When we take a history class or visit a museum, we expect and hope that the people teaching us will be confident that what they’re saying is fact. After all, history has already happened, right? Everything we need to tell the story is out there, and there’s only so much of it; it’s the historian’s job to just make sure that information is true and pass it along.
But you may have noticed that since you were in school, the story might have changed somewhat. Maybe a legend like George Washington chopping down a cherry tree gets silently removed from your first grade curriculum. Perhaps a cast of once-background characters you didn’t know about before is elevated to be an integral part of the story. Sometimes, even, an educator might admit that we just don’t have a full sense of what happened. This happens to us every day, when we talk about the Battle of Lexington. Despite dozens of eyewitness accounts, we still don’t know who fired that first shot on the Green. Other stories get passed around for decades before a new piece of information comes along that completely contradicts it.
The one thing that I am confident about is that our understanding of history is always evolving. Those who teach history are often called interpreters, and this, I think, is an important term to use. Each person who presents historical information to the public is doing so having picked through countless amounts of information to tell a particular story with a purpose. Each successive generation and individual historian rediscovers the histories written before, and the primary source material, in a new way, based on their own experiences and needs. With this in mind, historians and museums now more than ever are going back through the information they have to uncover the stories of many people who have been left voiceless for so long: women, children, the poor, the enslaved, racial and ethnic minorities, who have been hiding in plain sight in the historical record for centuries.
Right now, we are in the process of compiling all the information we can about slavery in 18th century Lexington as part of an ongoing project to reinterpret the Hancock-Clarke House. It’s a topic that has long been overlooked, partly because of the sense that information about it just doesn’t exist. This couldn’t be further from the truth, however! Our historian, Robert Bellinger of Suffolk University, is carefully poring over records that have never before been looked at with this particular project in mind. Just because the information has been there all along doesn’t mean it’s been properly recognized for its’ importance. Letters, diaries, church records, tax records, account books, probate inventories, receipts, newspapers, and more can blossom with new information if you know where and how to look.
Those of us who work in history are always fans of life-long learning, not only because we enjoy it, but because there is always something new to discover. If you haven’t been to your favorite museum (or one of ours!) in a while, you might want to consider a repeat visit. You never know what new things you might discover!
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
Dear Lexington Historical Society Members and Friends:
I write to you on this beautiful Patriots’ Day morning to say “thank you.” This is my last week as Executive Director of Lexington Historical Society, as I have accepted the position of Grants Manager at Homes For Our Troops based in Taunton, MA. Over the last four years, I have learned a tremendous amount about the Battle of Lexington, Lexington’s role in the Revolution, and the integral role that Lexington played in a variety of historic events and movements over the centuries. Above all, though, I learned about Lexington’s people. I learned that Lexington’s people are proud of their history, excited about their future, and passionate about rolling up their sleeves and doing the right thing.
Because of Lexington’s people, Lexington Historical Society has seen tremendous success during my tenure. In the last four years, Lexington Historical Society has accomplished the completion of its archives center, forged new partnerships with Association of Black Citizens of Lexington and LexPride, brought in over $160,000 in grant funding, completed a major exhibit, and launched a new interpretation project to discuss the history of slavery at its historic sites. On top of all this we were faced with an unprecedented moment in history with the outbreak of COVID-19. Not only did LHS survive, we thrived. We moved all our programming online, created virtual tours, and reached more audiences than we ever have before.
As I leave Lexington, I am confident that Lexington Historical Society will continue to grow by expanding its programs, diversifying its people and collections, and reaching new audiences. Our passionate volunteers and expert staff will ensure that the organization moves forward especially after this pandemic period is over. Already we have opened our museums and planned some outdoor, in-person programming. While my time in Lexington is coming to a close, that does not mean that the work is over. There is so much more to do, and I know that there are so many people waiting to roll up their sleeves. The future is bright, and it is just getting started.
April 19 has been an incredibly significant date ever since that cold spring morning in 1775, when the first shot of the Revolutionary War was fired on Lexington Common, thereby solidifying Lexington’s place in history.
