J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Reenactment at Spell Hall, Coventry, 16-17 May

The Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead will host a Revolutionary War reenactment on 16-17 May. The fourteen-acre site in Coventry, Rhode Island, will host Continental and British military camps, musket and cannon demonstrations, and tours of Greene’s completely restored 1770 home, Spell Hall.

The event announcement says, “The highlight of each day will be two battles in which Continental Regulars, French and Militia troops will battle British Regulars and Loyalist troops intent on taking the home of George Washington’s second in command and most trusted general.” Which never really happened, but the house can stand in for similar houses fought over elsewhere.

The event runs from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Saturday and Sunday. The Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead is at 50 Taft Street in Coventry. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for children and seniors. All event proceeds to support ongoing education and preservation initiatives of the Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead Association.

I’m curious about the origin of the name “Spell Hall,” which Greene definitely used for his home in the 1770s. One explanation is that neighborhood children went there to learn to spell, but that seems like a folk etymology. My quick searches don’t turn up an explanation in Greene biographies or papers, nor other uses of the phrase in eighteenth-century prose. Does it have any connection with Gen. Charles Lee’s nickname for the Royall mansion, “Hobgoblin Hall”?


Nathanael Greene Homestead said...

We have found reference to Spell Hall in Greene letters as early as 1772.
Dave Procaccini, President
Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks! I also saw Greene use it as a reference to his old home after he settled in South Carolina, indicating the name wasn't just an in-joke among Greene and Samuel Ward and perhaps a few more friends. But how did he come up with it?

Nathanael Greene Homestead said...

Greene was raised a Quaker and was therefore denied a formal education, although he did eventually amass a large book collection and was well-read, hosting many of the great New England intellectuals at his Coventry home, he was always self-conscious of his lack of education and became a big supported of public education. When he took over the Greene foundry in Coventry, he employed over 100 men from the local village at the Forge, blacksmith shop, grist and saw mills. Most of these men had families and children, but there was not a local school, so Nathanael hosted the first elementary school in his parlor. We believe that the student who came to the house to learn spelling, dubbed it Spell Hall, and the name stuck.
On education he wrote "Here then lies the foundation of civil liberty; in forming the habits of the youthful mind, in forwarding every passion that may tend to the promotion of the happiness of the community, in fixing in ourselves right ideas of benevolence, humanity, integrity and truth."

Dave Procaccini, President
Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead