Town of Leicester
Purchased in 1686 by a group of businessmen from Roxbury, Leicester was settled and incorporated in February of 1713. The town was first called Towtaid, which was the name given by the Nipmuc Tribe who had sold the land, and later Strawberry Hill since wild strawberries grew in great quantities. The name Leicester was finally settled upon, after Leicester, England where the father of the first selectman, Thomas Green, was from.
During the American Revolution, Leicester played a significant role. Its standing militia company and its company of minutemen marched to Lexington and Concord to aid in the defeat of the British regulars. The term “minuteman” itself has its origins in Leicester. At a meeting of the Committee of Safety in 1774, Colonel William Henshaw of Leicester first suggested its use when he stated, “we must have companies of men ready to march upon a minute’s notice.”
By the time of the Civil War, Leicester was an active and vibrant place. There were carding and textile mills operating in villages of Leicester Center, Greenville, Cherry Valley, Rochdale, Mannville and Lakeside. When the war broke out, those who made a living from the mills did not want to see their livelihood destroyed. Wealthy mill owners did not want to see their textile supplies disappear and thus did not support the Abolitionist movement.
Rev. Samuel May was pastor of the Unitarian Church. May had worked with many prominent abolitionists such as Lucy Stone and Abby Kelly Foster. May’s home on the east end of the town common is a confirmed site on the Underground Railroad. After May’s death, Booker T. Washington along with members of the Tuskegee Institute delivered a speech on May’s work on the steps of the Unitarian Church.
Some notable residents of Leicester include inventor Eli Whitney, Samuel May, pastor and abolitionist, inventor Pliny Earle I and Emory Washburn, a governor of Massachusetts.