Westborough Center Pastimes – January 20, 2023

Ice Age Animals – Cleveland Museum of Natural History

This essay is part of a new Westborough History Connections series called, “A Meeting of Two Cultures: Native Americans and Early European Settlers in Westborough.” Click here to start at the beginning of the series.

Hunter-Gathering, the End of the Ice Age, and the Nipmucs

You most likely have seen at least one reality television show where people are dumped in the middle of the wilderness and then try to survive for a period of time. Survivor, my personal favorite, has been on T.V. the longest, but others include Alone, Man vs. Wild (and other shows starring Bear Grylls), and the embarrassing Naked and Afraid, where strangers are paired up and have to battle the elements without wearing any clothing. Most people on these shows do not last more than a few weeks in such conditions, even if they are wearing clothes.

This survival genre first began with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), an early novel that tells the story of a man who finds himself shipwrecked alone on an uninhabited island and slowly builds the rudimentary foundations of civil society. All of these narratives highlight the struggle of the protagonists in their fight against nature and in doing so valorize the more comfortable lifestyle that modern life affords us. While we watch or read, we believe that we are gaining insight into what it must have been like to be a hunter-gatherer, where starvation is a constant threat, and we thank our lucky stars that we do not have to live that way.

Except that this characterization of what it must be like to live as hunter-gatherers is entirely false and misleading.

The narratives I cite above all tend to focus on what hunter-gatherers lack, as opposed to what they have or had. One key element that is missing is a functional society where people work together to provide food, shelter, and other necessities for the group as a whole. Another is hundreds, if not thousands, of years of knowledge—knowledge gained through careful observation, experimentation, and ingenuity—about how the environment around them works and how it can best support subsistence. Yet another missing element are the sets of behaviors and belief systems that reinforce this knowledge about the environment and facilitate its passing down to future generations.

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Starting around 8,000 BC, the giant mammals that inhabited North America during the Ice Age—which included mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, and giant beavers—began to die out. For many hundreds of years, indigenous people had been hunting these huge food sources using a combination of spears and fire. Some scientists say that environmental changes taking place not only led to the melting of the massive glaciers that covered much of the continent but also resulted in the extinction of over three dozen species of these giant animals. People kept hunting these animals throughout this period—with evidence of overhunting and leaving whole carcasses to rot—so other scientists say that humans caused the extinction, if not helped bring the process to a faster conclusion. Even though the warming of the climate was potentially catastrophic to these animals, it also led to diversification both of the natural environment and, consequently, of the diets of Native Americans going forward.

After having lived on the land for over 10,000 years, Native Americans living just before European contact were aware of almost every detail and facet of their environment. Much like today, they sought ways to utilize the entire landscape available to them to support their existence—the difference being that our present economic system is geared towards a single endpoint, i.e., money, whereas theirs was focused on long-term subsistence.

If you are a hunter and gatherer, the best strategy is to seek out diversified food sources; that way, if one resource falls short one year, a greater supply of another resource can offset the impact of the other. Such a strategy means moving around the landscape to locations where resources are readily available at different times of the year. (People with a more sedentary lifestyle tend to specialize in a narrower range of food resources, and so they require different technologies both to grow their food sources and to bring resources that they do not have in their immediate surroundings to them.)

The Nipmuc, or “fresh water people,” were hunter-gatherers who inhabited the interior of Massachusetts (including Westborough), as well as parts of Rhode Island and Connecticut. They lived in scattered villages in wetus, structures that could easily be moved to other encampments when the cycle of the season demanded it. When we talk about Native American history today, we tend to focus on tribes and confederacies, but these villages—which were tied together by kinship ties, trade alliances, and common enemies—formed the true centers of activity and interaction with the environment. Unlike villages today, these villages were not geographically fixed and were continually moved to places where the Nipmuc believed they could find the greatest number of natural food supplies.

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I began this essay discussing the misnomers that we normally hold about the life of hunter-gatherers and how they are perpetuated in reality shows and other narratives involving “primal” survival scenarios. But there is one misnomer that I have not yet covered. All of these narratives involve intense struggle, starvation, and seemingly endless amounts of work. But numerous anthropological studies of the lifestyles of hunter-gatherers show that they enjoy far more leisure time, more diverse diets, and in many ways a more comfortable existence than what we in Western society do. We pay a heavy cost to support our more sedentary lifestyle, which today includes long work hours, heavy commutes, and a more isolated existence. We will explore this facet of Native American life a bit more in the next newsletter, when we take a closer look at village life of the Nipmucs.

—Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

Works Consulted:

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Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, ca. 1910

Who Was Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller?

On Monday, February 6, 2023 at 7 p.m., the Westborough Historical Society will celebrate Black History Month with a program titled, “Who Was Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller?” As the first Black psychiatrist in the U.S., Fuller worked at the Westborough State Hospital from 1899 to 1933 where he did ground-breaking research in Alzheimer’s Disease and other mental diseases. This program will be presented by Dr. Edith Jolin of the Boston University School of Medicine.

This Historical Society program is free on Zoom. Click here to register for the program in advance: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAkceqqqTsuG9EvyPX-N5iEVm3X0orI06Wy.

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A photograph taken by Nancy Engberg for the WPL’s Millennium Project in 2000.

Check Out the Photography of Nancy Engberg

You probably recognize Nancy Engberg. She was a member of the library staff for 26 years before she retired in October of 2022. But did you know that she is also an accomplished photographer?

