The “real” Chestertown Tea Party almost certainly never happened. But the fake one local townsfolk have been staging every Memorial Day weekend for four-plus decades now is quite well done! It’s like a scene at Colonial Williamsburg, only this one unfolds in the midst of a 21st century block party awash in beer, bands, and vendors.
The re-enactment of a May day in 1774 kicks off with a dozen of so amateur actors in colonial garb jumping up on barrels and hay bales, urging everyone to gather ’round and join in an emergency civic meeting. A couple of them recount recent events in Boston and then everyone engages in a spirited back-and-forth debate about whether to throw their own Tea Party right here and right now.
Soon enough, the colonials lead all us festival goers in a march down to the Chester River. Along the way, there is an exchange of warning shots with some menacing Redcoats, then another round of debate, and then finally, our plucky heroes row out and board the brig Geddes. There, they toss both tea and Redcoats overboard to boisterous cheers from the assembled throng back on the shore.
Local lore says an event like this actually happened in 1774, but historians who have reviewed the evidence are quite doubtful. One of them, Adam Goodheart, works in Chestertown at Washington College, and he wrote a swell essay in the American Scholar about what it was like to debunk a town’s cherished myth while living and working in that very town.
But back to the larger Tea Party Festival, which stretches along the five or so blocks between the waterfront and the downtown. There are some events on Friday night, but the real party is on Saturday and Sunday. There is a slew of music, most of it in the sea-chanty and colonial-era categories. Kids can play chess against Ben Franklin. A giant crab is wandering randomly about. There’s a parade, puppet shows, fencing demos, square dancing, and a whole lot more.
All in all, this one’s pretty top notch. Keep up with plans for future Chestertown Tea Party Festivals here.