Monday, September 26, 2011

Rebranding History


The first William Munroe arrived in Boston in 1651 as a Scots prisoner of war, sold in chains as an indentured servant by the British government.   William Munroe, the fourth (1742 – 1847), ran a tavern in Lexington.  On the morning of 19 April 1775 William also served as the second in command at the battle on Lexington Green.   Many family members, Munroes and extended kin, participated in the fight.

New signage at the Munroe Tavern
After a defeat in nearby Concord, the British were on the retreat as they came through Lexington a second time, later that afternoon.  Most of the townspeople were hiding.  With her husband William off fighting, Anna (Smith) Munroe abandoned the tavern, and hid in the woods with her children, and one was only about a week old.  The British met up with Earl Percy and his reinforcement troops and took over the tavern as a field hospital for about two hours.  They nursed wounded soldiers, and rested before retreating back to Boston.  Before they left the Munroe home they killed the caretaker, John Raymond, and tried to torch the tavern.  Several other homes in Lexington burned to the ground, but the tavern was saved.

A new plaque laid in memory of
John Raymond, tavern caretaker
The Munroe Tavern in Lexington, Massachusetts has been a museum showcasing the 18th century Munroe family and life as tavern keepers during the American Revolution.    It was donated by the Munroe family to the Lexington Historical Society in 1911, along with family mementos, including items used by George Washington when he visited the tavern in 1789, family china, portraits, documents, and furniture. Thousands of tourists and school children were able to tour the tavern.  On a middle school field trip I remember hearing the story of the battle, and the family, and how the British tried to destroy the home before moving on down the road.  A British bullet hole in the ceiling was a favorite. On a family visit I remember viewing documents and family items, and the docents would show me where other Munroe descendants had signed the guest books.

Over the weekend I attended the museum house re-opening.  Since my last visit to the Munroe tavern over five years ago the Lexington Historical Society has changed the focus of the museum. According to their website it has undergone “an extensive restoration that included rebranding the Munroe Tavern with the new subhead: ‘Museum of the British Redcoats and Munroe Family Home’” Rebranding!  That word seems cold, just like the decision by someone to remove all the family items I found so charming. Now the museum tells the Munroe family story second to the story of the British Regulars.  With the new changes I will now need an appointment to see items donated from the Munroe family.  The sign outside now reads “British Field Hospital and Headquarters, April, 19 1775”.   Two hours of occupation by the British trumps centuries of Munroe family history?

I’m not against telling the story of the British soldiers in the American Revolution.  In fact, I love discussing the war as more of a civil war, with brother against brother and stories of how families were torn apart by the politics.  There were many, many Loyalists in Boston and Massachusetts, and it’s about time some of their stories were told at museums showing this side of the conflict.  However, this was an odd decision to take a family home, owned by a family who was so staunchly anti-British, who suffered greatly at the hands of the regulars, and turn it into a museum focusing on the soldiers who tried to burn down their home.  And to take all the mementos donated with love, and to put them into permanent storage?  According to Elaine Doran, the collections manager for the Lexington Historical Society, there are no plans to display them anymore, other than possibly loaning a few to an exhibit in Concord next year.

Dr. Phil Budden, UK Consul-General to New England
After promising I wouldn’t rush off and write a rant about my visit to the Munroe Tavern grand re-opening ceremony, I thought carefully about this story before posting.  I still haven’t changed my mind about how history has been re-written here.  In order to show two sides of the war, the Historical Society has put the “Museum of the British Redcoats” in a house where there were no good feelings about the British before, during or after the war.  The public will think there was some sort of reconciliation with the Munroe family.  School children will learn how the British suffered, but not about the suffering the regulars caused?  Even the United Kingdom Consul General to New England, Dr. Phil Budden, who spoke at the grand re-opening, gave incorrect information about the Munroe family and the events on that fateful day.  No one corrected him.  The Boston Globe reported “the historical society has renovated the tavern to accentuate the plight of the redcoats on April 19” but the article has only one short mention of the townspeople’s plight. 

Munroe family members signed depositions about the events on the day of 19 April 1775 that mirror the same horror eyewitnesses expressed at Ground Zero in New York City on 11 September 2001.  Our understanding of what happened in New York in 2001 reminds me of the battle of Lexington in 1775.  It will never be a “feel good story” because there really aren’t two sides of the tale, black and white, but many, many sides colored by all shades of gray because of different opinions and interpretations of what happened. And there has been no resolution or reconciliation yet to either story, even though the United Kingdom is now our greatest world ally.   I used to think that building a mosque at Ground Zero would be a healing gesture, but now seeing a British Redcoat museum in the home where my family members suffered, I’m not so sure… especially not if it means rewriting history. 
A colonial honor guard fires three guns to dedicate
 the memorial to John Raymond,
 killed at Munroe Tavern 19 April 1775


For more information:

Lexington Historical Society http://lhsoc.weebly.com/index.html


Some of my previous blog stories about the Munroe Family:




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The URL for this post is
http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2011/09/rebranding-history.html
 
Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this moving article, Heather. --GJ

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  2. I'm glad you wrote this, Heather. I always flinch when I hear the word "rebranding," because it usually does not represent an improvement.

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  3. That is absolutely shocking! It's not a true history if they aren't showing both sides, but it's a travesty when they ignore almost completely one of the main sides!

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  4. It's something that's becoming more and more common I'm sad to say. History is being rewritten to suit the needs of a group or political party all the time. In this case, somebody comes along with big idea and a donation that essentially turns a piece of family history into a tourist trap. This has nothing to do with telling the story of the British soldier, it's about making a buck. The question is, who gets the money?

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  5. People don't seem to realize that the Lexington Historical Society owns three major Revolutionary sites: Munroe Tavern, Buckman Tavern, and Hancock-Clarke Parsonage. The other two sites continue to focus on the stories of people in Lexington and the Massachusetts militia response.

    As for history being written to reflect current cultural or political trends, or donors' priorities, when has that not happened?

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  6. I was there on a family vacation, my mother is a munroe. We where our family tartan with pride, we walked the house with pride, we sighned the visitor book with pride. Im not sure if I could ever go back to my families home and hold my tongue. I am outraged.

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  7. Heather. Email me at zachary.Ingalls@yahoo.com. I have a rendering of the Munroe Tavern that you might like.

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