Visit the Westborough Public Library to see a collection of photographs Nancy has taken over the years. Together they demonstrate her innovative experimentation with photography, including her use of infrared photography, pinhole cameras, oil paint on printed works, and even toy cameras. She produced all of her photographs in her own darkroom. This exhibit will be displayed on the main floor of the library over the next two months, so make sure to stop by to see it.

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Esther Forbes at her typewriter

Learn About Five Famous Women of Westborough

After checking out the photography of Nancy Engberg, take a look at the display case outside of the Westborough Center and learn about five famous women, a display inspired by Kristina Nilson Allen’s recent talk on this topic for the Westborough Historical Society. You can also learn more about these women in Allen’s online exhibit, Famous Women of Westborough Across the Centuries, which includes a link to a recording of her talk.

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Did you enjoy reading this Westborough Center Pastimes newsletter? Then subscribe by e-mail and have the newsletter and other notices from the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library delivered directly to your e-mail inbox.

You can also read the current and past issues on the Web by clicking here.

Westborough Center Pastimes – December 16, 2022

This essay is part of a Westborough History Connections series called, “A Meeting of Two Cultures: Native Americans and Early European Settlers in Westborough.” Click here to start at the beginning of the series.

Geography, Geology, and Early Human Presence in Westborough

Eighteen thousand years ago, Westborough sat under a sheet of ice that was a mile and a half high.

In fact, at that time much of the North American continent sat under glaciers that were formed during the last ice age, which started 2.5 million years ago. The ice prevented human beings (who emerged from Africa 300,00 years ago) from entering the Western Hemisphere. Only in 11,000 BC, when enough of the ice caps had melted after the earth had begun to warm up, were groups of people able to migrate through the Bering Strait (between current day Russia and Alaska) and into North America. Lately, this narrative has been complicated a bit after human presence has been detected both in southern Chile going back to 16,500 BC and in the American Southwest dating back 23,000 years. These earlier people most likely traveled down the Pacific Rim’s “kelp highway” that ran along the western coasts of the Americas.

The Western Hemisphere, unlike the Eastern, has a pronounced north-south orientation, so people spreading throughout the Americas had to learn how to live in or travel through numerous climates and ecologies. Such conditions promoted a broad range of human diversity and resilience throughout the continents. By 10,000 BC, people appeared in every part of the Western Hemisphere.

As the ice retreated in Westborough, a huge lake, Lake Assabet, came to cover the entire town except for a few of the area’s highest points. Eventually, the lake separated into three parts: the SuAsCo Reservoir (Mill Pond), Chancy Lake and Crane Swamp, and Cedar Swamp. Around 9,000 years ago, vegetation and animal life returned to Westborough and made it possible for human beings to occupy Worcester County.

Westborough is lucky to have had Curtiss R. Hoffman, an archaeologist and Professor of Anthropology at Bridgewater State College, devote so much time digging around and studying our town’s prehistory. At the time he wrote his book, People of the Fresh Water Lake: A Prehistory of Westborough, Massachusetts, 73 prehistoric sites had been found in Westborough, making it, in his words, “one of the best-known prehistoric areas in Massachusetts.” Hoffman’s work challenges the common belief that the interior of Massachusetts was sparsely populated during prehistoric times. We will see later in this series how and why this misguided belief came to be.

The earliest evidence of human beings within the borders of Westborough are projectile points that were made during the Paleo-Indian period, 9,000-12,000 years ago. At least one of the points was made with stone not normally found in Westborough, which indicates travel and perhaps trade throughout New England. The Paleo-Indians who originally owned the points were possibly hunting megafauna, like mastodons and other large game, in the swampy western section of Westborough and probably only came to the area sporadically as they followed the flow of rivers.

People started to occupy the area of Westborough more regularly 4,000-6,000 years ago when the climate had finally stabilized and now resembled our current environmental conditions. Westborough has significantly more archaeological sites from this period than any other, which indicates that these years marked a time of peak human population during the town’s prehistoric era. Indeed, such was the case not just in New England but in the entire Eastern Woodlands, due to the diverse environmental resources that had begun to appear. People learned to take advantage of these resources and thrived, so their populations grew and spread throughout the area.

The best places for hunter-gatherers to live are in ecotones, regions where two or more environmental types meet. New England enjoys a high degree of environmental diversity due to its complex patchwork of ecological niches, so it has a high number of ecotones. Westborough sits in one because it is on the edge of the Worcester Plateau and is connected to three river systems: the Sudbury, the Assabet, and the Mill River (a tributary of the Blackstone). Even more, Westborough has ten sub-areas with differing environmental characteristics. All of these sub-areas were likely used by hunter-gatherers for some purpose or another throughout the prehistory of Westborough. Next month, we are going to take a closer look at the life of hunter-gatherers and specifically the Nipmucs, the Native Americans who inhabited Westborough and its surrounding area during this early time.

When we talk about Westborough history, it is important to put the timelines of the people who lived here in perspective. I am necessarily compressing thousands of years of human existence and experience into a single blog post because we are talking about prehistory, a time when we lack written records and need to rely mainly on archaeology to fill in the gaps. People of European descent have occupied Westborough for roughly 350 years, less than four percent of the entire time that human beings have inhabited the land here if we use 9,000 years ago as a starting point. Our own sense of history is necessarily distorted, mainly because the records and documents that were created within that 350-year time range provide a more complete picture of life during this time period, whereas for the 8,650 years that preceded it, we lack such documentation.

—Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

Works Consulted:

Click here to go to the next essay in the series, “A Meeting of Two Cultures: Native Americans and Early European Settlers in Westborough”

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Kristina Nilson Allen and Nikki Stone

Famous Women in Westborough History

Westborough women have been ingenious, powerful pioneers since the town began. Learn about their trials and triumphs in the Historical Society’s program, “Famous Women of Westborough across the Centuries,” on Monday, January 9, 2023 at 7 p.m.

