In Episode 319 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger belly up the haunted Tavern on Main in Chepachet, Rhode Island, searching for ghosts. Back in 1842, this tavern became the epicenter of the Dorr Rebellion — a parallel Rhode Island government that was vying to allow all men in the state to vote. The rebellion turned violent, but it did force some changes. Today the ancient tavern is haunted by spirits from many eras.
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[WALKING DOWN SIDEWALK]
[CARS DRIVING BY]
RAY: Hmmmm… It’s just about Beer o’clock.
JEFF: I think you may be right. Good thing there’s a tavern right here on the Putnam Pike in Chepachet, Rhode Island.
RAY: That IS convenient. Let’s head inside.
[DOOR OPENS / PUB NOISE]
RAY: This place is a time warp for sure! This looks like an old New England tavern. There’s rustic tables and décor. And…. Oh yes… there’s the bar in the back. Two of those, please! (PAUSE) Cheers!
JEFF: Cheers, Ray. This is the old Stagecoach Tavern. Today it’s known as the Tavern on Main. It was built in the early 1700s, back when this country was still England. These walls and grounds have seen a few things over the centuries…. Maybe that’s why today they call this bar and restaurant… Chepachet’s most haunted….
JEFF: Hello, I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Welcome to Episode 319 of the New England Legends podcast. Thank you for being part of our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time.
JEFF: We can’t do it without you! We’re always on the hunt for stories of ghosts, monsters, aliens, roadside oddities, true crime, and any other weird thing that makes New England special. If you’ve got a story lead for us, please reach out to us anytime through our Web site where you can also find dates for my Fall story tour, dates to see Ray’s band the Pub Kings, AND a link to by the brand-new, hot-off-the-presses 2024 Haunted New England calendar with photography by Frank Grace and stories by your old buddy Jeff. Like last year, these are limited edition. Once they sell out… they’re gone.
RAY: We’ll go searching for the ghosts of Tavern on Main right after these words from this sponsor.
RAY: Okay, Jeff. I can’t say I’m surprised that a tavern this old and historic is also haunted.
JEFF: It’s kind of got that look, doesn’t it?
RAY: Sure. But we’ve learned just because it’s old doesn’t guarantee that it’s haunted. And just because haunted doesn’t mean it’s old.
JEFF: So true. But in this case, we have both. When it was first built three centuries ago, this was a two-and-a-half story colonial home constructed around a large central fireplace. You can still see some of the original hand-hewn wooden beams in the building.
RAY: Yeah some of them are right above our heads. It all adds to the old-time charm of this place.
JEFF: People have died here. There’s been a murder. Another person has been shot. History has left a scar here. Multiple scars, really. But the biggest mark was left on this tavern back in 1842 during an historic event that’s become known as Dorr’s Rebellion. So let’s head back to 1842, and see what happened.
RAY: It’s the summer of 1842, and politically-speaking… things in Rhode Island are tense.
JEFF: It seems like almost everyone is angry at someone around here.
RAY: That’s true. And it all comes down to who has the right to vote. When Rhode Island first got its charter back in 1663, it stated only male landowners could vote. That was pretty normal for the times, and seemed democratic enough. If you own land, you get taxed, so you get a say. By the 1840s, the law was updated to state only male landowners could vote who owned property worth at least $134, or land that generated at least $7 in annual rent.
JEFF: Those numbers seem a little arbitrary. But still, it almost feels like the law is trying to keep the poorest people from voting.
RAY: You’re not the only person to think that way. Plus, Rhode Island has been changing over the last 200 years. 60% of the state’s free white men can’t vote due to these land-owning constraints. The state is growing more urbanized. Jobs today aren’t mostly centered on farm life like they had to be two centuries ago. So men start to organize a suffrage movement. They argue that an electorate made up of only 40% of the state’s white men–rules based on a charter signed by the King of England centuries ago– was NOT constitutional. It’s quote “un-republican!”
JEFF: The only fix is to create a new state charter to fix the outdated rules. Enter Thomas Wilson Dorr. His plan was to write a new state charter and form a new parallel government that would gain the support of most of the people in the state. He courted the disenfranchised poor Irish Catholics who weren’t eligible to vote under the current laws. Initially, Dorr wanted to include blacks and other non-white men in this new government, but he caved under pressure from immigrants who threatened not to support him.
