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.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

An Impressive Reenactment in Newport, 27 August

Next Saturday, 27 August, the Newport Historical Society is sponsoring another of its fine large-scale reenactments in the center of town: “Naval Impressment: A 1765 Reenactment in Colonial Newport.”

The society explains:
On the afternoon of August 27, 2016, visitors to downtown Newport’s Washington Square, Perotti Park and the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House can “step back in time” to the summer of 1765. From 1pm-4pm, the Newport Historical Society will host a large scale living history event with dozens of costumed interpreters who will recreate a naval press gang incident.

In June 1765, members of the Royal Navy from HMS Maidstone impressed sailors into service from the area that is today Washington Square. In reaction to this incident, citizens stole Maidstone’s longboat which they set on fire. This negative treatment is one incident that prompted many men to participate in the Stamp Act riots in August 1765.
Rhode Islanders would go on to destroy the Customs ship Liberty in 1769 and H.M.S. Gaspee in 1772. (In contrast, Bostonians destroyed Customs Commissioner Joseph Harrison’s personal boat in 1768 and of course those shiploads of tea in 1773 and 1774. So why did the Crown focus so much of its attention on Boston? I get the feeling the ministers in London already knew Rhode Island was ungovernable.)

There will be three distinct areas of reenactment which the public can watch:
  • At Perotti Park (39 America’s Cup Avenue), interpreters will represent life in the Royal Navy as “impressed sailors” train and discuss life at sea. Visitors can also view a reproduction eighteenth-century boat moored in the harbor.
  • At the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House (17 Broadway), interpreters portraying middle- and upper-class residents will discuss the views on the naval incident and how the loss of sailors impacts their personal economic stance.
  • And Washington Square will be occupied with reenactors portraying many aspects of eighteenth-century daily life including a fish market, a merchant captain, tavern life, a sailmaker, printer, and much more.
There will also be children’s activities and a “family scavenger hunt.”

These activities take place out in Newport’s streets and parks. They are therefore free to all, with the reenactors being hard-working volunteers. Some costs of the event will be defrayed by selling handmade clay tankards which visitors can fill with apple cider at each site. Those tankards cost $25; they can be ordered in advance by calling the Brick Market: Museum & Shop at 401-841-8770 or bought there on the day of the program.

In addition, on 27 August the Newport Restoration Foundation will offer free tours of the William Vernon House, which served as General Rochambeau’s headquarters during the French occupation of the town in 1780-1781. It’s now a private residence, making this thirty-minute tour a rare opportunity to see the interior architectural craftsmanship and and eighteenth-century Chinoiserie parlor panels.

Those tours will run from 11:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M., starting every half-hour. Tickets are free but must be ordered in advance online or by email to Liz@newportrestoration.org.

To read up on the history behind the Maidstone conflict, visit Timothy Abbott’s “Another Pair Not Fellows” blog. He has a four-part discussion of naval impressment in the eighteenth century starting here, as well as a look at the work behind creating a Royal Navy uniform for the young midshipman in charge of recruiting sailors by any means necessary.

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