This program will feature entrepreneur Betsy Fay (1700s), beloved teacher Annie Fales (1800s), prize-winning author Esther Forbes and horticulturist Bee Warburton (1900s), and Gold Medal Olympian Nikki Stone (2000s). Presented by historian Kristina Nilson Allen, this free event will be held in the Meeting Room of the Westborough Public Library.

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Learn about Westborough’s New Monument

Westborough has a brand-new monument in Minuteman Park along the Westborough Reservoir on Upton Road. Thanks to the tireless efforts of David Nourse, the monument replaces the old one and greatly expands the list of participants from Westborough who responded to the call to alarm at Lexington on April 19, 1775, the event that popularly marks the beginning of the American Revolution.

The reports and documents that were created and used to reassess the old monument are now available online: https://www.westborougharchive.org/minuteman-park-monument-2022/. Together, they provide a deep look at this important moment in Westborough history, so check it out.

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Did you enjoy reading this Westborough Center Pastimes newsletter? Then subscribe by e-mail and have the newsletter and other notices from the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library delivered directly to your e-mail inbox.

You can also read the current and past issues on the Web by clicking here.

Westborough Center Pastimes – October 21, 2022

The following essay inaugurates a new Westborough History Connections series called, “A Meeting of Two Cultures: Native Americans and Early European Settlers in Westborough.”

Seasonal Change and the Meeting of Two Cultures

The shocks of short-lived color in the trees, the sudden appearance of refreshingly cooler breezes, the noticeable decrease of sunlight in the evenings, and the quick rush to prepare for hibernation before winter truly sets in. Fall in New England makes me think about the rhythms of seasonal change more than any other season, perhaps because it is a brief, but decisive, end to the rich greenery that we have been enjoying for so long.

I grew up in the Midwest and have always seen seasonal change as an important marker of time. How odd it must be, I would wonder, to live in a place where the leaves on the trees did not turn color or where snow never hit the ground. How would people know that time is moving along if they didn’t have such annual markers to remind them? But then a friend from southern California once remarked to me while we were both graduate students on Long Island that, for her, the seasons in the Northeast made time stand still. The seasons created boxes of time, where behaviors during that particular time-span were repeated over and over again each year to the point where time never seems to move forward. (“Didn’t we just go apple-picking last year?”) She missed a lifestyle that is not regularly upended by seasonal change, where the ever-distant time horizon seems to open up endless opportunities.

In many ways, seasonal change makes New England, well, New England. Over the years, we have developed certain behaviors that track along with the changing environment in which we live. Today, we tend to think of such behaviors in semi-nostalgic terms. We engage in apple-picking, pumpkin carving, and “leaf-peeping” (a term that for some reason makes me slightly uncomfortable) more because they connect us to our environment and to our ideas of the past than out of necessity—and because they are fun. But if you are living off the land itself, tracking seasonal change and adapting behaviors accordingly becomes imperative.

In Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, William Cronon nicely sums up this idea, an idea that becomes rather complicated once necessity enters the picture:

A central fact of temperate ecosystems like those of New England is their periodicity: they are tied to overlapping cycles of light and dark, high and low tides, waxing and waning moons, and especially the long and short days which mean hot and cold seasons. Each plant and animal species makes its adjustments to these various cycles, so that the flowing of sap in trees, the migration of birds, the spawning of fish, the rutting of deer, and the fruiting of plants all have their special times of the year. A plant that stores most of its food energy in its roots during the winter will transfer much of that energy first to its leaves and then to its seeds as the warmer months progress. Such patterns of energy concentration are crucial to any creature which seeks to eat that plant. Because animals, including people, feed on plants and other animals, the ways they obtain their food are largely determined by the cycles in which other species lead their lives. Just as a fox’s summer diet of fruit and insects shifts to rodents and birds during the winter, so too did the New England Indians seek to obtain their food wherever it was seasonally most concentrated in the New England ecosystem. Doing so required an intimate understanding of the habits and ecology of other species, and it was this knowledge that the English discovered they lacked (37).

When the English first arrived here in New England, they assumed that they could simply set up life as they knew it back in England; in other words, they brought with them the adaptations that they had developed over time in Europe and assumed that they would work here in North America. Their ideas about agriculture and food production were premised on changing the land to suit their own European diets and needs, rather than on taking advantage of the bounty that the environment naturally offered and adapting their behaviors to it. Native Americans had learned how to make nature work for them; their behaviors and lifestyles were designed over time to follow the rhythms of seasonal change. Their situation was not unique: it is how human beings have generally lived throughout our time here on earth, no matter where we happen to live. Such adaptations, however, take time.

I find the meeting of Native Americans and the English—two cultures with different sets of ideas about how to interact within the environment that they were given—to be fascinating. In this regard, Native Americans had the advantage over Europeans by having lived in North America over thousands of years. The English, however, were determined to imprint the structures they had developed in Europe onto the North American landscape. Doing so turned out to be more challenging than they had imagined. My friend from California discovered when she moved to the Northeast that she could not bring with her a notion that seems so basic as the experience of time; since I was from the Midwest, which has similar seasonal variation as the Northeast, I had an easier time adjusting to my new environment.

The organization of our material environment—both ecologically and the structures we create to function within that natural system—work to form our social behaviors. We cannot understand the meeting of Native Americans and Europeans without a knowledge of how each structured their material environment and how those structures created different social attitudes and behaviors. These two differing frameworks guided the actions and reactions of the respective groups here in New England as they struggled to find an equilibrium for living together over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Needless to say, they never found such an equilibrium, and we still feel the repercussions of that outcome today.

