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'Adults Only' at the Plantation provides after hours adventure

Actors portray Mistress Mary Bradnox, left, flirting with colonist John Salter as her drunk husband laughs. 

HISTORIC ST. MARY'S CITY, MD -- You didn’t learn about these colonists in high school.

On July 9, the Historic St. Mary’s City Museum invited community members to take a peek at the more sordid affairs some Maryland colonists were involved in at “Adults Only” at the Plantation, an after-hours tour at the Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation.

Recorded history inspired the course of events during the “Adults Only” at the Plantation, said Peter Friesen, Director of Education with Historic St. Mary’s City Museum.

“Using actual court cases, we hope to give people an idea of what really happened in colonial Maryland. And the average colonist being in their 20's and living in a remote area, things were bound to get naughty,” said Friesen.

Kelly Moynahan, right, tells more about 17th century Maryland to event-goers. 

Kelly Moynahan was the guide for the evening and she provided contextual information to event-goers, such as how to greet the reenacted colonists by bowing or curtsying. 

Going to court gave colonists a form of entertainment, and their neighbors had an opportunity to see what others were getting in trouble for, said Moynahan.
“It’s not like they had television back then, so they had to do something to pass the time,” said Moynahan.

Friesen set the mood for the event by first reading 17th century poetry with more adult topics. Event goers also had the opportunity to pull tabs of parchment printed with colonial era insults to interact with the actors.

Actors portray Master Thomas Bradnox, left, discussing drinking rum with Colonist John Salter and Judge Robert Vaugh. 

Along with Friesen, the following Newtowne Players (NTP) actors volunteered during the event: Kerry Jones, Kathryn Teague, Beth Sanford, D.J. Lavery, Aaron Meisinger and Sharol Yeatman.

“They were portraying colonists John Neville, Susan Atchenson, Sarah Taylor, John Salter, as well as Master Thomas and Mistress Mary Bradnox,” said Friesen.

Friesen portrayed the Judge Robert Vaughn in court cases reenacted during the tour.

Actors portray colonist John Salter, left, hearing his and his wife's sentencing from Judge Robert Vaughn. 

Cases included Sarah Taylor petitioning the court for reassignment to a different plantation due to excessive punishment by her master, Thomas Bradnox, as well as John Salter and his wife, who used the Lord’s name in vain.

“John Neville and Susan Atchenson were brought up on charges of fornication. The final case discussed included John Salter, Thomas Bradnox, and Mary Bradnox. All three were reprimanded for adultery and drunkenness and ordered to put their houses in order,” said Friesen.

Maryland’s colonial history is valuable to remembering the roots of the community and the nation, said Friesen.

Event-goers look on as actors portray Susan Atchenson, Mistress Mary Bradnox and Sarah Taylor discussing different herbs that were used for medical ailments during colonial times. 

“Events like these bring the more human element to what we learned in our history books. It illustrates the challenges and successes of our society. Maryland in the 1600s was a difficult place to live, full of conflict over state and religious matters,” said Friesen. “The main challenge for the average 17th-century colonist was survival in the New World.  Add to that the building a new society far away from the home they knew and you have the ingredients that built our nation, people who were strong and adventurous enough to survive in a new land and inventive enough to adapt and prosper.”

The events reenacted were from a time period when the adaptive idea of freedom of conscience was legislated in to law, a radical idea at the time and one that many take for granted today, said Friesen.

“Understanding colonial society gives us a better understanding of how life was shaped in the following centuries and how it still affects us today.  This program came about organically through visitors asking questions, in hushed voices and red in face, about these ‘adult’ topics.  As the museum looked to expand its educational programs to include various demographics we wanted to offer something specifically for adults,” said Friesen.

Event-goers on the move during the tour of Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation. 

These two ideas came together and seemed like a logical program to develop, said Friesen.

“Over the four years of this program’s existence, it has consistently sold out and those that attend the program enjoy both its educational and entertainment values.  Specifically, for the educational value, I think it shows how we as a society have changed over time and how we have not changed over time,” said Friesen.

By comparing and contrasting 17th-century and 21st-century in an “R”-rated context, history seems more than just printed words in a school textbooks, said Friesen.

“It seems that hardly any other museum does this. With this program, we touch on the most human parts--no pun intended--of what makes us human,” said Friesen.
The next production is a partnership with NTP and Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC) for the Shakespeare in the City event. The Tempest will be performed on the State House lawn at HSMC, said Friesen.

For more information about the “Adults Only” at the Plantation and other events hosted by the museum, check out their website.

Contact Jacqui Atkielski at j.atkielski@thebaynet.com.

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