It did not take long at all for the importance of the date of April 19 to be acknowledged, as demonstrated by the fact that exactly one year later on the anniversary of the battle, Lexington’s Reverend Jonas Clarke gave a sermon “to commemorate the murder, blood-shed and Commencement of Hostilities, between Great-Britain and America” begun at the Battle of Lexington. This historic date was thus memorialized, and it has been acknowledged and celebrated ever since.
It was not until March 16, 1894, however, that April 19 became known as the state-recognized holiday of Patriots’ Day when Massachusetts Governor Frederic T. Greenhalge signed a proclamation making the date a legal holiday. Just three years later, it become an even more prominent date when the Boston Marathon began and hosted its first race on Patriots’ Day, which it has done ever since.
For many years, Patriots’ Day was celebrated on the actual date of April 19, but since 1969, it has been observed on the third Monday of April. It has become such an important day of celebration in Massachusetts that it might surprise some to learn that only a handful of other states have adopted Patriots’ Day over the years: Maine, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and North Dakota. Much of the nation is actually much more familiar with the existence of “Marathon Monday.”
The April 19 celebrations in Lexington may have begun as smaller and more humble acknowledgements of the Battle on the Green, but over time, the festivities evolved into what we know today. In 1875, before it was even known in an official capacity as Patriots’ Day, President Ulysses S. Grant visited town on the 100th anniversary of the Battle to participate in what was then “Lexington Day.”
In 1900, for the 125th anniversary, Henry Hudson Kitson’s bronze Minuteman statue (which was originally purposed as a drinking fountain) was unveiled on the corner of the Battle Green, where it remains standing today. In 1915, a large pageant was planned and enacted.
For the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, the 1925 celebration drew particular national participation. Not only was there another pageant, but the federal government helped to create commemorative stamps and coins, and Lexington committees worked to schedule parades, religious services, and ceremonies. Even Vice-President Charles G. Dawes, who was serving under President Calvin Coolidge, attended Lexington’s events that year. Similar events took place in 1975 for the Bicentennial celebrations, and President Gerald Ford was in attendance.
In recent years, especially since Patriots’ Day often falls during various school vacation weeks, thousands of tourists have flocked to Lexington and surrounding towns to view and participate in dozens of reenactments, parades, and other programs commemorating the historic happenings of the day, as well as the events leading up to and following the Battle. For history lovers, myself included, it has become one of the most anticipated days of the year.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 had a major impact on Patriots’ Day festivities in 2020, forcing all events to be either cancelled or held virtually at the last minute. Similarly, there will be very few in-person events in 2021 either, but with more time to plan for virtual events this year, we at Lexington Historical Society are very pleased with our offerings! The Town of Lexington also has their own full calendar, with a variety of events scheduled, including a program on the history of Lexington’s Patriots’ Day celebrations and parades.
This year is not a big anniversary year (though we are already gearing up for the 250th anniversary in 2025!), but the uniqueness of these last two years’ celebrations will certainly make them memorable and historic in their own right as we look back on years of note. With any luck, next year Lexington will once again be able to welcome thousands of visitors to acknowledge such a momentous day for our nation and to engage with us in person!
– Elizabeth Mubarek, Archives Manager
We've come a long way. As a woman growing up in Lexington, I learned a lot about Paul Revere, Sam Adams, John Hancock, and the militia men on the Battle Green at dawn on April 19th. I did not learn a single thing about Ruth Buckman or Mary Munroe Sanderson or Dinah, an enslaved girl at the Hancock-Clarke House.
The stories we tell about our local history are important - they help citizens relate to their town and understand their world. In many towns, especially a town like Lexington with a strong Revolutionary War heritage, male soldiers, politicians, and historians provided a strongly male narrative slant to the town's history.
But Lexington women have been here all along and their lives are as vital to understanding Lexington history as the lives of the Minute Men. Early female members of the Historical Society began the process by looking at their own ancestors, such as this charming article, "A Few Words for Our Grandmothers of 1775. Read by Miss Elizabeth W. Harrington, Dec. 14, 1887."