In upcoming newsletters, I am going to be exploring this meeting of two cultures, a meeting that created as much of a fundamental shift in how human beings populated North America as the seasonal turning point from Summer to Winter. My ultimate goal will be to bring more nuance and sophistication to our understanding of the early history of the area in and around Westborough.

—Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

Works Consulted:

Click here to go to the next essay in the series, “A Meeting of Two Cultures: Native Americans and Early European Settlers in Westborough”

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Downtown Architectural Walking Tour with Music

Sunday, October 30, 1:00 p.m. starting on West Main Street in front of Westborough TV by preservationist Chris Noonan, folk singer Luanne Crosby, and special guests. FREE.

This walk will cover culturally important and historic areas downtown—buildings, landscapes, structures, monuments, and cemeteries—that were planned, designed and/or constructed before 1970. Along the tour, the three basic categories of the Community Preservation Act (CPA)—affordable housing, historic preservation and open space/recreation—will be discussed and viewed from the public way. Site-specific potential projects will be visited using visioning techniques, where we will imagine what might be possible at each site. Various Town officials will share their expertise and experiences in the three areas along the route.

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Hoccomocco Pond

The Truth Behind the Tales – The Nipmuc Presence in Westborough.”

Monday, November 7 at 7:00 p.m. on Zoom.  Sponsored by the Westborough Historical Society.

Cheryll Toney Holley, Leader of the Hassanamisco Nipmuc Band in Grafton, will talk about Nipmuc tribal oral history, especially Westborough’s Nipmuc stories, and will uncover the historic basis and Nipmuc perspectives behind each story.  Free on Zoom.

Please register using this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMucOioqD4iG9QwD6l5GVSscMkAfgbi-tGG

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Tell Us Your Westborough Story

We are starting a new annual feature that we will add content to the Westborough Archive called, “Your Westborough Story.” This year, share your thoughts and memories by answering the question: “What Brought You to Westborough?” (and if you never left Westborough, tell us why you have stayed!). Click on the link to tell your story or stop by the Westborough Center and fill out a paper form. Your contribution will go into the Westborough Archive and become a part of Westborough history!

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Did you enjoy reading this Westborough Center Pastimes newsletter? Then subscribe by e-mail and have the newsletter and other notices from the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library delivered directly to your e-mail inbox.

You can also read the current and past issues on the Web by clicking here.

Westborough History Connections: History and the Westborough Seal

As the Local History Librarian at the Westborough Public Library, I have recently received requests for information about the history of the Westborough town seal, given recent discussions about replacing it due to its depiction of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. The controversy centers on the cotton gin’s role in making cotton production in the United States much more profitable, which consequently preserved and prolonged slavery throughout the American South right at a time when it was beginning to wane.

Beginning in 1899, every city and town in Massachusetts was required to have a seal after the General Court of Massachusetts passed Chapter 256, and town clerks were given the responsibility of maintaining their custody. Westborough’s first town seal began to appear on its Annual Town Report in 1913. The design is fairly generic, although to my modern eye it has an antique charm to it.

The original Westborough town seal as it appears on the 1913 Annual Town Report.

As part of the celebration of its 250th Anniversary in 1967, Westborough decided to change its town seal. According to the Commemorative Booklet for the celebration, art students from Westborough High School were invited to submit drawings for a new seal design. The Anniversary Committee ended up selecting four drawings to be used as a composite for the official seal: a sketch of the tower on Town Hall, an outline of a map of Westborough proclaiming it as the 100th town in Massachusetts, a “pie crust” edge around the seal, and a drawing of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin based on his patent.

The new Westborough seal design, as it appears on the 250th anniversary Commemorative Booklet.

The new seal appeared on the front cover of the Commemorative Booklet and was used to create a commemorative coin. On the reverse side of the booklet and the coin is another drawing by a high school art student depicting an “Indian lad in a deep forest setting.” The Westborough Center for History and Culture in the Westborough Public Library has one of the coins in its collection. (I am happy to show it to anyone who is interested once the library opens up again.)

The back cover of the 250th anniversary Commemorative Booklet.

Eli Whitney was born in Westborough in 1765 and left the town for good in 1789 to attend Yale College. He received a patent for his cotton gin in 1794. Cotton gins had been around before Whitney’s invention, most notably in India, which dominated the world’s cotton market well before the American South began producing and exporting cotton. But the particular strain of cotton that grew in the South had fibers that were tightly attached to its seeds, and the Indian cotton gins could not separate the two. 

Whitney never realized the profits he expected to gain from his invention. Instead of selling cotton gins directly to cotton growers, he and his partner decided to charge farmers to clean their cotton for them, much like grist mills charged to grind corn or wheat. The simplicity of his cotton gin design, however, made it easy to copy, so the two ended up using all of their profits to fight patent infringements and the company went bankrupt in 1797.

Whereas one person could clean about a pound of cotton a day, Whitney’s cotton gin increased cotton production by 4,900 percent. With great profits to be made, this increased production capacity prompted cotton growers in the American South to expand their operations and created increased demand for arable land in the West. Since these growers relied on slaves to cultivate and process their cotton, the institution of slavery greatly expanded as well, and slaves were required to work longer and harder to meet production capacities.

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During the course of researching the history of the Westborough seal and the role of the 250th anniversary celebration in its creation, I came across some pretty offensive cultural content given today’s standards. I highly doubt that the people who produced the content intentionally meant to be offensive at the time, but the reaction that this content elicits today illustrates how attitudes change with historical perspective.

