circumstances would I have even half the strength or determination of either of these men from whom I descend?

Lineage societies keep history alive — the very act of taking the time to properly research and document your lineage reinforces the connection to the past.   It gives you the chance to look more intimately at your ancestors lives, and to consider what they went through.   Lineage societies also give you a chance to connect with others with a similar passion, and they give you an opportunity to take that passion out into the community and teach.   It doesn’t have to be DAR or SAR — there are a myriad of societies out there for everyone and anyone who wants to honor their heritage, whatever it may be.   You can do as little as hang your certificate on the wall, or you can get out there and engage the community.

If you ask me today why I am a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution,  you will not hear me say, because I am proud . . . but rather, because I am humbled.

Paving Over History

Memorial stone erected by the Leominster Historical Society in 1912 to commemorate the location of Leominster's first burial ground.

Memorial stone commemorating the location of Leominster’s first and now extinct burial ground.

Last September my quest to find the graves of my 5th great grandfather Jonathan Willson, his wife Hepzebah Wilder and their son Caleb brought me to the corner of Route 13 and Day Street in Leominster.  I could barely look up at the cars racing past me as I aimed my camera at a tiny marker erected in 1912 by the Leominster Historical Society . . . it was the only peaceful space in this  traffic-laden neighborhood, and the only indication of Leominster’s first and now extinct burial ground. This was one of the more crushing genealogical discoveries I had ever made: my Revolutionary family was buried somewhere in the middle of route 13.

The brief entry from the book

The brief entry from the book “Inscriptions From Burial Grounds of Nashaway Towns” that describes the fate of Leominster’s first burial ground.

Since that day a thought has plagued me: at what point does the preservation of history become a burden?  How much do we hold on to, and how much should we release to be reshaped in the current of time?

View from the attic of the Oaks

View from the attic of the Oaks

That thought was with me last week on a beautiful May morning as I prowled through the attic of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter house of the Daughters of the American Revolution . . . more simply and affectionately known as “The Oaks.”  I pressed against the glass and looked out over Frederick Paine’s lost garden,  and through the trees I could just barely see the cars zipping by on I-290.  A lot of history has been seen from the windows of this 241 year old house, I mused.

As I stepped away from the window I tripped over an old bedsheet.  I knelt down to examine the dusty offender and unfurled a hand stitched quilt that had been rolled up underneath.  This doesn’t belong up here.  I carried the forgotten beauty down to the bedroom and carefully laid it out on the bed.  Who made it?  How old was it?  And why had it been relinquished to the attic?  The thought about “at what point does the preservation of history become a burden” continued to blare in my head.   Was this really an historic treasure, or was it just some dusty old quilt that had simply become too old for anyone to know the difference of when to hold on and when to let go?

Handstitched quilt . . . old treasure or just old?

Handstitched quilt . . . old treasure or just old?

I left the bedroom and wandered into the office. Focus.  You’re supposed to be tidying up the office today, not dredging through the attic. I sat on the floor and plunked a stack of old papers in my lap.  I never quite know what I am looking for when I enter the office, but the most appropriate things always seems to find me. Sure enough, not more than a few minutes had passed when I read the most startling letter:

A plea from 1957 to save the historic Oaks from the path of Interstate 290.

A plea from 1957 to save the historic Oaks from the path of Interstate 290.

The letter was  nearly sixty years old but still it made my heart pound.  I couldn’t believe it.  Were they talking about Interstate 290?  A six lane highway through the OAKS?!

A little further investigation revealed two newspaper clippings and a poem about the Oaks’ impending demise via eminent domain:

Letter to the Editor dated September 26, 1957 calling attention to the plight of the historic Oaks.

Letter to the Editor dated September 26, 1957 calling attention to the plight of the historic Oaks.

Newspaper article editorial from September 27, 1957 regarding the threat the Worcester Expressway project posed to the Oaks.

Newspaper article editorial from September 27, 1957 regarding the threat the Worcester Expressway project posed to the Oaks.

Poem written by Col. Timothy Bigelow chapter member Ethel St. John in 1957.

Poem written by Col. Timothy Bigelow chapter member Ethel St. John in 1957.

Obviously the Oaks did not get wiped out at the age of 183 since she just passed her 241st birthday, but there was no further indication in that pile of ephemera as to why the house had been spared, why the entire neighborhood had been spared at the expense of another.

I went back upstairs and looked out at 290 which was almost lost through the trees but so ominously close.  I was grateful for what had been saved, but somber for what had been lost.  How do we decide what to hold onto and what to let go?  My beloved Revolutionary Oaks could have ended up being reshaped in the current of time . . . but instead someone else’s history had been paved over.

Undertaker Rescues Daughters of the American Revolution

Newspaper clipping from 1915.

Newspaper clipping from 1915, courtesy of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow chapter archives.

Cars and Taxis Blocked, She Calls Undertaker to Convey D.A.R. Women

March 1915

All sorts of amusing things happen at big State conferences where hundreds of women arrive, unattended, by trolley, train, or in their private automobiles, with hat boxes or suitcases, which contain the indispensable dinner gown.  The recent D.A.R. State conference at Worcester was no exception and was held under difficulties.

First Universalist Church in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Image courtesy of CardCow.com.

First Universalist Church in Worcester, Massachusetts. Image courtesy of CardCow.com.

A March blizzard had reached the peak.  There were 28 inches of snow and big snow drifts everywhere.  The conference did not start right.  The local minister failed to make the opening prayer.  Then it was discovered the Mayor of the city was not there with greetings or regrets.  And so at the end of a rather imperfect day about 200 women found themselves in the vestry of the First Universalist Church in Worcester, all clamoring for taxis at the same time.  The taxi service was demoralized.  The trolley line was powerless and it was impossible to walk.

Postcard of the Hotel Bancroft in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Image courtesy of worcestermass.com.

Postcard of the Hotel Bancroft in Worcester, Massachusetts. Image courtesy of worcestermass.com.

When things seemed worst, Mrs. Frank B. Hall of Worcester, wife of a former chairman of the Republican State Committee, in desperation sent a hurry call to a local undertaker, who responded immediately.  It was as guests of the undertaker that many groups of women rode to Bancroft Hotel in a March blizzard.  Mrs. Hall remained at the church until all were on the road.

Now that the blizzard is passed, Mrs. Hall will have to take a lot of “joshing” on her hurry call for an undertaker at a D.A.R. conference.