Colonial Tea with John Adams

I believe the library is the hub of the community, reaching many different interests. There is no better way to achieve that than through its programs. I use creative programs that partner with organizations throughout our community to achieve this objective.

The John Adams Unbound exhibition has just left the Loutit District Library with some amazing results. We had a 10 percent increase in library attendance, with a 76 percent increase in program attendance. I presented thirteen programs that reflected the life and times of John Adams by engaging the program attendee into an interactive experience. It took three years of program brainstorming, planning, and development, but by the community’s response, it was well worth it. I select one John Adams program to illustrate creative programming.

The planning for the colonial tea was intense with six months of program research. I had already booked Bill Chrystal as John Adams to present a Town Meeting in the evening and I asked if he would host the tea as the newly elected President Adams in 1800. He accepted the offer.

Also, I found out that a former Mt. Vernon Logistics and Planning Coordinator for the Education Department and an historical interpreter at George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, Wendy VanWoerkom, lives in the Grand Haven area. I asked and she agreed to do a presentation on the history of colonial teas. She, in turn, contacted Mount Vernon’s caterer, who sent me loads information on the etiquette and equipage along with recipes of colonial teas. We delivered these recipes to a local caterer to stay within city health codes. Our research also found that colonials were starting to consume “drinking chocolate” instead of tea. We knew this would be interesting concept for a tea—drinking chocolate. Wendy and President Adams now would be hostess and host.

The sixty registrations filled in a week. The community was abuzz as word leaked out on the event’s agenda. The plan was to be period-correct, from the re-enactors clothing to the party itself.

A seamstress we had previously used for a pirate festival, and who outfits several of the Brethren of the Great Lakes pirate re-enactors and studies period clothing, researched and created several of the colonial outfits—mine included. We set this party in 1800. Ben Franklin had passed by this time (1790), but we could not resist using him.

Guests came early because of the excitement leading up to the event. The public invite gave an option to come in colonial attire—some young ladies did. Dressed in my colonial wear, I informed each guest I would announce them into the room before the President and his guests, and they should approach the President with a bow, if male, or curtsy, if female. The President would then return the gesture with a bow himself.

The plan was to have the President huddle among my colonial guests as I announced the new guests. Two Grand Haven High School violinists provided chamber music to set the party’s colonial mood as I proclaimed each guest’s arrival.

It took about fifteen minutes to announce everyone into the room. Talking in Old English, the colonials walked around the room engaging others in period banter. After forty-five minutes, we turn to modern form of communication—Wendy’s PowerPoint presentation.

We had sixty chairs that were lining the room’s perimeter gathered together theater-style in front of Wendy. During her presentation, she passed around whole coffee beans, tea leaves, and slivers of drinking chocolate. She went in depth of the history, etiquette, and equipage of teas and its social importance, and then discussed that after the Boston Tea Party, an increasing number abstained from drinking tea as a patriotic gesture and turned to chocolate. She footnoted her presentation for authenticity and historical fact.

When she finished, colonials gathered at the doors to distribute a twenty-four-page booklet printed and design by my design staff titled Tea with John Adams—Colonial Tea Practices and Etiquette in the 18th Century to every attendee as they left. This booklet contained the history of tea, setting the stage, and tea etiquette as well as the menu and all the recipes used for our desserts, with copywrite approval. To make it look authentic, I used Caslon font as the booklet font. Our research found William Caslon invented this font in 1720, and Ben Franklin liked it so much he used it in his printing presses.

Guests were raving about the program as they left. “Do it again, but with a larger registration number” and “best library program ever” were common remarks. Many thanked us for our creativity and the time it took staff to plan this event.

Program planning can be fun and exciting if scheduled far enough out to really think about all the things to make it out of the ordinary. Think big.