One of the events that was held as part of the anniversary celebration was a “Minstrel Show,” which as far as I can tell was basically a talent show. Judging by the character of other events held during the celebration and by pictures I came across of people dressed up in 19th-century costume, the Anniversary Committee probably selected “Minstrel” for the title of the talent show in order to sound“old timey.” A similar example of 19th-century inspired nostalgia, for example, was a beard and mustache growing contest. People got so into it that they held a ceremony to bury a few beard whiskers and three of the razors used in a “shaving of the beards” ritual. Later, the tombstone marking the burial site was stolen, which caused newspaper headlines. In selecting “Minstrel” for the title of their talent show, the Anniversary Committee members failed to take into account the racism that structures this specific form of entertainment. Subsequent historical scholarship on the history of minstrel shows would now make such an oversight neglectful.

I also came across a picture and article about the “Hoccomocco Indians” that appeared in the “Hoccomocco Herald” (the newsletter for the anniversary). A word of warning, some people may find elements of the article to be offensive and upsetting.

“Hoccomocco Indians” from The Hoccomocco Herald.

The use of Native American racist tropes (“pretty squaws,” “fierce braves,” “smoke signals,” and “scalps”) certainly jumps out, as well as the apparent need at the end of the article to draw intentional attention to the use of “color” as a pun, where it refers both to a common term used to designate behavior outside of the norm and to the tone of Native American skin, by putting it in quotation marks.

But also notable is the article’s perpetuation of colonialist attitudes and ideologies in its characterization of interactions between native people and European colonizers. European contact with people who lived in North America was inevitable, but such contact could be approached in one of two ways: as a meeting of two civilizations with the aim of sharing cultures, engaging in trade, and respectfully recognizing the sovereignty of the people who already inhabited the land; or as an act of conquest with the aim of exploiting both the people and land they encountered. The Europeans landing in North America decided to go with the latter option. (Note that when it came to exploring and meeting civilizations in Asia, these same countries generally went with the former option. See the Westborough Connections series on Westborough-India for more on the reasons why such a difference existed). As a means of justifying their conquest of North America, Europeans ideologically flipped the combative relationship between the two civilizations on its head, and the 1967 article continues to reproduce such an ideology by positioning the Native Americans as the (potential) aggressors and “the white man” as innocent victims. (Did you also catch the reference to the beard contest in the first paragraph?)

What is clear in the article is that the people involved in making the costumes believe that they are honoring Native Americans and their culture through careful research and design of their clothing. Unfortunately, there is no mention one way or another of the group reaching out to or involving Native Americans in their efforts. But if they had done so, it is possible that they would have found a more sensitive way to honor the first inhabitants of where we live now.

History never fossilizes. Our picture of the past is always shaped by our evolving perspectives over time. As we move further away from an event, we are better able to see the ideologies—both good and bad–that unconsciously informed the actions and thoughts of people living during that particular time. The irony is that the further we move away from a historical moment–both in time and in ideology–the better our position is to understand the social, economic, and cultural processes that were at play. Current events swirl around us, and we make the best decisions we can at the moment they happen given the circumstances, but we can only come to a true understanding of what that moment means through time and distance.

I hope that the Westborough Center for History and Culture is a place where we can explore these difficult issues in a non-threatening way based on the historical materials and resources available to us. That’s hard to do. The people who put the cotton gin on our seal, or called a talent show a minstrel show, or dressed up in Native American costume and wrote about it were not bad people. They simply did not have the historical tools that now inform our standards today to see the implications of their actions–in the same way that we today do not have the proper historical tools at our disposal to see how future generations will judge us. Others may disagree with my assertion here and believe that these people in the past should have known better. Still others may believe that what was good for people living in the past should be good for us living today. I welcome the dialog.

Respectfully respond in the Comments, drop me an e-mail, or stop by the Westborough Center to chat when I am around once the library reopens. I promise that if you do, I will give your ideas respectful consideration and will provide a safe space to explore them together.

 

 

The Fight for Women’s Suffrage in Westborough: An Online Exhibit

Women won the right to vote in elections across the United States in 1920, but the fight for women’s suffrage was drawn out over many years before then.

The issue of women’s suffrage first appeared in a Westborough newspaper on November 16, 1867, and arguments both for and against women’s suffrage were published off and on in the Westborough Chronotype up until women finally won the right to vote.

The first mention of women’s suffrage in a Westborough newspaper: Saturday Evening Chronotype and Weekly Review, November 16, 1867.

When it came to women’s suffrage, Massachusetts and other Eastern states lagged far behind Western states, where women earned full voting rights in local and state elections years before those in the East did. When women in Massachusetts finally earned the right to vote in 1892, they could do so only for candidates running for school committee.

Three women became the first to vote in a Westborough election after winning that right in 1892:

  • Abbie M. Fay of Ruggles St.
  • A. B. Harvey of South St.
  • Esther M. Howell of Cross St. (Source: a handwritten “true copy” note by E. E. Dunlap, Clerk Assessors added to the library’s copy of the 1892 Westborough Assessors report, p. 40).

Given the limited voting power that they received, few women exercised their right to vote in Massachusetts during this interim period, so the fight for women’s suffrage continued.

Debates in the Westborough Chronicle

Proposed Meeting Warrant

Beginning in 1880, the women’s movement in Massachusetts lobbied for the right to vote in municipal elections by seeking to include petitions in town meetings that encouraged the Massachusetts Legislature to grant women the right to hold town offices and vote in town affairs. Most of these petitions were rejected by voters.

