Westborough Center Pastimes – January 19, 2024

Memorial to the Rice Boys capture, near the Westborough High School.

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.

Native Americans in Westborough History, Part III: The Rice Boys, European Settlement, and War

In the mid-1680s, Chauncy Village was a thriving neighborhood of Marlborough. According to Harriette Merrifield Forbes, Edmund Rice and his brother Thomas, two of the first settlers in what became Westborough, built two garrison-houses. These houses were specifically designed to resist Indian attacks, which tells us something about the relations between the two groups at the time and how settlers had full knowledge that building houses on “unoccupied” land would not be taken well by the Nipmuc.

In 1702, the people who lived in the village filed a petition to establish a town separate from Marlborough and then did so again in 1716. Finally, the General Court granted the request in 1717, thus establishing Westborough as its own political entity. The abduction of the Rice Boys occurred in between the filing of these two petitions.

Title page to Rev. Ebenezer Parkman’s account of the capture of the Rice boys

Unlike the other two Native American stories that we often treat as Westborough history—the Story of Jack Straw and the Legend of Hoccomocco—the “Story of the Rice Boys” offers firmer historical documentation. On August 8, 1704, members of the Rice family were spreading flax in the field where the Westborough High School is today when seven to ten Native Americans descended from the wooded hill and grabbed five boys from the work party. Before leaving the area, they killed the youngest boy, Nahor (age 5), by smashing his head in with a rock, and they took the other four—Asher (10), Adonijah (8), Silas (9), and Timothy (7)—with them north to what is now Canada. The rest of the family escaped to the safety of the house. Needless to say, the event was traumatic for both the family and the community.


Caughnawaga, Canada, ca. 1893.

The abductors were members of the Caughnawaga Mohawks (now known as the Kahnawá:ke) who lived between fur trading posts in Quebec City (French) and Albany (British) and who were part of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Five Nation League. Not only were the Iroquois often at war with the Algonquins (the Nipmuc were members of the latter), but they had a trading relationship with the French, who were in competition with the English during the 17th and early 18th centuries for control of North America. The Caughnawaga often used both their diplomatic skills and the rivalry between the two European powers to their political and economic advantage.

We know from archaeological, linguistic, and folkloric evidence that Native Americans conducted war before European arrival, but their form of warfare was different from that of Europeans. War between Native Americans, at least in the Northeast, mostly involved random and periodic raids against enemy tribes and the taking of captives, who were then either adopted or enslaved. Characterized as more tit-for-tat engagements, this form of warfare rarely involved death and centered more on performing acts of bravery and on gaining the prestige that came with them. The “total war” that Europeans brought with them to North America horrified Native Americans. Europeans, on the other hand, were puzzled over why Native Americans did not take more lives during their wars. In their view, Native American warfare tended to draw out violent engagements over long periods of time rather than end them quickly with a decisive blow one way or another. (However, the names of many European conflicts during this time period seem to belie this point, such as The Eighty Years War, 1568-1648; The Thirty Years War, 1618–1648; The Seven Years War, 1756–1763, to name a few.)

The practice of taking captives and adopting them into a tribe became more important to Native Americans after European arrival. As disease decimated the Indigenous population, tribes, villages, and families had to recombine and reinvent themselves in order to survive. Even more, as the natural resources that Native Americans used to trade with the English—such as beaver—dwindled, competition among rival tribes for these resources increased. Maintaining a viable community became more and more difficult, to the point where, as historian Daniel K. Richter contends, “people were the scarcest resource of all in the Indians’ new world.” Richter goes on to argue that the Native people’s continual fight to rebuild their communities after their decimation by European arrival is one of the great American stories involving the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

Was the raid that the Caughnawaga carried out that day in 1704 in Westborough a desperate attempt to strengthen the numbers of their tribe? This explanation may have been a factor, but the motivations behind the event are more complicated because it took place during and as part of Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713). I often argue that local history is necessarily embedded within a larger context, a context that at times can be global. In this case, the politics of European powers overseas and their common desire to take control of lands in North America had as much, if not more, to do with why the Rice boys were abducted and taken north.

