Worcestory Lesson: Strange bedfellows unite to turn Worcester into a modern 1848 city

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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.

One of the first ordinances passed by the new city government was to establish the city seal.

Courtesy Worcester Public Library

One of the first ordinances passed by the new city government was to establish the city seal.

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.

An April 5, 1848 advertisement in the National Aegis for an abolition meeting. Worcester as a hotbed of social causes in the 1800s.

Courtesy Worcester Public Library

An April 5, 1848 advertisement in the National Aegis for an abolition meeting. Worcester as a hotbed of social causes in the 1800s.

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.


More Worcestory Lessons:

All aboard! The heyday of Worcester trolley service

Postcard from the author’s collection. Postmarked May 14, 1941.

Courtesy David DuBois

Postcard from the author’s collection. Postmarked May 14, 1941.

A trip down memorial lane, starring the Aud



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