NEWBURY — For local historian Bethany Groff, the idea for a new event came about, as it often does, over a drink. Groff and her friend Mat Perry, owner of Turkey Shore Distilleries, makers of Old Ipswich Rum, sat down to enjoy a glass of rum punch together last year.
Perry, formerly a high school history teacher, began to wax eloquent about the long history of rum in the area, and Groff began to think about the historical figures she knows well in her role as site manager of the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury.
“I immediately thought of Offin Boardman,” she said. “He was a life-long seafarer and merchant and I wondered what his relationship with rum was like.”
Groff searched Boardman’s diary for any mention of rum, and found an entry noting a trip to Newburyport in 1802. He was 54 years old, a well-dressed, stout gentleman, walking down State Street, heavily laden with “a pipe of gin and puncheon rum,” for rum punch. He visited the Marine Fire Society for a regular Thursday meeting.
As it turned out, Boardman was known for his rum punch, and like all of his friends, he made it with a standard five ingredients: rum, spices, sugar, water and fruit. Boardman lived at the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm from 1797 until his death in 1811, and evidence of his love for a good party became clear in archeological excavations to the property. There were nearly 30 punch bowls found, along with 37 bottles of varying types and 51 glasses.
More evidence appeared of Boardman’s lifelong relationship with rum, most often as a commodity to be managed when outfitting ships and hiring sailors, who were accustomed to receiving rum as part of their rations.
“I followed Offin through the historical record and learned so much about his truly remarkable exploits during the American Revolution,” Groff said, and the idea for a rum-tasting dinner and lecture called “Rum Rations and Revolution” was born.
“The 1775 barn at the farm is the perfect place for dinner and drinks,” she said. “It is a view that Offin himself was very familiar with.”
For Perry, it is another opportunity to share the fascinating history of the drink he spends his life creating. “I do think sometimes about how deep the ties are to rum in this area, and it’s a bit humbling,” he said.
“I do try to make a better quality rum than Newburyport was known for during the Revolution,” he said with a laugh, noting that the cheapest rum was fairly awful. “Sometimes when the fermentation process slowed, they were not shy about introducing other organic matter to get it going again.”
Guests are invited to “Rum Rations and Revolution” to raise a glass of traditional rum punch and have dinner at the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm, on Littles Lane in Newbury, with Perry and Groff, tomorrow and Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $55 for the general public and $35 for Historic New England members. Call 978-462-2634 or visit www.HistoricNewEngland.org for more information.