One such attempt seems to have occurred in Westborough.

Westborough Chronotype, March 17, 1883

Note: No article regarding Women’s Suffrage appears in the Westborough Town Records for the March town meeting in 1883.

Woman Suffrage Convention in Westborough

The Massachusetts Women’s Suffrage Association was founded in 1870 by suffrage activists Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone, and Henry Browne Blackwell, among others, and was active up until 1919. In 1884, Westborough held a convention as part of a series of programs across the state that were sponsored by the association.

Phoebe Couzins, the featured speaker, was one of the first female lawyers in the United States, and at the time she was engaged in traveling across the country lecturing on women’s suffrage. Later that same year, she testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on the legal status of women.

Phoebe Couzins (Published in History of Women’s Suffrage by Susan B. Anthony, et. al, Rochester, NY – https://archive.org/details/historyofwomansu03stanuoft; Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19172989.)
Westborough Chronotype, January 12, 1884
Advertisement for the National Woman Suffrage Convention in Westborough, 1884 (Kristina Allen Papers, LH.032).

The Chronotype covered the activities of the convention in detail.

Description of the convention and Phoebe Couzins’s lecture. Westborough Chronotype, January 19, 1884

One Westborough suffragist objected to the coverage of the convention in the Chronotype.

Letter to the Editor, Westborough Chronotype, January 26, 1884

Anti-Suffrage Speaker

On November 2, 1915, men living in Massachusetts voted by referendum whether to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to give women the right to vote. Debate across the state was intense, but the amendment was soundly defeated. Tewksbury was the only town in the state that voted to pass the referendum (with a vote of 149 for and 148 against), and only 35.5% voted in favor. Three other states voted on similar referendums at the time—New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York—and all three joined Massachusetts in defeating the measure.

Charles L. Underhill (Who’s Who in State Politics (1918) page 313; Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47515213)

Leading up to voting on the referendum, Charles L. Underhill spoke against women’s suffrage in Westborough. Hill served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and later went on to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Westborough Chronotype, June 18, 1915

One writer took issue with at least one of Underhill’s points about Kansas and prohibition.

Westborough Chronotype, July 2, 1915

Pro-Suffrage Speaker

Frances Kellogg Curtis was the Chief Marshall of the first Massachusetts Suffrage Parade and was on the Executive Board of the Massachusetts Equal Suffrage Association. She lectured on women’s suffrage–at times on a soap box set up on the street–and as a member of the Americanization Committee of the Boston Equal Suffrage Association, she taught English to Italian immigrant women in Boston’s North End.

Westborough Chronotype, August 27, 1915

A follow-up report appeared in the Chronotype a week after Curtis’s talk.

Westborough Chronotype, September 17, 1915

Debates in and around Westborough

At Town Hall

Westborough Chronotype, February 18, 1882
Westborough Chronotype, May 21, 1915

In People’s Homes

Westborough Chronotype, March 24, 1888

The Chronotype regularly reported meetings of the Westborough chapter of the Women’s Suffrage League, which took place in various people’s homes, between 1866 and 1888.

In Churches

Westborough Chronotype, March 6, 1914

House-to-House (and at Fenway Park)

Westborough Chronotype, August 6, 1915
Westborough Chronotype, October 29, 1915

At the Library

Westborough Chronotype, November 13, 1914
Westborough Chronotype, March 5, 1915
Westborough Chronotype, February 16, 1917

Success

Massachusetts finally became the eighth state to ratify the 19th Amendment on June 25, 1919, and women across the United States officially gained full suffrage after Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Separation

Note: The following is the eleventh and final post in a series that presents my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Separation

The Great Rebellion of 1857 in India ultimately failed due to a lack of organization and institutional structures to sustain it. But the American colonies were well positioned to carry out rebellion against the British government and rule themselves once they separated from England. Westborough and other towns in Massachusetts had their own sets of laws, self-rule in the form of town meetings, elected representatives to the House of Representatives, and their own militias. During the American Revolution, more than a hundred Committees of Correspondence were set up, including one in Westborough, which served as an informal shadow government to carry out rebellion and ultimately revolution. After both the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Americans on July 4, 1776 and British defeat in the resulting war, England turned its attention to defending its colonial interests in India and other colonies throughout the world.

In 1885, the Indian National Congress was formed to advocate for Indian home rule, and when Mahatma Gandhi became its leader in 1920 he began to mobilize it into a body of resistance under a doctrine of “non-cooperation.” Gandhi and other Indian nationalists studied the tactics and read the treatises that led to the American Revolution for inspiration when they organized boycotts, shutdowns, demonstrations, and tax protests.  Mahatma Gandhi’s famous “salt march” to the sea to collect salt in protest over its taxation by the British was one such protest. Gandhi also used the symbolism and economic significance of cotton to galvanize nationalist and anti-colonial sentiment by both writing a history of cotton in India and practicing the spinning of cotton on a wheel as a means of publicizing India’s potential to reclaim its dominant position in the global economy from its British oppressors.

In the end, the strains of World War II on Great Britain ultimately led to India’s separation from the British Empire and its independence. During negotiations over the future of Indian rule in 1947, the two dominant political parties, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, could not agree on a common future. The League insisted on carving out part of India to create a separate Muslim nation, which ultimately became Pakistan. The inability to keep India together as one nation resulted in mass displacement, plunder, and revenge killings with over 1 million people dying and more than 12 million being forced from their homes before it was all over.

The Declaration of Independence copied into Westborough’s Town Records, 1776
(Westborough Town Clerk, http://repository.westborougharchive.org/files/original/700d82def53c4ac7be6098193541cdf0.jpg)

The Boston printing of the Declaration of Independence was circulated to towns across Massachusetts and included an order at the bottom for town clerks to copy the content of the document into their town records. Above is Westborough’s hand-written copy.