European Wars

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Native American tribes aligned with either the English or the French conducted raids along the contested and undefined border of New England and New France. Captives taken during these raids were often held for ransom from the European communities where they were taken. Others were adopted into the Native American tribe that took them. Attacking enemy settlements was a common feature of colonial warfare in the Atlantic Northeast. The English regularly employed this strategy against Native American villages as well. They burned down Indian homes, farm fields, and food stocks with the main goal of depriving Native Americans of shelter and starving them into submission. Needless to say, European writers at the time focused more on recounting settlement raids conducted by Native Americans than on those carried out by their own people.

Queen Anne’s War was the second in a series of French and Indian Wars that took place in North America. It was part of a broader war involving European nations struggling for power both over the Atlantic world and other parts of the globe. Outside of the United States—where the war was named after the queen who reigned in England at the time—historians refer to the conflict as part of the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1715), and it involved nearly every great European power at the time. As part of this war, French and Indigenous forces conducted raids deep into New England with the main aim of taking captives and securing ransoms for their return.

On February 29, 1704, fifty French along with 250 Abenaki and Caughnawaga Mohawks raided Deerfield, MA, where they killed 53 settlers and took 111 captives back with them up north. Most of the surviving children from this raid were adopted by the Mohawks. Some of the adults were ransomed or exchanged for prisoners taken by the English. In response to this event, the English sent 500 men in June up to Acadia (Nova Scotia), where they spent three days destroying towns, crops, dikes, and other settlements before returning back to Massachusetts. The abduction of the Rice boys on August 8 was either conducted in retaliation for the raid on Acadia or was part of a planned series of raids on the part of the French and the Caughnawaga.

After the abduction, Thomas Rice, one of the fathers of the boys, sold his house to raise money to ransom his sons back. After four years he was able to redeem his oldest son, Asher, who reportedly never recovered from the shock of the event and remained fearful of Native Americans throughout his life. The rest of the boys remained up north. Adonijah eventually married a French woman and settled into farming, while Silas and Timothy remained with the Caughnawaga and assimilated into their new way of life.

Continental Definitions and Ethnic Mixing

In her book, The Hundredth Town, Harriette M. Forbes tells an earlier story of how “an old Indian living in the forests around Westborough” named Graylock, and “who occasionally made raids on the settlers,” one day abducted Edmund Rice. As Graylock forced Rice down a trail, the captive managed to commandeer a heavy stick along the way and at an opportune time used it to kill Graylock. He then “ran back lightly over the fresh trail, and went on with his morning’s work.” Forbes goes on to speculate that this episode took place before 1704, since, by her account, the Rice Boys raid was conducted in revenge for the death of Graylock. Never mind that Graylock was most likely Nipmuc and that the raiders from far up north belonged to a rival group.

Forbes makes a common error here by thinking of Native Americans continentally rather than tribally. (As a side note, African-Americans also tend to be identified continentally and rarely by individual country when it comes to their ethnic origins.) In contrast, European Americans are mainly defined by distinct countries. My ethnic background may be a mixture of German, Scandinavian, Polish, and Italian (if my family heritage and DNA results are to be believed), but I have never been referred to as “European,” even though such a designation would more accurately describe the span of my family background across almost all of that small continent. Forbes’s assumption that a tribe over 300 miles away had any interest in avenging the killing of a Nipmuc Indian and member of the rival Algonquin tribe is just one manifestation of the tendency to conflate all Indians as being one and the same. How common is it to make similar assumptions that, say, Germans, Scandinavians, Polish, and Italians are all the same, or that someone in, say, Munich would have any interest in avenging a death in Milan?

