The National Heritage Museum will open “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution,” its new cornerstone exhibition, on the state’s Patriots’ Day holiday, Monday, April 16.
This new long-term installation is designed to stimulate new ways of thinking about the Battle at Lexington on April 19, 1775, a conflict that will always spark the American imagination. In addition to describing the battle and events that led up to it, the exhibition will explain why members of this small farming community were willing to take arms against their own government to protect a way of life. The exhibition comprises a mix of objects, documents, images, re-creations of historic environments and interactive elements.
“Sowing the Seeds of Liberty” will replace “Lexington Alarm’d,” the museum’s current exhibition on colonial life that has been on view since April 19, 1995. In the past decade, historians have uncovered new perspectives on the parts played by ordinary people in shaping the historical events at Lexington’s Battle Green, while new user-friendly technologies can tell the story in a more interactive experience.
Much of the exhibition’s focus centers on two main Lexington leaders, John Parker and Jonas Clarke. Parker, among the many roles he played, was the elected captain of the local militia. He was in charge of the men on the town common when the British regiment arrived from Boston. Legend has it that his last order to his men was, “Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
Clarke was minister of the local church and was a strong and well-respected voice in favor of independence. “Seeds of Liberty,” however, makes clear that the revolution involved more than those that stood on the Green. The entire town was involved. The idea of revolution permeated all facets of life. In the small town of Lexington, everyone was connected, either by family, trade or church †often by all three. The exhibition’s organization reveals the story.
In Lexington circa 1774, everyone was a farmer. People may have had other jobs, such as blacksmith, cooper or wheelwright, but all were tied to the land. Every man was also citizen-soldier.
A compelling image in the exhibition underscores that theme as a farmer transforms into a soldier and then back again. Images and artifacts relating to farming †especially dairy farming, which was central to the Lexington economy †are on display in this section.
Visitors are introduced to family life in the 1770s through the Loring family. Visitors meet the Lorings in their kitchen where the family of five women, two men and a baby worked and gathered. Visitors will learn about the tasks the Loring girls undertook, such as making cheese and butter, cooking, cleaning and producing wool, all of which contributed to the family economy.
The roots of revolution are revealed, and visitors learn how tension mounted in the region over several years. Historic, as well as not-so-famous, protests are examined, such as the Boston Tea Party and the lesser-known Lexington Tea Bonfire. A video tells of the gathering storm between 1765 and 1774 as seen through the eyes of Paul Revere. Known chiefly for his “midnight ride,” this famous patriot was also a Freemason, a silversmith and a political cartoonist, and he maintained strong ties to Lexington.
Besides his historic role on Lexington Green, Parker was a local businessman. Primarily a wheelwright, the talented Captain Parker also crafted furniture, barrels, tools and presses. Through examples of the kind of tools Parker used, several of which visitors can use, the exhibition brings Parker’s world to life.
Lexington residents discussed political matters and also tended to spiritual matters in the meetinghouse. Reverend Clarke occupied a unique position in Lexington as both a spiritual and a political leader. As tensions built over a period of years, townspeople initiated military preparations at the meetinghouse. They stockpiled military supplies in the building, including storing gunpowder under the pulpit.
The museum is at 33 Marrett Road. For information, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org or 781-861-6559.