Gandhi during the Salt March, 1930
(Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gandhi_during_the_Salt_March.jpg)

In an act of civil disobedience against the heavy taxation of salt by the British, Gandhi organized a widespread protest march to the sea to collect salt through evaporation in violation of the salt laws.

Gandhi Spinning Cotton, 1940’s
(Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gandhi_spinning.jpg)

As a reminder of India’s history of once being the dominant producer of cotton cloth throughout the world, Gandhi held cotton spinning demonstrations and encouraged others throughout India to take up the practice.

* * *

Social and political tensions created during British rule in both India and the United States continue to be felt today. In India, violent conflict played out almost immediately during the partitioning of the country into India and Pakistan in 1947, and struggle between the two countries over control of Kashmir continues to this day. In the United States, tensions over slavery lingered for decades until they finally came to a head with the outbreak of the American Civil War. But the social, political, and cultural differences that initially led to this conflict in many ways remain unresolved. Westborough and India no longer fall under British rule, but the common history we experienced under that rule continues to reverberate and connect us, even though geographically we sit at opposite sides of the globe.

This concludes the series of posts on “How Does History Connect Westborough and India?”

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.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Cotton

Note: The following is the tenth in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Cotton

The leading cotton manufacturers from the beginning of history up until the early nineteenth century were from India, and the quality of their cotton fabrics was known throughout the world. Weavers in Bengal produced fine muslins, the southeastern coast of India was known for its chintzes and calicoes, and Surat in the western coast of India made strong but inexpensive fabrics. India was also at the forefront of innovation in cotton production. Indians invented the roller gin to remove seeds from raw cotton, the bow to clean and disentangle ginned cotton, the spinning wheel to produce thread, and a variety of looms, including the treadle loom, which allowed weavers to use their feet and free up their hands to move the horizontal weft across the vertical warp threads more economically. India’s skill in cloth production and its central location in global trade routes meant that it had the greatest impact in spreading cotton throughout the world and into Europe, where people mainly dressed in fur, wool, and linen before cotton came to its shores.

Europeans began the process of inserting themselves into the global cotton trade as soon as they landed by ship in India in the seventeenth century. With control of India, the British eventually wove a complex web of trade in cotton textiles across four continents: Indian weavers produced cloth that was used to pay for slaves in Africa; the slaves worked on plantations in the Americas to produce cotton that was used to make yarn in England; and that yarn was then shipped to India to be woven into cloth.

Before this trade loop was put in place, England first had to find vast quantities of raw cotton to keep its efficient industrial factories running full time. The American South ultimately fulfilled this need with its ideal climate for cultivating cotton, but the strand of cotton that grew best in the South was “upland cotton.” This strand had a shorter staple length than Indian cotton and the fibers tightly attached to the seeds so that Indian methods for removing the seeds were ineffective. But when Westborough native Eli Whitney invented a new kind of cotton gin in 1793, the machine led to a phenomenal increase in cotton production in the United States, rapidly expanded cotton land use, supplied British textile mills with practically unlimited supplies of raw cotton, and spread slavery across the South.

Indian Woman Ginning Cotton, 1815-1920
(Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Indian_woman_gining_cotton.jpg)

Here, an Indian woman turns rollers to separate seeds from the fibers in Indian cotton.

Eli Whitney, 1822
by Samuel Morse
(Yale University Art Gallery, https://artgallery.yale.edu/collections/objects/31)
Eli Whitney s Cotton Gin Patent Drawing, 03/14/1794
(National Archives and Records Administration Records of the Patent and Trademark Office Record Group 241, Identifier: 305886, https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/cotton-gin-patent)

After Westborough’s Eli Whitney patented an invention for a cotton gin that worked on the particular cotton strain grown in North America, cotton production soared and spread slavery throughout the South.

* * *

Read the next post in the series: Separation.

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.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Rebellion

Note: The following is the ninth in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Rebellion

By the 1760’s, the American colonies were no longer backwater settlements, but were populated by sophisticated intellectuals who had the space and ability to imagine a nation separate from Great Britain. In an act of protest against the Tea Act of 1773 and the Intolerable Acts of 1774, the people of Westborough and other American colonists began to boycott the purchase of teas and other goods imported by the East India Company. A flood of print produced in New England also began to appear and overwhelmed any ability by the British to counter colonists’ perspective that their rights were being infringed. Revolutionary pamphlets and broadsides, such as Thomas Paine’s incendiary Common Sense (1776), which sold over 150,000 copies, was key in motivating colonists to take action against the British government.

“Mr. Bradshaw having given me one of the Books entitled Common sense, I begin to read it — bold Strokes!”

–Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Diary, Thursday, February 29, 1776

Under the Intolerable Acts, the people of Massachusetts no longer had a say in who could serve on the courts, which at the time held tremendous power in making decisions that affected individuals. So when the newly constituted courts were set to convene in Worcester on September 6, 1774, Westborough and other towns throughout Worcester County decided to send their militias to prevent the courts from meeting. Exactly 4,622 men from 37 towns marched to Worcester and forced the British court officials to resign their positions. We know this number because Westborough resident Breck Parkman cataloged the number of people who attended the event from each town, and his father, Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, wrote down these numbers in his diary. After shutting down the courts in Worcester, colonists proceeded to shut down the courts in every county seat in Massachusetts outside of Boston. From this point forward, the British never regained control of these areas of Masssachusetts, and the march to Worcester by Westborough and other towns is considered by many historians to be the true start of the American Revolution.