A decade or more ago, history teacher and longtime LHS member Mary Keenan delved into the archives seeking women's stories and was not disappointed (you can find a copy of Mary's monograph on Julia Robbins Barrett in our online shop).
In 2021, we recognize how incomplete Lexington history is without a full picture of the diverse citizens who have called it home. The Historical Society has recently reopened its exhibit Something Must Be Done: Bold Women of Lexington. Our current CVS pharmacy exhibit, on view from November 2020-May 2021, looks at the women of suffrage. And we're working hand in hand with LexSeeHer (and other history initiatives, such as this one by State Representative Michelle Ciccolo) to make women more visible in Lexington.
We've come a long way. And we are looking forward to the journey ahead!
-Stacey Fraser, Collections and Outreach Manager
Back in December, the Historical Society's staff and volunteers brainstormed some new projects that we hope will help you connect to Lexington history better and support our work at the same time. A few of those initiatives have already launched (here and here) and we have another one in the works!
One of our Programs and Events Committee members suggested making custom images with modern folks added. We experimented with historic photos and paintings in our collection, but alteration to archival images is generally not a wise idea. It can muddle the authenticity of both the real and the altered images in the future.
We also had to select images that did not carry copyright restrictions, which can be tricky with both modern and historic images. Both photographs and paintings can carry copyright for many years after the creator's death. Since we are planning to offer these images for sale (likely $10-15), we had to be very careful. In the end, we settled on our own historic properties and some classic Lexington scenes.
Bernie Sanders, since he was such a meme celebrity after the Inauguration, has been subbed in for YOU in these images. Help us get this project from my desk to your inbox by voting on your favorite concepts in the poll below. If you have another suggestion, please add it as well. Thank you for your support!
-Stacey Fraser, Collections and Outreach Manager
When I first began working in Lexington in 2009, a monument in front of Buckman Tavern was still shiny and new. Erected just a year earlier, the boulder stands as a testament to the memory of Prince Estabrook, one of the Lexington men who fought on the Green in 1775. Estabrook was enslaved in the household of Benjamin Estabrook, in a large home near the Vine Brook just a few blocks from the battle site. Prince was the only Estabrook to make the official list of combatants that morning; Benjamin likely sent him rather than answer the call himself. Prince received a bullet for his efforts, but survived. His story is now one of those highlighted in the story of April 19th, exemplifying some of the most contradictory ideals of the Revolution.
At the time, as a fresh face in town, I heard the name Estabrook quite a bit – it is, of course, the name of one of our elementary schools – and I assumed that the name was prominent in town due to the newfound appreciation of Prince Estabrook in the town’s history. In fact, the school is named for Joseph Estabrook, son of the town’s first minister, and owner of an enslaved man named Tony, assumed to be Prince’s father. He was also the town’s first schoolmaster, hence the memorialization. It was a few years before I realized the discrepancy.
Over the years we have had to wrangle with the contradictory nature of Lexington’s past, as a place where Black men, both enslaved and free, served their country even before it was a country, a place where some traveled south to the Selma march in 1965 while others burned a cross at a church in retaliation. The Green last year was the site of Black Lives Matter protests as well as political rallies of all types. These types of stories are not always well represented in small town historical societies, especially in the North. In the early days of museums, collections were far too often only begun when the town’s wealthiest began to fear that their history would be stripped away by the new melting pot of America.
But learning history in all its beauty and ugliness is important to understand where we have come from and where we may go in the future. Last year, we launched the Black History Project of Lexington, one of the last in-person events of the year, where we began the process of working with the community to collect and understand the Black Lexingtonian experience throughout history. We are also working to study the history of slavery in this town, which will eventually be incorporated into the stories we share in our museums. Andrew Lucibella, an intern who compiled initial research in 2019, shared information last year that he found about the lives of Black citizens of Lexington in the 18th century, which can be viewed here. Stay tuned over the course of the year as we work to bring more inclusive voices into our Lexington story.