Colonial histories are full of accounts of settlers captured by Native Americans choosing to stay with their new families rather than returning to their biological ones. Conversely, stories of Native Americans who became a part of European society and then chose to escape or return to Indigenous society—even when they lived what was considered to be wealthy and educated lives in their European setting—are also numerous in the historical record. Contrary to usual assumptions, most people who were given a choice opted for the advantages that Indigenous lifestyles offered them. Many of those who assimilated into Native American life even rose to take prominent positions within their communities. Such was the case for Timothy Rice, who was adopted by the Caughnawaga chief and later as an adult became a sachem of the Six Nations of the Iroquois. In 1740, he returned to visit Westborough, and even though he recognized his childhood home, he could no longer speak English.

Descendants of Edmund Rice of Westborough in Caughnawaga, ca. 1893.

Today, due to the history of adopting European captives into their tribe, many of the Kahnawá:ke (Caughnawaga) have mixed ancestries, so they identify culturally as Mohawk yet have European surnames, including Rice.

Next month, we will finally conclude this long series on the meeting of two cultures in Westborough with a brief look at the status of the Nipmuc today and draw some conclusions by reflecting back on what we have learned.

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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The Bowman Conservation Area (Photo courtesy of Garry Kessler)

Take the Nature Notes Quiz

We are in the middle of winter, so our inclination is to hibernate in our warm homes rather than head out into nature. Luckily, Annie Reid has created her annual Nature Notes Quiz for 2023 to give us something to do while we sit in front of a fire with our hot chocolate. And if you ace this quiz in short order, there are plenty of other quizzes to test yourself from her past Nature Notes for January.

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Westborough Center Pastimes – August 18, 2023

Metacom – “Philip King of Mount Hope” by Paul Revere – Yale University Art Gallery, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14571036

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.

Early Relations, Praying Towns, and War

“Savages we call them, because their manners differ from ours, which we think the Perfection of Civility; they think the same of theirs.”

—Benjamin Franklin, “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America” (1784)

Benjamin Franklin recognized that when two cultures judge one another, each one brings its own attitudes and perceptions about human behavior to its assessment. What makes contact between Native Americans and Europeans so fascinating is that for the first time in human history, two groups of people who had no contact with each other or with any other neighboring group for thousands of years suddenly came face-to-face. If we ever want a real-life example outside of science fiction of what could happen when two completely different civilizations suddenly confront one another, this is it!

Around 5,000 to 6,000 Nipmucs were living along rivers and streams connected to the Blackstone, Quaboag, Nashua, and Quinebaug Rivers when the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620. First contact between the Nipmuc and the English probably occurred in Sterling, MA in 1621, and their relationship with one another was initially friendly. Any recording of Nipmuc activity or behavior by the English, though, was piecemeal. The English never really developed any true understanding of the motives or experiences of their indigenous neighbors—they just weren’t that interested—and so such insight is lost to us as well.

We do not know how centralized political leadership was among Native American tribes in Massachusetts before European arrival. The Wampanoag Nation may have been created after local Native Americans, who up until this time had lived separately next to one another, saw a need to coalesce together in response to European disease and encroachment on their land. In 1675, Metacom (also known as King Philip) led a rebellion against English occupation by banding together several major tribes in and around Massachusetts—a rebellion that became known as King Philip’s War (1675-1678). Metacom was born around 1640, so unlike his grandparents who faced disease and European advancement on their land head on in the 1610s, he never experienced a world without Europeans. He lived in relative material prosperity and considered himself the equal of any Englishman. Metacom had always lived in, and hence had learned to navigate, the bicultural world of the mid-seventeenth century.

Conflict at this time was not solely between Native Americans and European colonizers. Until recently, our tendency in recounting this time and place in history is to put Europeans at the center of the narrative and pretend that the central drama was in how Indians progressively lost their land to these new arrivals. The construction of this narrative is perhaps understandable, since the historical sources we have do not provide much detail about Native American life before or during this time. But with a little reflection, we can easily see that this story does not adequately cover the way these actors experienced their times. As human beings, Native Americans of course had their own patterns of historical dynamics, population movements, politics, and cultural change—patterns that had been at play well before European arrival. Once Europeans landed, the newcomers automatically became players in Native American inter-tribal dramas, where many tribes tried to use the appearance of these outsiders to their own advantage.

