How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Introduction

Note: The following is the first in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?”

If you would like to subscribe to the series, you can enter your e-mail in the “Subscribe to Westborough Center Blog Posts” box on the right-side of this website.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Imperial Federation, map of the world showing the extent of the British Empire in 1886
(Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library, call number: G5730 1886.C6, http://maps.bpl.org)

Introduction: Empire

Throughout history the world has been created and shaped by empires, and the British Empire was the most powerful and most significant in the modern era. From the beginning of the seventeenth to the middle of the twentieth century, the British Empire wielded both its powerful navy and its command of commercial shipping to create and control colonies across the globe. These efforts ultimately resulted in the creation of the largest empire in world history. At its height in 1921, the British Empire ruled over twenty-three percent of the world’s landmass on all seven continents and governed over twenty percent of the world’s population.

Both Westborough (as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in North America) and India (which during colonial rule included the contemporary states of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Burma) fell under British control at one point in their history. This common legacy created similarities in the way we think about and experience the world, even though the methods the British used to conquer each area and the ensuing life under their control were quite different. And because Great Britain ruled over both colonies at the same time, decisions it made about one colony on one side of the world often affected the other. What follows is one way to tell the story of how two places—one, a small town in North America, and the other, a very big country in Central Asia—are connected by history.

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Read the next post in the series: Charters and Private Enterprise.

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There are many ways to answer the question “How does history connect Westborough and India?,” but I chose to focus on the fact that both Westborough and India were once part of the British Empire. I encourage you to find others for yourself, and you can start your exploration by reading one or more of the books that appear at the bottom of this web page or in the full bibliography of the works I consulted during my research that appear at the bottom of this post. All of the works listed are available at the Westborough Public Library.

I also encourage you to engage with the issues raised by these series of posts by commenting at the bottom of them, emailing me, or by stopping in the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library to chat.

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

Westborough History Working Group

Can you put a date (or a span of potential dates) on this image of West Main Street in Westborough?

  • Image Title: Business Section – Westboro Massachusetts
  • Format: Postcard
  • Date: ????

Even if you can’t add a date to this image, come join the NEW Westborough History Working Group!

The Westborough History Working Group will be an informal gathering of people with an interest in history in general, and Westborough in particular, to work together on various projects in the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library. Projects may include:

  • Adding dates to historical photographs to the best of our collective ability.
  • Organizing collections and conducting research for exhibits and programs.
  • First peaks at new donations as they are opened for the first time.
  • A forum for sharing your knowledge and experiences about living in Westborough, both yesterday and today.
  • Informal (or formal) conversation about history topics in general with people who enjoy talking about history.

The general idea is for us to get together on a regular basis (however we want to define that), help the Westborough Center with its local history collections, and have fun doing so. We will start with trying to attach dates to the many historical photographs that lack them in our collection. We can then decide together what other activities we want to tackle. If you have ever wanted to see what it is like to work with rare collections in a library or museum, this is your opportunity.

All are welcome, whether you are a long-time Westborough resident or just moved here!

If you are interested in joining this group, please e-mail Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian at avaver@town.westborough.ma.us to express your interest. Please include the following information:

  • Your Name
  • Your E-mail Address
  • Your general meeting time preferences (please indicate days of the week AND mornings, afternoons, or evenings on those days)

I will try to accommodate as many people as possible in identifying meeting times.

Two Program Reminders

Tonight (Sept. 18, 2019):

  • Minerals of Massachusetts, Wednesday, September 18, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. in the Library Meeting Room. Learn more about where you live. Author and collector Peter Cristofono will talk about the many minerals that can be found in Massachusetts and the best places to find them.

Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019:

  • National Registration Voter Day, Tuesday, September 24 from 3:00-7:00 p.m. at the Westborough Center for History and Culture. Stop by and register to vote, if you haven’t already!

Westborough Spotlight: Horace Abbott By Paul Bebchick

Editor’s Note: “Westborough Spotlight” is a series of profiles of Westborough residents, new and old. Have an idea for a “Westborough Spotlight”? Let us know by e-mailing avaver@town.westborough.ma.us.

Horace Abbott, 1880

Did you know a Westborough resident played an important part in the American Civil War by building the iron clad war ship, the Monitor, for the U.S. Navy?

Horace Abbott (1806-1887) started his career in a small blacksmith shop on South Street in 1829. There he learned the trade of forging and before long took over the business. In 1834, Abbott was offered a position in Baltimore as foreman of a large iron forging plant that manufactured forgings for steamboats, locomotives, and car axles. By 1861 he owned the largest iron plate mill in the United States.

During the Civil War, the U.S. Government commissioned Capt. John Ericsson, a Swedish scientist, to draw up plans to build a war vessel with a revolving turret and armored construction. After Congress accepted Ericsson’s plans, a request went out for interested parties to offer bids to build the ship. The plans called for a vessel that was armored with five layers of one-inch iron plate, floated at the water line, and was powered by a steam engine driving screw. On her deck would be a single revolving turret with a canon. Abbott had the largest forging plant in the country at the time, and his company was the only one that could handle the forging and plating requirements within the designated timeframe of one year. In the end, this new design concept helped end the Civil War by preventing the South from destroying the comparatively helpless wooden ships of the North.

The Victorious Union Gunboat ‘Monitor’ (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

After the war, Abbott helped establish the First and Second National Bank of Baltimore. For the skill and energy he displayed in producing plating for the Monitor and many other ships, he received high commendations from the Navy Department.