For most of its history, Worcester has been a city of immigrants. It began its life as a small agricultural community, and at the time of the first census in 1790 had about 2,000 residents. By the mid 1800s, however, immigration to the city exploded.
In the five-year period between 1845 and 1850, historians estimate that the city’s Irish population grew by 433 percent. Immigration more than doubled the size of Worcester between the 1840 and 1850 censuses. The influx of new arrivals ushered in a period of rapid growth that continued up through the 1950s.
Tensions between old and new residents often manifested themselves in unanticipated ways. In Worcester’s growing immigrant population the local temperance movement found its raison d’être. Alcohol was strictly controlled in puritanical Massachusetts. New arrivals brought with them different cultural ways around drinking. This combined with local ideals of freedom and liberty to form powerful and sometimes violent action against the state’s stringent laws.
Temperance in Worcester was born from equal parts social reform and desire for law and order in a changing city. The town government had proved itself ill-equipped to police its growing population and provide much-needed services. The temperance movement backed the calls by Worcester’s political elite — led by the Lincoln, Salisbury and Estabrook families — to change the form of government.
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