1790, 1790s, 18th century, George Washington, John Brown, John Brown House Museum, Providence, Rhode Island Historical Society, Rhode Island history
No, Love: I didn’t get drunk and punch someone.
On Saturday, we commemorated the 225th anniversary of President Washington’s visit to Providence after Rhode Island finally ratified the United States Constitution on May 29th, 1790. We like to take our time with these things, to be sure that we will have all the rights we’re accustomed to. Happily, we did decide to go along with this United States of America business, and as a reward, His Excellency President Washington made a formal visit in August, 1790. It rained then; this time, we had sultry summer weather.
Once again, the housekeeper spent the day running back and forth and up and down the stairs. Fortunately, I didn’t trip on the gown too much: it’s longer than I usually wear, but I did catch the hem on my shoe buckle, so some tweaking will be required.
There was the kind of ceremony and formality you would expect, with very little drama, which made for a simpler day than we often have. The afternoon was warm, the speeches were short, and the toasts were drunk.
Of course, you have to look out for John Brown’s housekeeper, who is all too happy to spend her afternoon reading and making punch. Unlike a real 18th century person, I had no idea where to start with punch beyond the basic: rum. I turned to my friends for assistance, and got some solid advice, including a reference to Punch: The Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl.Chapter VIII helpfully turns to “How to Make Punch, or the Four Pillars of Punch.”
I don’t always manage to read all the way through the directions I am meant to be following, but the oleo-saccharum was relatively straightforward, since the instructions were entirely on one page. Lemon peels, sugar, mashing. These are simple things that you can handle even in a week when the workplace van has been stolen and recovered, and you’ve had conversations in which someone asks you to find a photograph for them, even though they don’t know where they saw it.
That went well enough, but I got distracted along the way by the excitement in the house, and added the correct ingredients in the wrong order. I don’t think it mattered. Water, black tea, lemon juice, and a bottle of Smith & Cross rum all went in to the redware pitcher and wafted up the back stairs, giving the servants’ quarters a festive ambience.
While the partakers did not know, the bowl from which they ladled punch had once been used in cleaning the Mr Brown’s house– but that only meant it was quite clean, and thus suitable for use. The bowl was nearly emptied and replenished once, by which time Mr Brown’s housekeeper had sampled quite enough of the concoction.