The Way It Was In the State House

When the Speaker of the House named an official historian, I didn't appreciate it, didn't need it, and figured I was in for a series of boring history lessons.

That's because history, to me, has seldom come alive. It was always a series of dates to be memorized, events to be summarized in a sentence or two, and pages of information to be soon forgotten.

Oh, there were a couple exceptions over the decades. One was Guy McLain, who edited the Springfield Quadrangle's "Pictorial History of the Pioneer Valley." He could tell a great story, make history live. I'd relate some of the great stories about Westfield's history that are included, but someone stole my copy of this beautiful book.

Now, I have another exception. Representative Joe Gallitano of Plymouth, the new House Historian, who made his first presentation in a series called "This Is the Way It Was in This Great House."

He started in the beginning, June 1630, so I guess we're in for another 367 years of history lessons. If they're as good as his first, I'll know why the Speaker named him House Historian.

Because Joe is one of those people who can make history come to life.

We sit in the House Chamber for hours, looking at the sacred cod, and the clocks, talking to colleagues, debating bills, taking votes and making speeches. But few ever take time to think about the murals surrounding us.

So Joe started with the first mural--Governor John Winthrop arriving in Salem to deliver the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Trading Company. It was the beginning of a metamorphose resulting in the Declaration of Independence and a new nation in 1776.

Back to 1630. The first time an English trading company set up headquarters in a foreign land, rather than in London, was marked by this charter Winthrop delivered.

The Massachusetts Charter is the only charter of all the colonies that actually survives today, probably because, by design or accident, maybe fraud or a bribe, it alone didn't bear language that required the company's headquarters to be in London. The Charter is in the State House archives and a replica has been placed outside the House Chamber.

Governor Winthrop, a Puritan and an attorney, was the first Governor elected to head the Massachusetts Bay Company. He gradually moved his company from Salem to Watertown and finally to Boston.

When he came ashore that June, bringing the Charter in a chest, he was greeted by the Board of Assistants, the investors in the Massachusetts Bay Company. This gathering was often referred to as "A Great and General Assemblie", or Court, and was in charge of settling all matters within the colony, including disputes.

Just a few months after the Charter's arrival, Massachusetts' Great and General Court met for the first time. The date was October 19, 1630, and the Great and General Court is what you know today as the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

It is the oldest, continuous House of Representatives in the country, by the way, and the State House where we meet today will be 200 years old in 1998.

For the next several months you won't be able to see our famous golden dome--it will be shrouded and workers will climb high above Boston to regild the dome. But you're always welcome to call to arrange a tour, or a visit.

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