Native Americans continually reached out to the English to acquire their goods and to tap into any power they may possess that could prove to be useful. They also constantly tried to form alliances with the English—despite their alien ways and manners—to help throw any balance of power their way in tensions with other tribes. But if in these alliances Europeans proved to be more dangerous than advantageous, Native Americans would just as easily encourage them to go and bother their neighboring rivals instead.

To use the implication of our science fiction analogy from above, the situation in North America is as if aliens descended on earth and then the U.S. and other Western nations tried to court them into an alliance against Russia and China to bolster our political position (and vice versa)—yet in the end the aliens end up taking over the entire planet. From the alien’s perspective, planetary conquest is the main story line in such a history because they would have had little interest in the squabbles between earthly nations before their arrival. But for we humans, our historical narrative would instead focus on the insertion and role of the aliens in the geopolitics of our time before they ended up taking control of the world. To return to our real-world scenario, the alien Europeans were more interested in how North America could suit their own needs than in understanding the history of Native American relations before their arrival, and since this history was never recorded, we are left to speculate on what it was based on the scant evidence available to us today.

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John Eliot

Not long after John Eliot arrived in Natick, MA in 1651 to recruit members of the Nipmuc tribe to form “praying town” communities, native people in New England were already living alongside 60,000 English colonists. Eliot’s towns were designed as tightly controlled environments that regulated Christian morality and encouraged Indians to adopt a European work ethic, raise livestock, become sedentary, and follow the Christian God. Eliot educated them to read the Bible, and recruited preachers and teachers among the Nipmuc to help bring more people from the tribe into their fold. In short, he wanted to turn the Nipmucs into Europeans, as well as to turn them into productive laborers for colonial markets. Some of the Nipmucs went on to attend Harvard Indian College where they mastered English, Latin, and Greek. James Printer, one of these Nipmuc scholars, set the type on the first Bible published in North America.

Title page of the Eliot Indian Bible (1663), the first Bible printed in North America. The type was set by James Printer, a Nipmuc scholar.

By the time King Philip’s War broke out in 1675, around 2,300 Native Americans were living in Eliot’s praying towns, which were spread throughout Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. Some of the Nipmuc joined Metacom’s forces, while Eliot’s praying Indians became fighters and scouts for the English. Nonetheless, the colonial government feared that the praying Indians would join Metacom, and so they confined them to five plantations: Natick, Nashobah (Littleton), Punkapoag (Canton), Wamesit (Tewksbury), and Hassanamesit (Grafton). If any of these praying Indians were found outside of these limits, they would be subject to jail or death.

The intricacies of King Philip’s War are too complicated to cover in this newsletter (you can consult the Native American Resources in the WPL for book suggestions if you are interested), but here are a few notable observations. Even though Native Americans fought against the English with the aim of kicking them out of the territory, the war was not between two groups of strangers, but between neighbors. By this point, the two groups had been trading, working, negotiating, and, in some cases, attending school and church together. Leading up to the war, Native Americans had sought cooperation and coexistence on shared land; they were not interested in forming a frontier that kept the two groups apart from one another. In fact, Metacom thought he could use the presence of the English to build on his tribes’ unprecedented wealth accumulation. The notion that Native life was incompatible and opposed to English interests was a belief held by the colonists, not the Native Americans, who instead sought flexibility in living together side-by-side.

Metacom was killed in 1676, and the war named after him ended in 1678. Nipmucs who had fought against the English were either killed, sold into slavery, or went into hiding with tribes in the north and west of where they used to live. Others returned to their praying town sites to resettle, but many of them left or were forced out as more English settlers moved in. Some among this group adopted English habits and dress and made a living by selling baskets, brooms, and herbs to settlers.

