If you’ve seen the musical Hamilton (or have listened to the soundtrack on unending repeat and have only dreamed of seeing it live), you probably know a little about the early conflict between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. Put simply, the Federalists supported a strong central government and nationalized banks, services, etc., while their opponents supported giving most governmental power to the states. This was the start of America’s political parties. The feud was contested and biases bled into newspapers...such as the Massachusetts Spy/Worcester Gazette. In the clipping below, we see an Independence Day article from July 4, 1810 that is more than it seems.
The article wishes readers well on Independence Day but is laced with not-so-subtle support for the Federalist cause: the piece’s writer refers to the city of Boston as “the headquarters of good principles.” During the first decade of the 1800s, Federalists, led by orator and Representative Fisher Ames, became the dominating political force in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and Ames had strong influence nationwide. Other subtle jabs at anti-Federalists appear throughout this paragraph, most significantly at the end of the paragraph when the writer wishes “every true friend of America” a better 4th of July in 1811. This implies that Federalists are the true friends of America and their opponents are not. This simple write-up celebrating July 4th is, in reality, a short editorial. Despite the frequent warnings from President George Washington, political parties had sunk their claws into American government.
Looking through historical texts and newspapers in our Local History Room can often be challenging. A lot of the time, you’re looking for something exciting to jump out at you—a famous person visiting town or, even, a catastrophe which forever changed the face of West Boylston. But part of studying history is learning to love the little details that aren’t written in any textbook.
Take the article below from June 1815. At first glance, it doesn’t seem interesting: a reminder that the annual meeting of the “West-Boylston Manufacturing Company” will have a meeting at a local factory to elect officers. At second glance, it’s still not that interesting, but it’s cool to see the institutions the town had in 1815. This manufacturing company was likely dedicated to organizing the business and its accounts. Many more notices like this one appear in that same issue of the newspaper: advertisements for meetings of local groups, ads for new job positions at farms or factories, and notices of death or marriage. If nothing else, this tiny, minuscule, seemingly unimportant paragraph reminds us that newspapers have not changed much in two hundred years. There are still notices or advertisements for local events. Sometimes, the “little pieces” of history can be as thought provoking and eye-opening as the records of the largest events.
The construction of the reservoir in the 1890s and early 1900s took a toll on West Boylston and, to a lesser extent, our neighboring communities. Mills and homes were torn down or else bought and moved to other parts of the state. Some of these displaced houses sold for anywhere from $5 to a whopping $15 (these prices are equal to hundreds of dollars in today’s money, still a relatively low cost for purchasing and moving a home).
To make up for the loss of industry and residences, the State of Massachusetts decided to reimburse West Boylston and Boylston for the land taken away; $2,000 per year (later $3,000) for Boylston and $12,000 per year for West Boylston “as long as each of said towns remains a municipality.” $12,000 per year is surely a fitting repayment for the destruction of an entire town’s industrial hub.
Below is Section 16 of the 1897 Annual Report of the Metropolitan Water Board published on Jan. 1, 1898. It details, with some revisions, the decision to repay the Boylstons and also to protect Boston from paying for potential reservoir construction.
From 1918 to 1919, a powerful strain of influenza, commonly known as Spanish Influenza, killed approximately 60 million people worldwide. The flu was unusual because it killed previously healthy people in their 20s-40s within hours or days, whereas normal strains of influenza mostly kill the elderly, the very young, or people with previous conditions. In the United States, over one-quarter of America’s population caught the flu and about 700,000 people died. In Massachusetts, roughly 45,000 people died. Some estimates state that 6% of the world’s population died in the span of one year. The outbreak of the Spanish flu also contributed to the end of World War I; about one-third of deaths among military personnel were as a result of the flu or other diseases.
And, unfortunately, West Boylston was not free from the Spanish flu. Below are two Board of Health reports in annual town reports; one is from 1918 and the other 1919. As we can see in the 1918 report, seven people died from the flu between September and the end of the year. The total amount of people who had the flu and survived is not stated. In 1919, fifteen people caught the flu. The amount of people who died from the flu is not stated. Many of the people who died from the flu in town died from pneumonia caused by the flu. Some died quickly, others lingered for days, weeks, or even months. Whole families became sick and, in some cases, all died. Public buildings, including the schools and libraries, closed to prevent spreading of the disease. It was truly a terrifying time to live.
The period of 1918-1919 was filled with mixed emotions: World War I drew to a close in late 1918 and early 1919, but the devastating flu ravaged the world. The staggering amount of people killed by the flu worldwide—60 million or more—reminds us of the sheer power of disease and nature’s indifference to its victims.