Last Saturday, we stepped back in time to 1765 in Newport. I know: Newport always seems to be in a different time than gritty Providence, but this trip was truly different.
We were headed across the Bay for a Stamp Act Protest (no rioting, per police request). In this effort, we joined a large group of recruits from New England and even beyond, to fill Washington Square and other sites in the city.
Stationed around the square were sailors mending or making a sail*, an apprentice-less printer, a sleepy apprentice boy, a tailor and his journeyman, a milliner, and leading citizens, one of whom was kind enough to read the newspaper to the apple seller, who wonders what has become of her son.
Up the street, some very fine ladies were having tea. Their refinement was evident in their appearance and dress, as well as in the elegant setting of their tables. They wanted none of my apples, as they had imported citrus fruits, far better than the apples the island’s trees produce. (Wasted on tea, truly: what one wants to do with a lemon is to find some rum and make a punch.)
The news was very bad, and tempers flared in the square. Mistress Ellery told me that dinner parties had become impossible to hold: parties nearly come to blows over discussions of taxes, customs, stamps, and the oppressive policies of Mr Robinson, who insists on enforcing the very letter and penny of the law. (He was quite insulting on the quality of my apples, indeed, spitting one upon me even as he continued to eat it!)
As the afternoon wore on, the debate grew more intense and the crowd more heated. And effigy of Mr Howard was made, paraded, and hung, and then the crowd of protesters dispersed to the White Horse Tavern.
Tensions seemed to dissipate, though when the runner came, the protesters– now fortified with ale, porter and cider–ran down the street to “plunder” Mr Howard’s house, played here by the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House.
Although the mistress of the house tried to reason with them, the crowd would not be dissuaded, convinced of their mission (and perhaps more fortified than you would expect after just one glass). They carried their loot to the front of the Colony House, and heaped it up, glorying in their success.
In the end, the house was not looted, tensions were dissipated, and the protesters dispersed into the afternoon. We were well-rewarded with cheese and ale at the Colony House, and enjoyed discussing the events of 1765 and 2014 with the public and Newport Historical Society staff members.
*Yes, Virginia, they do look like tents. That’s because they are tents. Someday, Light Infantry soldiers will sleep beneath that canvas. But for now, keep stitching!