The wars among the British, French, and Spanish powers in North America in the seventeenth century were not simply European. They were also Native American and involved Inter-Indian as well as Indian-colonial rivalries where Native Americans had just as much at stake as the Europeans. Taken together, these wars were a complex process of working out an equilibrium among European imperial powers and among various groups and alliances of Native Americans. Loyalties ebbed and flowed (and sometimes conflicted) in figuring out control and coexistence in eastern North America.

After the War of the League of Augsburg (a.k.a., “King William’s War,” 1689-1697) and the War of the Spanish Succession (known in the U.S. as “Queen Anne’s War,” 1702-1713)—wars that are usually lumped together now as the “French and Indian Wars”—British America became remarkably politically stable between 1720 and 1750. Relative economic prosperity through this time certainly helped, as the expanding British Empire brought tea, coffee, sugar, rum, dishware, and other luxury goods that were normally confined to the aristocracy into the colonies. This new prosperity also attracted new immigrants from Germanic principalities, Ireland, and northern Britain.

In a way, competition in North America among European powers within the context of Native American interests and rivalries created conditions where both European and Native peoples could potentially live next to one another. If one group became too powerful, a shift in loyalty by one of the groups could put the balance back in order. But British victory in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) reoriented geopolitics throughout the world, and the effect on North America was no exception. Now, complete British victory in this global conflict put North American power mainly in England’s hands. Devoid of competition from any other European nation, this situation eventually made the British-American people so confident in their ability to govern themselves that they claimed the right to secede from the British Empire and started the American Revolution. Consequently, Indian and European coexistence in the colonial world that was the norm for over two hundred years was erased from historical memory. Going forward, the historical narrative would instead focus on the alien invaders, in this case the English, and their triumphal formation of a new American nation.

Lest we forget, though, as historian Pekka Hämäläinen points out, America remained “overwhelmingly Indigenous well into the nineteenth century.” Control over the North American continent was essentially a four-centuries-long war against Native Americans who fiercely resisted it. Gone were the days when Native Americans and Europeans could potentially have learned how to live next to one another peacefully.

—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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Square-stemmed monkey-flower. Photo courtesy of Garry Kessler.

Nature Notes

We sure have had a wet summer!

According to Annie Reid, we also had a wet summer back in 2013, when we experienced a proliferation of the square-stemmed monkey-flower, a native wildflower that enjoys wet areas. I’m guessing that this wild flower is running rampant this year! Put on your galoshes and see if you can find it, and while you are at it, discover even more about Westborough’s natural surroundings during this time of year in Reid’s Nature Notes for August.

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History Corner

Look for me and other Westborough residents with an interest in history at Westborough Connects’ “Westborough for Life!” program on Sunday, September 10 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Westborough High School. We will be putting together a “History Corner,” where you can stop by to learn and ask questions about Westborough’s past.

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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 – June 16, 2023

“White Traders bartering with Indians” – 1820, unknown artist.

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.

Trade and the Global Economy, Part I: The Commodification of Eastern North America

Europeans discovered the existence of American lands right at the time when they had begun to realize the vast wealth that could be accumulated through international trade, most notably with India and other Asian countries.* With “dollar signs” in their eyes, they immediately thought about these new lands in similar terms. But European pursuit of wealth accumulation in the Americas took on a different form from the one they practiced in the Middle East and Asia. On this side of the world, Europeans focused more on the extraction of natural resources than on trade with existing cultures.

Spain—which enjoyed a short head-start when it came to the Americas—set up a formalized system of state-sponsored conquest and exploitation throughout the Caribbean, Mesoamerica, and into South America that mainly targeted gold and silver. This system resulted in huge volumes of precious metals flowing into its government coffers, while other European powers watched with envy. But the French, the Dutch, and eventually the English—all of whose explorations were mainly confined to North America—ended up creating more flexible commercial systems than the Spanish. Their systems relied on private investors rather than on government-funded enterprises to carry out their country’s colonial ambitions. These private investors sought quick returns on the money they put up for exploring and exploiting any valuable natural resource that could be found on the other side of the Atlantic. Both of these colonial systems had devastating effects on the Native peoples who were living in these lands. But whereas the brutality of the Spanish Empire on Indigenous populations was on full display to the world, the colonial methods used by the French and English were slower to take effect and, consequently, slower to reveal the full impact that they would have on the people who had lived in the Americas for millennia.

