Colonial Myths

Becky Barton has done extensive research on colonial times, with a special emphasis on the historic Wyman Tavern in Keene.

Did George Washington ever sleep at the Wyman Tavern? How about John Stark? Or Salmon P. Chase?

Did Paul Revere really say, “The British are coming! The British are coming!”

In Colonial times, did more women die by fire than in childbirth?

These and other myths will be discussed and confirmed or debunked at a special tour at the Wyman Tavern Museum entitled “Colonial Myths: Busted,” to be offered on July 13 at 2:30 p.m., Aug. 23 at 12:30 p.m. and again Sept. 14 at 2:30 p.m.

The tour will be led by Becky Barton, who has been guiding tours of the Wyman Tavern for about seven years. Becky has a master’s degree in public history, and she formerly worked as an interpreter at the Martin van Buren National Historic Site in Kinderhook, N.Y.

Barton refers to herself as a “Wymaniac.”

“I love the Tavern, I love the time period and I love the Wymans,” she said.

Isaac Wyman and his family owned and operated the Wyman Tavern on Main Street in Keene from 1762 to 1811. Barton has researched the Wyman family in widely scattered sources such as 18th-century newspapers, probate records, town histories, census records and the New Hampshire State Archives.

She has read up on colonial taverns, colonial clothing, colonial laws and historic colonial areas such as Williamsburg, Virginia and Deerfield, Mass., and worked on the team that did an archaeological dig at the Wyman Tavern. In fact, she is writing a book about the Wyman Tavern and the Wyman family.

Barton’s unique Colonial Myths tour will discuss many of those myths we might have learned on historic house museum tours in the past, including some she herself has told.

Barton recently spent two days volunteering as a docent during the Walldogs Magical History Tour. Her post was at the mural of the Wyman Tavern, of course, which was painted at the Keene City Hall.

“As a public historian, history doesn’t get more public than the side of a building for people to see, walk by, and appreciate,” she said.

She notes that the Walldogs artist, Jeff Lang, painted the Wyman Tavern as it was in 1775 when the Minutemen marched off to Lexington. In the mural, the tavern is on the ground with only one step, no portico, and the addition on the north and south sides had not been built yet. Lang had visited the Wyman Tavern in the months leading up to the mural project.

Barton has also coordinated other special tours about the Wyman Tavern. One tour focused on the Wyman children from the late 18th into first half of the 19th century. Another focused on the intriguing lives of Keene’s last town-appointed minister Zedekiah Barstow and his wife, Elizabeth, who ran an informal boarding school for young men out of the historic building during the mid-to-late 19th century.

Another of her tours focused on the two Adams sisters who lived in the building at the turn of the 20th century. And coming next year there will be a special tour about the mysterious life of Isaac Wyman’s youngest son Captain William Wyman, who built a fine mansion on Main Street, which is now Keene State College’s Elliot Hall.

The Colonial Myths tour is $5 and can also be combined with a guided tour of the Wyman Tavern Museum for $10 per person or $5 per person for Historical Society members. The Wyman Tavern is at 349 Main St. in Keene and is operated as a historic house museum by the Historical Society of Cheshire County. The organization has been collecting, preserving and communicating the history of Cheshire County for 92 years. The Society presents about 150 programs each year to help people of all ages “find their place in history.” Throughout the summer, the Wyman Tavern is open to the public for guided tours at 11 am and 1 pm each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. For a list of special tours and events at the tavern, visit hsccnh.org or call 352-1895.