Rebellion came much later in India than in the American colonies, with the Great Rebellion of 1857 being the first major challenge to British rule. The rebellion started when 85 sepoys (Indian mercenary soldiers) refused to take part in firing practice over feared rumors that the grease used in the gun cartridges that the men had to bite off with their teeth was made from the fat of cows and pigs, which would have offended Hindus and Muslims, respectively. Insurrection quickly spread throughout the army, with 70,000 soldiers mutinying and 30,000 more deserting their units. Quelling the insurrection required Britain to rush 90,000 men from Europe to India and resulted in the British government seizing control of India from the East India Company in 1858.

Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Diary, September 5-7, 1774
(American Antiquarian Society)

This page from Rev. Ebenezer Parkman’s Diary shows the number of men who marched to Worcester to prevent the British courts from meeting on September 6, 1774. (Parkman’s addition is off by 100.)

* * *

Read the next post in the series: Cotton.

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.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Tea

Note: The following is the second in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Tea

“What misery this right of taxation is capable of producing in a provincial government. We need only recollect that our countrymen in India, have in the space of five or six years, in virtue of this right, destroyed, starved and driven away more inhabitants from Bengal, than are to be found at present in all our American Colonies.”

–Jonathan Shipley, from a speech intended for the House of Lords during debate over altering the Massachusetts charter in 1774 and subsequently published and distributed in the American colonies by Benjamin Franklin.

In 1771, the East India Company bought shiploads of tea on credit in the hope that it could reverse deficits created by the drop in tax collections due to the famine in Bengal. Over twenty ships carrying 90,000 chests of tea arrived in London that summer, more than twice as much tea as the British could consume in a year—and Great Britain had not even finished consuming the tea that had been shipped the year before! With its tea sitting in the harbor, its coffers empty, and with creditors demanding payment, the East India Company was nearly broke. The British government deemed the company too big and too important to fail, so Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773, which gave license to the East India Company to corner the market on tea in the American colonies and tax it at the same time, moves that that would ultimately prove to be disastrous in England’s ability to maintain control over the American colonies.

The Tea Act of 1773 was passed around the same time that American newspapers were carrying reports about the high rates of taxation imposed by the British on Bengal, the ruthless measures put in place to maximize those tax collections, and the famine that resulted from these policies. American colonists naturally wondered whether the British government intended to impose similar imperial administrative rule on their part of the world, and if so, what would prevent America from experiencing a similar fate?

To protest the passage of the Tea Act, a group of rebels threw the excess tea that the East India Company had shipped to America into Boston Harbor, and the British government responded by passing the Intolerable Acts in 1774, which closed the ports in Boston, fundamentally changed the charter of Massachusetts, and consequentially led to rebellion with Westborough and Worcester leading the charge.

The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor, 1846
by N. Currier (Firm)
(Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91795889/)

This 1846 picture fancifully depicts the destruction of East India Company tea in Boston Harbor to protest its taxation in 1773.

* * *

Read the next post in the series: Rebellion.

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.

How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Taxes

Note: The following is the seventh in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Taxes

The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) was expensive and created massive government debt for Great Britain. The fact that the war was mostly fought in North America and that victory led to a new need to increase the number of soldiers in the colonies more than tenfold in order to prevent revolt in Quebec caused Britain to rethink their taxing strategy in the American colonies. In 1765, the British enacted the Stamp Act, which taxed legal papers and other documents in America. The colonies reacted swiftly against these new taxes—protests were especially intense in Boston, New York, and Rhode Island—so the British had little choice but to repeal them.

Following British victory at Plassey in Bengal during the Seven Years’ War, the East India Company acquired the diwani of Bengal, i.e., the right to collect taxes in exchange for regular payments to the Mughal emperor in Delhi. In 1769, after the British had pushed the limits of taxing Bengal to such a degree that its economy began to teeter, a drought hit. Because the British had already stockpiled food for themselves, food prices began to soar until famine broke out and up to ten million people died as a result. The severe loss of population resulted in dwindling tax revenues for the East India Company, so after the rains returned it wasn’t long before yet another financial crisis hit.

The British basically inherited the administrative tax system from previous Mughal rulers, but as they expanded their rule and taxing powers into other Indian regions, they sought out inconsistencies and put in place ruthless efficiencies to maximize tax collection. In addition to utilizing accounting and administrative tools, they instituted a census (in order to tax people, you have to know who they are and where they live). A British obsession over collecting information about the population for tax purposes grew. These censuses ended up changing the very nature of the Indian population, because it forced Indian society to start placing its people in categories that before were not perceived as important or even existed as concepts, such as caste and race.

The British never “measured” the American colonies in the way they did in India. They had no idea how many people lived in America, how fast the colonies were growing, or how large the militias in each colony were. This lack of data meant that the British had no way to gauge the seriousness of the move towards independence that was beginning to brew in the colonies.

The Mughal Emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive
by Benjamin West
(The British Library, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shah_%27Alam_conveying_the_grant_of_the_Diwani_to_Lord_Clive.jpg)

This painting depicts Shah Alam, the Mughal emperor, transferring tax collection rights, or diwani, for Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa to Robert Clive and the East India Company in 1765. The moment was a turning point for the East India Company as it became less a trading company and more an administrative and military organization focused on tax collection.

List of Westborough Males Over 16 Years Old, 1777
(Westborough Public Library, https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/z316sd686)

This list of Westborough males over the age of sixteen years old was used to determine who was eligible to serve in the American Revolution.

* * *

Read the next post in the series: Tea.

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.