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Commems Collection: What If? 1955 Billerica Massachusetts 300th Anniversary

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 Posted 05/03/2021  12:14 pm Show Profile   Bookmark this topic Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
In February 1955, Representative Edith Nourse Rogers (R-MA) introduced in the House of Representatives a bill calling for the striking of "special 50-cent pieces in commemoration of the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of Billerica, Massachusetts." Ms. Rogers was first elected to Congress to fill the vacancy created by the death of her husband, Representative John Jacob Rogers, who died on March 28, 1925 (early in the 69th Congress). Mrs. Rogers completed her husband's term and then served in the House for 17 additional, consecutive two-year sessions until her own death in 1960 during the 86th Congress.

The language of her bill suggests that the half dollar she proposed was intended as a circulating commemorative coin vs. a collector-focused piece - an unusual, though not unprecedented, approach for a commemorative coin proposal. This suggestion is supported by the fact that the bill does not name a sponsor who was to be responsible for the costs of coinage, and its language left the coin's design, and the total to be minted, up to what the Secretary of the Treasury deemed appropriate.

If Ms. Rogers was new to the House, I might consider the bill's wording deficiencies to be the result of being written by someone who was not familiar with commemorative coin legislation and had not seen previous bills. The fact that she had served in Congress during the most active years of the classic era of US commemorative coinage (the 1930s) means that well over 100 coinage proposals were introduced during her time in Congress. So, in my mind, the lack of specific details regarding mintage and sponsor was intentional vs. mere oversight and the possibility that the bill was proposing a circulating commemorative coin seems very real (though misguided).

It's also possible, however, that Rogers was taking a flier on the bill as written, and intended to fill in the details once she had evidence of a positive reception for her bill and belied it had a good chance of passing. Risky, but possible.

Billerica, MA is not exactly a household name in terms of its role in US history. It was formally incorporated in 1655 after a number of families had moved to the area from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1650s. It received its name from the fact that several of the families helping to establish the new town came from Billericay in Essex, England (about 30 miles east of London). In its long history, it has done comparatively little to distinguish itself above other small towns in Massachusetts.

Likely Billerica's biggest claim to fame is its association with the now-patriotic song "Yankee Doodle Dandy" as a result of the misfortunes that befell local Billerica farmer Thomas Ditson, Jr. in March 1775 when he went to Boston in search of a gun to purchase so that he could be ready to join the Billerica Minutemen.

In connection with Ditson's experience, on June 25, 1999, Representative Martin Meehan (D-MA) introduced a House Concurrent Resolution calling for Billerica to officially be recognized as "America's Yankee Doodle Town." Here's the text of the Resolution; I believe it does a good job of summarizing the Thomas Ditson story and giving in meaningful context.


Expressing the sense of Congress that Billerica, Massachusetts, should be recognized as "America's Yankee Doodle Town."

Whereas Thomas Ditson, Jr., a Billerica farmer, and a future member of the Billerica Minuteman Company, was seized by British soldiers in March of 1775, subsequently tarred and feathered, and paraded through the streets of Boston;

Whereas the soldiers accompanying him were said to have played the tune of "Yankee Doodle," on their fifes and drums, and to have sung an original verse of the song which ridiculed his plight;

Whereas the incident inspired outrage among the American Colonists and served to fan the flames of dissidence;

Whereas during the Revolutionary War, "Yankee Doodle" was transformed into an anthem of Yankee pride;

Whereas 1 month after the incident that inspired the original song lyrics, on the fateful day of April 19, 1775, Thomas Ditson, Jr., did fight with the Billerica Minutemen in Concord, Massachusetts, at the Battle of Meriam's Corner;

Whereas the residents of Billerica celebrate their Revolutionary Heritage every year with a ``Yankee Doodle Homecoming'' festival, honoring Thomas Ditson, Jr., and commemorating the role of Billerica in the fight for American independence; and

Whereas the title ``America's Yankee Doodle Town'' was formally adopted by Billerica's Board of Selectmen in 1988, and reflects the sense of town pride residents feel in Billerica's connection to the song: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that Billerica, Massachusetts, be recognized as "America's Yankee Doodle Town."

The Resolution was referred to Committee but never resurfaced. Meehan introduced an identical Resolution on September 14, 2005, but, as with the first Resolution, it died for lack of action after being referred to Committee.

One follow-up on the text of the Resolution, the original verse of the song described as being sung by the British soldiers is believed to be the following:

Yankee Doodle came to town,
For to buy a firelock,
We will tar and feather him,
And so we will John Hancock.

The 1955 Billerica coin bill was referred to the House Committee on Banking and Currency but was never reported out; no companion bill was introduced in the Senate. There would be no coin!

The bill was introduced at a time when Congress was no longer seriously considering commemorative coin legislation. Congress had tested the waters in 1953, when it authorized three coin bills - the 150th Anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, the 300th Anniversary of Northampton, MA and the Tercentenary of New York City. President Dwight David Eisenhower, however, vetoed all three of the bills on February 3, 1954 and effectively ended US commemorative coins for two plus decades. National commemorative medals became the commemorative souvenir of choice for Congress, with several dozen commemorative medal bills being approved during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

At the time of Billerica's anniversary, the Billerica Historical Society was active (it remains active today) and did sponsor a set of four commemorative plates that were crafted by Wedgewood of England, but I have found no reference to the group being involved with a commemorative half dollar or medal. For completeness of story, the Society also commissioned a set of six commemorative plates in 1905 for its 250th anniversary and one plate in 2005 for its 350th anniversary.

So, collectors have to be content with the 1925 Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial half dollar, and, if they are Billerica fans, take comfort in knowing that the Billerica Minutemen played a role in the battle! (Unless, of course, they collect commemorative plates!)

For more What if? posts, check out Read More: Commems Collection.

Collecting history one coin or medal at a time! (c) commems. All rights reserved.
Edited by commems
05/03/2021 12:20 pm
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 Posted 05/03/2021  12:35 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Coinfrog to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Succinct and informative as always!
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 Posted 05/03/2021  7:07 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add nickelsearcher to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Tremendous information commems - never known facts and stories that only you have shared.

Thank you for al your contributions.
Take a look at my other hobby ...
Too many hobbies .... too much work .... not enough time.
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