by Ashley Perry
On October 21, 1775 the Taunton chapter of the Sons of Liberty created what came to be known as the Liberty and Union flag — a banner of red cloth with “Liberty and Union” stitched boldly upon it with the Union Jack on the upper left corner — and flew it high on the Taunton Green in protest of British rule. This flag is considered to be one of the first flown of the American Revolution, and it’s inception is celebrated annually at the Liberty and Union Festival, sponsored by the Old Colony History Museum and the Downtown Taunton Foundation.
Founded in 1853, the Old Colony History Museum is one of the oldest historical societies in New England and is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and exhibiting the history of Southeastern Massachusetts. OCHM’s secondary mission is “to interpret the area’s history in ways that are accessible, inclusive and meaningful to local residents and visitors” through outreach and events. Their vast collections contain over 13,000 objects including textiles, silver, and militaria as well as 500 linear feet of archival materials. The Museum also houses a sizable research library containing genealogical materials related to Plymouth County. Rotating exhibits highlight important moments of the “Old Colony’s” history. Visitors can now see the latest special exhibit, A View of Plymouth Colony: Then & Now, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower.
The Downtown Taunton Foundation is a relatively new nonprofit organization established in 2011 to “promote the arts, strengthen small business, eliminate blight, create affordable housing, and improve overall quality of life in the Downtown neighborhood.” The Downtown Taunton Foundation collaborates often with the Old Colony History Museum, and has sponsored the Liberty and Union Festival since the organization’s creation.
The weekend-long patriotic bash now known as the Liberty and Union Festival has taken place every October since its inception in the 1990s. Originally beginning as a small parade, the event has expanded over the years to encompass a full weekend of historical and local fun. Activities vary year to year, but the festival always includes the raising of the Liberty and Union flag complete with historical reenactment and rousing speeches. Over the years, the festival has even drawn groups of reenactors from across New England to partake in the celebration. OCHM also brings in a variety of local historians and scholars to give lectures and talks, and the festival typically includes free tours of the Museum and the First Parish Church as well as walking tours through downtown Taunton.
While the festival was created to highlight an important historical moment for Taunton, it also serves as a celebration of local art, culture, and business. The 2013 festival included a stall with 18th century cuisine prepared by Taunton High School culinary students as well as a “Liberty Libations” pub crawl in the evening. 2015 showed one of the largest turnouts to date at about 300-400 people, and further incorporated food trucks, arts and crafts vendors, as well as musicians and dancers. Other favorites included 18th century dance lessons, colonial games, and pottery demonstrations. While the 2020 Liberty and Union Festival couldn’t take place in-person due to COVID-19, OCHM was determined to continue the tradition. Through online games and activities as well as a live stream of the flag raising ceremony, the Museum was able to bring the patriotic celebration right to families’ homes.
The Festival has a little bit of everything, which may be why it’s been so successful in connecting with the community. It embraces Taunton’s historical significance while simultaneously celebrating the local artists and businesses of the present. While locals appear to make up most of the festival-goers, Liberty and Union also attracts visitors from other parts of Plymouth County as well as regional politicians and officials. While the program is designed as a community outreach event, it has also been an effective way for the Old Colony History Museum to advocate for their program. Not only was the Museum able to get more visitors through their doors (including those who didn’t realize the Museum even existed!!), their patrons kept coming back for more after the event’s conclusion. For that, the Liberty and Union Festival deserves a grand “Huzzah!”
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