GLOCESTER – Cannon balls will be flying in Chepachet Saturday during the seventh annual Canon Night Fire, the premiere event in the town’s annual tribute to the Dorr Rebellion (1841-1842).
The Canon Night Fire begins at dusk at Acote's Hill Cemetery (ball field side) where members of the Gloucester Light Infantry will spend an hour-and-a-half firing 30 rounds from two cannons – 15 rounds per cannon.
More than 200 people came out for last year’s Cannon Night Fire, which commemorates an "armed but bloodless" confrontation between Thomas Wilson Dorr's "People's Rights" faction and Samuel Ward King's "Law & Order" party.
The battle was held in June of 1842 on Acotes Hill. A monument to Dorr's memory was erected at Acote's Hill in 1912.
The cannon fire will also honor the 150 sons of Glocester who marched off to the Civil War, with one in three never to return.
“It’s very loud and people just love it,” says Thomas P. Sanzi, Glocester resident and lieutenant with the Gloucester Light Infantry, an American Revolutionary War re-enactment group that has been staging the town’s Dorr Rebellion observances since 2007.
On Saturday afternoon, there will be guided Dorr Rebellion timeline tours in Chepachet, especially at the Tavern on the Main, as well as reenactments and weapons demonstrations. The tours and demonstrations begin at 11 a.m. and will be held throughout the day.
The visitor’s center at the Job Armstrong Store on Main Street, headquarters of the Glocester Heritage Society, will also be open all day.
Sanzi has been trying to get the Rhode Island Department of Education to include Thomas Wilson Dorr and the Dorr Rebellion of 1842 in the history curriculum of Rhode Island high schools. He has visited several area schools over the years to speak on the subject.
“I do this because we need to keep history alive and to make sure that each new generation knows what happened,” he says.
The 1842 Dorr Rebellion, often referred to as the Dorr War, marked an important moment in both Rhode Island and American history. The basic issue in contention was suffrage - who had the right to vote in Rhode Island elections.
Prior to the 1840's, several unsuccessful attempts were made to replace the charter received from King Charles II which said only landowners could vote. In 1841, suffrage supporters, led by Dorr, gave up on attempts to change the system from within. In October of that year, they held a People's Convention that enfranchised all white males with one year's residence. Voters overwhelmingly supported a referendum on the People's Convention that December. When efforts to implement the referendum were opposed by the conservative Charterite government, Dorr and his followers attempted to implement it by force.
With a majority of the militia throughout the state supporting his cause, Dorr led an unsuccessful attack against the Arsenal in Providence on May 19, 1842. After his defeat there, Dorr and his supporters retreated to Chepachet where they hoped to reconvene the People's Convention.
Charterite forces were sent to Woonsocket to defend the village and to cut off the retreat of the Dorrite forces. The Charterites fortified the Holder Block in Market Square in anticipation of an expected attack. Steel plates were placed over the windows with just enough room left between the armor for men to fire on the Dorrite forces who were expected to come marching down South Main Street. The expected attack never happened and the Dorr Rebellion fell apart shortly thereafter.
Thomas Dorr disbanded the rebel forces and fled the state. He later returned and spent several years in prison before he was unconditionally pardoned in 1845. In November, 1842, the Rhode Island Legislature passed reforms that allowed any white male to vote.