Whether willing or not, as soon as Native Americans met the Europeans landing on their soil, they entered a global trade network. This trade network would ultimately shape European colonization, shift military balances, create transatlantic empires, upend the ecology of North America, and forever alter the consumer worlds of both cultures. A new world order was about to be put in place.

The years when the English attempted to establish permanent colonies in North America—Jamestown in 1607; Plymouth in 1620; Massachusetts Bay in 1630—are so established in our heads that we often neglect to recognize that before this time both Native Americans and Europeans had already been living and trading together for well over a hundred years. Even more, we fail to note that Native Americans had been engaging in trade throughout North America for thousands of years before European arrival. The people who lived in the Charlestown Meadows here in Westborough possessed tools and stone flakes that were made near Boston and north of the city as well as in eastern New York State. These early Westborough residents either had traveled to these places or had conducted trade with people who were connected to these areas in some way.

Trade conducted among Native Americans was different from that of Europeans in that its aims were not acquisitive, individualistic, and profit-seeking. Instead, their trade reflected universal Native attitudes towards property rights, where need and use were highly prized. In this system, individual acquisition was frowned upon. If you and your family had more food, clothes, tools, etc. than were needed, you were expected to share or give the excess to those who were in need. Hoarding was considered a form of antisocial behavior. In this framework, status was conferred not on those who possessed the most (as is the case in our society today), but on those who gave away the most. As one Dutch colonist explained about Native American leadership, “The chiefs are generally the poorest among them, for instead of their receiving anything . . . these Indian chiefs are made to give to the populace.”

Contrast this attitude towards possessions and resources with that of Europeans, whose economic activity centered around the commodity—a concept that originally evolved out of increasing scarcity of land and resources across northern Europe. The abundance of resources found in North America had comfortably supported people for thousands of years. But now these resources were divided up and treated as individual commodities with prices (which itself is a measure of scarcity). These commodities could then be converted to money and consequently be used to obtain other desirable European goods. Since labor to extract these resources was scarce in the Americas, which made the accumulation of capital that much harder than in Europe, colonists compensated for this discrepancy by exploiting the land as much as possible. With a scarcity of fish, fur, and lumber back in Europe, these essentially free goods on the western side of the Atlantic could simply be transported back to Europe in order to realize a substantial return on the labor needed to gather them. The more that could be gathered with as little labor cost as possible, the greater the profit. (This principle led directly to the development of the transatlantic slave trade. After Europeans quickly realized that it was a bad idea to enslave Native Americans on their home turf in order to minimize labor costs and increase profits because they could easily rebel, they instead sent them down to the Caribbean to work and imported Africans to work as slaves instead on their newly acquired land.)

While increasing trade volume was the primary economic goal for Europeans, it had always been kept in check among Native Americans by two factors: by need, because there was little sense in making or trading for more than what a village could eat or use; and by the sachems, who were tasked with maintaining balance within and among villages. But as Indians developed trade relations with Europeans, an abstract set of equivalent measures started to be put into place and guide their trading practices: numbers of pelts, bushels of corn, fathoms of wampum, and, most notably, currency value expressed in British sterling, a value that was governed far overseas in London markets. Native Americans, European colonists, and European manufacturers were all becoming linked, and what linked them all together were prices. Native Americans soon learned that certain things in their natural environment now had a price, something that did not exist before European arrival. This new economics also impacted the culture of Indigenous people: personal prestige, which before had to be earned through good deeds, could now simply be purchased by killing animals and exchanging their fur for wampum or high-status European goods.