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
At the end of each year, we at Lexington Historical Society (and most non-profit organizations) send out what we call our year-end appeal. Usually a letter contained within a card that captures the essence of the year we had, this mailing asks our members and supporters for donations to help us prepare programs, events, and our museums for the new, incoming year.
This year, our year-end appeal was especially important. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we lost about a third of our anticipated revenue in 2020. Therefore, we truly needed the help of our friends to start 2021 off right!
As of today, we have raised $47,000 for our 2020 year-end appeal! We are humbled and appreciative of this wonderful support. While 2020 is over (yay!), we are still accepting donations to help us bring more of the fantastic programs we offer in 2021, whether we have them virtually or in-person. Can you help us reach $50,000?
To give you a sneak peak of what’s to come this year here are just a few of the things we’re working on:
Since we do not receive government funding, it is only through the generosity of our members and friends that we’re able to continue our work. Please consider making a gift to help us get to $50,000 and thrive in 2021. Thank you for your support. We hope to see you in 2021!
-Erica McAvoy, Executive Director
The above quote was written by Theodore Parker, a minister and fiery abolitionist from Lexington. He was also, as noted, the grandson of John Parker, local wheelwright and the captain of the Lexington training band, who stood up on Lexington Common in 1775.
After the events of last Wednesday, January 6, the Historical Society carefully considered its response. We went dark on our social media sites and communications channels until Friday 1/8 to give us time to process the historic events and properly craft a response. We recalled that there is a poignant connection between Parker's words and those of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. We knew that these words have given Americans hope before and will do so again.
The full quote, from Reverend Parker's 1853 sermon, Of Justice and the Conscience is "Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
Dr. King summoned fellow minister Parker's words in Selma, Alabama in 1965 as he declared that justice and equality were long in coming for many, but that he believed they would come. He said, in response to the question of how long will it take to see social justice, "How long? Not long because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. How long? Not long."
Lincoln's Gettysburg address also borrowed from Parker's writings. The sentence "Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, for all the people, by all the people" from Parker's sermon The Effects of Slavery on the American People inspired Lincoln's "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
It's also particularly relevant that President-Elect Joseph Biden referenced Parker's moral arc quote in his November 2020 acceptance speech. Both he and Senator Tammy Duckworth relied on the quote to calm nerves and tempers on the evening of January 6 and the morning of January 7.
After the appropriate quote from Parker was selected, staff and Board members prepared a written statement (reproduced here below). These are historic times - as our statement says, "We must stand for our Constitution, our laws, and our principles. Thank you for standing with us."
Full statement in response to the events of January 6, 2021
246 years ago this April, the fight for American independence began on Lexington Common. Though it would be a long and brutal war, the hard-won prize was a young republic that, ideally, would allow its citizens to have a voice.
That republic has not been perfect - it has been nearly broken apart by civil war; it has been bruised by violence; and not all citizens have had access to the same rights. Amidst these challenges, though, the democratic ideals for which it stands have remained. America has done its best to ensure that its elections are free and fair and that “government by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Lexington Historical Society exists to teach the public about the fight for this American republic and its democratic ideals as represented by our Capitol building. Its tragic desecration on January 6 showed us that we have more work to do, and that our mission has never been more crucial.
We must continue to study the past to learn about our present and shape a better future. We must stand for our Constitution, our laws, and our principles. Thank you for standing with us.
In December of 1753, Reverend Jonas Clarke of Lexington wrote to his brother, Thomas, from Dedham. The letter begins with several sentences of excuses, as Thomas had asked Jonas to write more often . . . and it appears that Jonas had not obliged, due his self-proclaimed very busy schedule. (Haven’t we all been there, especially in December just before the holidays?)
“To speak the truth,” Jonas wrote, “I have been exceedingly drove with business, as you may easily conceive from my having the care of many youth committed to me; for I have, at present, and have had, ever since you was here, about 60 scholars, and sometimes more.”
