The Bruder House and Wyman Tavern, located right here in Keene, is flush with charming New England history. Built in 1762, The Tavern served as a public house for 40 years, and was a notable meeting point for 29 New England Minutemen to gather before marching to and battling in The Battle of Lexington and Concord back in April of 1775. Today, it is known as one of the most historic buildings in all of Cheshire County, and is forever preserved in its 18th century charm. The Wyman Tavern Museum is open to the public during these lovely summer months. With a little help of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, it has hosted a series of public events between May and August this year, per Covid-19 safety restrictions.
Jenna Carroll is the Director of Education for the Historical Society of Cheshire County. Carroll manages a myriad of adult and youth programs in the area, including this year’s 18th Century Living History Events Festival, taking place at the Wyman Tavern Museum this year. Professional craftspeople and re-enactors have been on sight all summer, illuminating the art of “doing history”, as Carroll calls it. Tickets are available online for purchase - $10 for adults and free for children under 18. The Tavern Museum is a Blue Star Museum, so veterans and active military also get in for free.
Although the pandemic put a slight damper on things, Carroll has noticed that the smaller, more intimate gatherings bode well with the relationship between the re-enactors and the audience. Folks have been spending more time listening and asking questions, and less time scurrying through each station.
“It’s been really fun seeing the kids ask questions and interact with the re-enactors more than they ever have before,” Carroll explained. “It’s been really refreshing!”
The Festival was broken into four sections – back in May, the Tavern Museum hosted a Woodworking demonstration. A team of professionals highlighted some woodworking techniques that were used during the 18th century, when Keene was becoming more of a permanent settlement. In June, there was a Home Crafts presentation that focused on what men and women dressed like in the late 1700’s. Re-enactors demonstrated how to dye wool, weave cloth, and what textiles were prominent during the time. Last month, there was a Metalsmithing demonstration, and three metalsmiths displayed their tinsmithing, blacksmithing, and pewter talents.
This month (August 28th), the Rogers Rangers Garrison will be demonstrating camp life – scouting, leatherwork, gun repair, and general lifestyle skills that were pertinent during the 18th century. Robert Rangers was an extremely important figure in the area – he began his Ranger Company back in 1755 as a “company of provincial forces” as Kathy Scott (a member of Rogers Own since 2002) puts it. In other words, people were born in the colonies, not the “motherland” known as England. Colonies were deemed Provinces, and land grants were provided at the King’s discretion.
Scott explained that Rangers himself was born in Methuen, MA, moving to Moutalona (now Dunbarton), NH as a child. It was there where he was exposed to Abenaki culture, ultimately incorporating those hunting, tracking, and fighting techniques he learned on the frontier into his professional work. Many original Rogers’ companies were filled by New Hampshire men from Peterborough, Dublin, Marlborough, Keene, and Winchester. The strong Scots-Irish heritage in the area at the time may have been the reason so many decided to join the Provincial Rangers – that, and the pay (the King’s shilling was offered to England-borne) was three times as much as enlisting in the Regular Army!
Scott and her husband, Don, really enjoy living history – the craft has served as “a wonderful tool for learning as well as teaching craft, history, and literature”, as [Kathy] Scott puts it. “Life is so cyclical,” she said. “So much of the present was dealt with by our ancestors on their terms and in their times. It has made our towns what they are today, making us what we are today!”