In the years leading up to this point, neither the Europeans nor the Native Americans could have clearly grasped the consequences that this new economic system would have. As more permanent European settlements began to be put in place and substantial numbers of people arrived from overseas, these new economic developments in North America would have a devastating impact on the environment and on the people who had made it their home for thousands of years.

—Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

* To learn more about the early history of international trade between England and India, see my previous Westborough History Connections series, “How Does History Connect Westborough and India?”

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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Mini-Exhibit: The Bay State Abrasives Company

The display case outside of the Westborough Center currently features the history of the Bay State Abrasives Company, which used to be located where the Bay State Commons is today. The company made grinding wheels and other abrasives for the automotive, steel, aerospace, and metalworking industries and for decades served as the town’s largest employer in town up until the 1960’s, at one point employing over 1,100 people.

The display shows newsletters from the complete run owned by the WPL and pictures of the factory and its employees that show how important this business was to the life of our town.

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File written by SlideShow v2.1.26 by Garry Kessler.

Nature Notes

Yikes! There’s a bunch of snakes warming themselves on a rock in the sun. Run away! Run away!

Not so fast, says Annie Reid. Our local snakes are nothing to fear!

Learn more about snakes and other natural wonders happening this month here in Westborough in Annie Reid’s Nature Notes for June.

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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.

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How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Introduction

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 follow on this web page.

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.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

Westborough-India Series – Works Consulted

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-India Connection Reading List

The following books are all available through the Westborough Public Library.

Global Trade and the British Empire

  • The Silk Roads : a new history of the world / Peter Frankopan (909-FRANKOPAN)
  • The decline and fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997 / Piers Brendon (909.097-BRENDON)
  • The rule of empires : those who built them, those who endured them, and why they always fall / Timothy H. Parsons (325.3-PARSONS)
  • Behemoth : a history of the factory and the making of the modern world / Joshua B. Freeman (338.64409 FREEMAN)
  • Empire of things : how we became a world of consumers, from the fifteenth century to the twenty-first / Frank Trentmann (339.4709 TRENTMANN)
  • Empire of cotton : a global history / Sven Beckert (338.47 BECKERT)
  • Selling empire : India in the making of Britain and America, 1600-1830 / Jonathan Eacott (382.609 EACOTT)
  • Captives : Britain, Empire and the world, 1600-1850 / Linda Colley (325.36 COLLEY)
  • Cities of empire : the British colonies and the creation of the urban world / Tristram Hunt (941 HUNT)
  • The rise and fall of the British Empire / Lawrence James (909.0971 JAMES)
  • The taste of empire: how Britain’s quest for food shaped the modern world / Lizzie Collingham (338.1941 COLLING)
  • A thirst for empire: how tea shaped the modern world / Erika Rappaport (641.3372 RAPPAPORT)
  • A social history of tea: tea’s influence on commerce, culture, & community / Jane Pettigrew (On order as of 11/19/18)

British Indian History

  • Gandhi : the man, his people, and the empire / Rajmohan Gandhi. (B-GANDHI-GAN)
  • Gandhi & Churchill : the epic rivalry that destroyed an empire and forged our age / Arthur Herman (325.54-HERMAN)
  • Gandhi and the unspeakable : his final experiment with truth / James W. Douglass (B-GANDHI-DOU)
  • Indira : the life of Indira Nehru Gandhi / Katherine Frank (B-GANDHI-FRA)
  • Great soul : Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle with India / Joseph Lelyveld (B-GANDHI-LEL)
  • Daughter of empire : my life as a Mountbatten / Lady Pamela Hicks (B-HICKS-HIC)
  • Indian summer : the secret history of the end of an empire / Alex von Tunzelmann (954.03-VON TUNZELMANN)
  • A traveller’s history of India / SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda (954-TAMMITA)
  • Ants among elephants : an untouchable family and the making of modern India / Sujatha Gidla (305.568-GIDLA)
  • India conquered : Britain’s Raj and the chaos of empire / Jon Wilson (382 WILSON)
  • Inglorious empire : What the British did to India / Shashi Tharoor (943.03 THAROOR)
  • The chaos of empire : the British Raj and the conquest of India / Jon Wilson (954.03 WILSON)
  • Women of the Raj : the mothers, wives, and daughters of the British Empire in India / Margaret MacMillan (954 MACMILLAN)
  • Raj : the making and unmaking of British India / Lawrence James (954.03 JAMES)
  • An era of darkness : the British empire In India / Shashi Tharoor (954.03 THAROOR)