RAY: So late last year Dorr drafted what he called the People’s Constitution, which would grant all white men the right to vote within a year. And the current government drafted their own Freemen’s Constitution which grants some concessions to the non-voting class.
JEFF: The Freeman’s Constitution was defeated in the legislature, thanks to Dorr and his supporters, and the People’s Constitution passed. Of course, those in power said that’s not legal because those who voted weren’t allowed to vote thanks to the old rules. Dorr said the vote IS legal because some of the support came from the existing voting class.
RAY: So earlier this year, both groups organized elections. With the people electing Thomas Dorr as governor, and the voting class electing Samuel Ward King as their governor. Both sides claim their governor is the legit one. Things are coming to a head.
JEFF: Back on May 19th of this year, the Dorrites, as they’re called, led an attack against the arsenal in Providence, Rhode Island. The Charterites—or those who supported the original state charter—were able to fend off the attack, sending Dorr to flee to New York where he regrouped and gathered some troops. It’s now late June, and Dorr and his forces are gathering on Acote’s Hill in Chepachet—just about a quarter mile from this tavern… where he intends to hold a Rhode Island General Assembly on July 4th. Governor King hears of this gathering, and decides to send in the state militia.
RAY: Dorr knows he’s outgunned and outnumbered. He can stay here and fight to the last, or he can spare his men. Knowing King’s troops are scheduled to arrive tomorrow. Dorr retreats.
JEFF: Still, Governor King’s men arrive to make sure Dorr’s Rebellion doesn’t get another chance to regroup.
JEFF: They fire at the Tavern on Main Street sending a bullet right through the front door.
[ARRRGHH / DISGUISED]
JEFF: Striking Horace Bordeen in the thigh.
RAY: Tavernkeeper Jedediah Sprague has no choice but to allow in Governor King’s men who demand food, drink, and lodging.
[MEN EATING AND DRINKING]
RAY: All summer they stay here at the tavern racking up quite a bill. By the time they leave at the end of the summer they had consumed 37 gallons of brandy, 29 gallons of West India Rum, 34 flasks of liquor, a few dozen bottles of sherry, 12 dozen bottles of champagne, and two dozen bottles of cider. PLUS 820 bushels of oats, 17 tons of hay for their horses, 2,400 dinners were served, and 11,500 cigars enjoyed by the soldiers. All of these things were to be put on the tab of Governor King. But not a dime is ever collected. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Dorr’s Rebellion was squashed with violence, and nearly bankrupted a local business. However, changes to the voting laws were made. In September of 1842, an assembly met in Newport to make voting possible for any native-born adult male, of any race, who could pay the poll tax of $1, which would go to fund public schools. That would be about $37 dollars in today’s money. Non Native born citizens could vote if they owned land and the Narragansett Tribe were prohibited from voting.
RAY: So the poor were still cut out, as were the original land-owners .
JEFF: Right. Though being the epicenter of the Dorr Rebellion is the most significant historic event to leave its mark on the Tavern on Main, it’s not the only thing. Back in 1966 a father accidentally drove his car into his adult son who was crushed against the steps on the Tavern. And there’s rumors of a murder in the 1970s.
RAY: Either way, a lot of history happened here. People came and went, debates were held here, lively discussions and various people from all walks of life… and some of them never left.
JEFF: Today the staff claims glasses sometimes break on their own, the temperature will suddenly drop out of nowhere, and some report seeing apparitions. Some even claim to have seen Thomas Dorr!
RAY: He’s the most famous person to ever grace this tavern.
JEFF: Right, so his identity is often placed on whatever bumps in the night here. Though we can’t say for certain exactly WHO is haunting this bar and restaurant, its haunted reputation comes up again and again. They hold ghost investigations here, local media searches this place for Halloween features, and here we are throwing another log on the haunted fire that is the Tavern on Main.
RAY: Funny how those fires keep us warm AND give us chills. And that brings us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and sometimes veer off course.
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To see some pictures of the Tavern on Main, click on the link in our episode description, or go to our Web site and click on Episode 319.
If you’ve got a story we simply must hear, please reach out to us anytime through our Web site. Don’t assume we’ve heard. We’re always on the lookout for strange tales of ghosts, monsters, aliens, true crime, roadside oddities, and weird history. And please tell a friend or two about our show. The more people who share this podcast the more stories we can collect. Our crowd-sourcing depends on you. So subscribe and share wherever you get your podcast.
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Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.