And doesn’t that just perfectly describe how many of us feel as we end this December of 2020? Like we have been “exceedingly drove?” It has been a long year full of unanticipated stressors, while we continuously adapt to the to the frequently referred to “new normal.” Many of you who are caring for children may even feel like you have had “the care of many youth” committed to you (and, at times, even if you only have a few children, it may even feel like you have had upwards of 60 scholars remote learning in your home). It has been a very strange year indeed, and it is likely that the holidays were quite different for you this year, as well. Now that the hustle and bustle is winding down, maybe you can take a bit of time to relax and regroup before jumping into the new year and all that it may have in store.
Letters like this one from Jonas Clarke, though, are fascinating windows into the minds of individuals throughout time. Personal correspondence can offer insights into how people were feeling at particular moments in history, they can shed light on historic events or routine day-to-day life, and they can really humanize the past for us. Through this letter, we can find ourselves comparing our hectic lives with that of Jonas Clarke over 250 years ago.
At Lexington Historical Society, our interest in these personal texts has led us to launch a brand-new program: Letters of Lexington. This will be a subscription based program where individuals can purchase a 6-month subscription for $100 and receive one curated mailing per month from Lexington Historical Society’s archives. Each month’s mailing will focus on one original short letter that can be found in our archival holdings. Subscribers will receive a scan of each letter, a typed transcription of the letter, and a short description of the letter which will place it into historic context. While the letter will be from Lexington’s archives, that does not mean that it will always focus on the American Revolution! Lexington has a rich and diverse history, and these letters will span from the 18th to the 20th centuries and will be on a variety of topics. Letters will be sent out towards the end of every month, beginning at the end of January 2021.
Our social calendars this winter may not include too many outings or events, and will certainly look different from winters past, but no doubt you will find yourself as “exceedingly drove” as ever for one reason or another. Maybe we can all make a special effort this year to write more letters! And, I hope that you also make a special effort to document your experiences during this unique winter, so that 250 years in the future, residents of Lexington can see how you spent these long months and how you made it through this crazy pandemic time. (And don’t forget to submit anything you take the time to document to our What Life Was Like In Lexington: The Covid-19 History Project!)
Lexington Historical Society wishes everyone a wonderful holiday season and a safe winter! Hopefully, we can all take a deep breath and give a big cheer for 2021!
– Elizabeth Mubarek, Archives Manager
One of the many enjoyable aspects of my job is the chance I get to interact and engage with children interested in history. One of my favorite ways to do this is through our Colonial Crafts program that we have run on Saturdays the past few years. It provides kids with an opportunity to learn a little about life in the Colonial Period, but also to engage with this period of history by creating and crafting their own Colonial craft or object.
Typically, the sessions last an hour with about 15-20 minutes of discussion of the week’s activity and then the remainder of the time devoted to competing the hands-on activity. Through these activities, kids feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when they see the how a handful of everyday supplies have become a useful tool or toy that would have been used by a Colonial child.
Unfortunately, like so many classes or programs this year, we were unable to hold these sessions in person as we typically do. However, as we have done all year in 2020, Lexington Historical Society is re-imagining a popular program and taking it virtual. While I know Zoom meetings and activities have become very common place and that Zoom fatigue is a very real occurrence, I’m hoping these virtual craft activity sessions might provide a brief break from meetings and class lessons and allow the entire family to experience Colonial life and create some fun memories.
The plan for the craft sessions is for kits of supplies to be created and picked up remotely at one of Lexington Historical Society’s historic properties. Each participant will be sent a Zoom link and at the determined time, would join the Zoom with a Lexington Historical Society staff member and work through the activity with them virtually.
The only decision that I need help with is when to hold them so that everyone has an opportunity to participate. I’m hoping to hold these sessions after the holidays, either weekly on a Saturday or a set of sessions during February Vacation Week. So, if you’re interested in the program, please complete the poll at the bottom of the blog and keep an eye out for more details to come!
-Chris Kauffman, Education and Interpretation Manager
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.