British American History

  • An empire on the edge : how Britain came to fight America / Nick Bunker (973.3-BUNKER)
  • The rebellion begins : Westborough and the start of the American Revolution / by Anthony Vaver (973.2 VAVER)
  • Independence lost : lives on the edge of the American Revolution / Kathleen DuVal (973.3-DUVAL)
  • The dawn of innovation : the first American Industrial Revolution / Charles R. Morris ; illustrations by J.E. Morris (338.0973-MORRIS)
  • The first American revolution : before Lexington and Concord / Ray Raphael (973.3-RAPHAEL)
  • The spirit of 74 : how the American Revolution began / Ray Raphael and Marie Raphael (973.31-RAPHAEL)
  • American tempest : how the Boston Tea Party sparked a revolution / Harlow Giles Unger (973.3-UNGER)
  • Paul Revere’s ride / David Hackett Fischer (973.3-FISCHER)
  • The shoemaker and the tea party : memory and the American Revolution / Alfred F. Young (973.3-YOUNG)
  • Rebecca Dickinson : independence for a New England woman / Marla R. Miller (B-DICKINSON-MIL)
  • The unknown American Revolution : the unruly birth of democracy and the struggle to create America / Gary B. Nash (973.3-NASH)
  • American creation : triumphs and tragedies at the founding of the republic / Joseph J. Ellis (973.3-ELLIS)
  • The idea of America : reflections on the birth of the United States / Gordon S. Wood (973.3-WOOD)
  • A struggle for power : the American revolution / Theodore Draper (973.3-DRAPER)
  • Revolutionary summer : the birth of American independence / by Joseph J. Ellis (973.3-ELLIS)
  • 1776 / David McCullough (973.3-MCCULLOUGH)
  • Founding myths : stories that hide our patriotic past / Ray Raphael (973.3-RAPHAEL)
  • A people’s history of the American Revolution : how common people shaped the fight for independence / Ray Raphael (973.3092-RAPHAEL)
  • Revolutionary mothers : women in the struggle for America’s independence / Carol Berkin (973.3-BERKIN)
  • American heroes : profiles of men and women who shaped early America / Edmund S. Morgan (973.2-MORGAN)
  • Independence : the tangled roots of the American Revolution / Thomas P. Slaughter (973.311-SLAUGHTER)
  • Revolutionary characters : what made the founders different / Gordon S. Wood (973.3-WOOD)
  • The marketplace of revolution : how consumer politics shaped American independence (973.31-BREEN)
  • Revolutionary founders : rebels, radicals, and reformers in the making of the nation / edited by Alfred F. Young, Gary B. Nash, and Ray Raphael (973.3-REVOLUTIONARY)
  • Revolutionaries : a new history of the invention of America / by Jack Rakove (973.3-RAKOVE)
  • Slave nation : how slavery united the colonies and sparked the American Revolution / Alfred W. Blumrosen and Ruth G. Blumrosen (973.31-BLUMROSEN)
  • Founding mothers : the women who raised our nation / Cokie Roberts (973.3-ROBERTS)
  • The founders and finance : how Hamilton, Gallatin, and other immigrants forged a new economy / Thomas K. McCraw (330.973-MCCRAW)
  • Portrait of a woman in silk : hidden histories of the British Atlantic world / Zara Anishanslin (970.03 ANISHANSLIN)

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