Newport RI History

“Step back in time” to the summer of 1765 with the Newport Historical Society

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-5pm, 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 during Naval Impressment: A 1765 Reenactment in Colonial Newport.

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.

During Naval Impressment: A 1765 Reenactment in Colonial Newport, visitors can roam between three locations that have distinct connections to the incident that will be portrayed:

  • At Perotti Park (39 America’s Cup Avenue), interpreters will represent life in the Royal Navy where they will train “impressed sailors” and discuss life at sea. Visitors can also view a reproduction 18th century boat which will be moored in the harbor and learn about what sailing was life during the Golden Age of Sail.
  • 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 18thcentury daily life including a fish market, a merchant captain, tavern life, a sailmaker, printer and much more.

Naval Impressment: A 1765 Reenactment in Colonial Newport allows visitors to learn about life in a colonial seaport. Children’s activities will be available along with a family scavenger hunt that will help visitors engage with interpreters and make learning about history more fun.

“Given the popularity of the Stamp Act Protest over the last two years, we wanted to offer another site-specific reenactment,” the Society’s Executive Director Ruth Taylor explains. “This year’s theme illustrates life in a seaport whose economy was built upon maritime trade. It’s a style of event that has not been interpreted at any other historic site in our region. It’s truly unique.”

The Society will sell reproduction tankards that visitors can fill with apple cider at each of the three locations where the living history event takes place–Washington Square, Perotti Park and the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House. The handmade tankards cost $25, which includes several cider refills during the afternoon program.

The tankards can be pre-ordered by calling the Brick Market: Museum & Shop at 401-841-8770 or purchased there the day of the program. Event attendees purchasing this tankard receive an extra 15% off at the museum shop on August 27th.

To gear-up for an afternoon of historical interpretation, the Newport Restoration Foundation will offer free tours of the William Vernon House. This property was once one of the grandest homes in colonial Newport and served as General Rochambeau’s headquarters during the French occupation in 1780-1781. Now a private residence, enjoy a rare opportunity to explore this Newport treasure during a free 30 minute tour that features the building’s architectural craftsmanship and a rare chance to view 18th century Chinoiserie parlor panels. Tours offered at 11am, 11:30, noon and 12:30pm. Tickets are free but advance registration is required; click here to order tickets online or email

“The Naval Impressment reenactment along with the Vernon House tour offers a chance to experience life in colonial America for locals and visitors,” Taylor concludes, “and it’s all free.”