While the Dorr Rebellion is of course centered in Rhode Island, the conflict became national news, and leaders across the country took sides. One such leader, Connecticut Governor Chauncey Cleveland, a Democrat, was a known supporter of Thomas Wilson Dorr.
When Dorr fled Rhode Island through Connecticut, he was granted safe passage, even when Rhode Island Governor Samuel Ward King demanded the return of fugitive Dorr. Despite the fact that women would not achieve their own suffrage until the next century, many were vocal, active supporters of political causes, Dorr’s among them. Six Dorrite women, Mary Hidden, Eliza Shaw, Sarah A Davis, Mary Stiness, Ann Buffington, and Maria L. Gardiner, believed so strongly in Dorr’s innocence that they wrote a collaborative letter of thanks to the Connecticut governor:
“It is impossible for us to find language sufficiently strong to express our heartfelt gratitude for your many manifestations of kindness and generous devotion to that man, whose name will ever be held in grateful remembrance by every lover of freedom; we mean Sir, Thomas Wilson Dorr . . . We have to the best of our ability endeavored to impress upon you the minds of those over whom we have been able to exert our influence, the sentiments of that Champion of American Freedom (Lafayette). Nothing shall deter me from the exercise of this right of a free man, to fulfill the duty of a citizen; neither the momentary errors of opinion; for what are opinions when they depart from principles? None say respect for the representatives of the people for I respect still more the people whose sovereign will it is to have a Constitution.”
These writers invoked the Marquis de Lafayette not simply for his apt description of the Dorrite ideal, ignoring public opinion for the good of the state and the sanctity of the Constitution. Since the colonists’ victory during the Revolutionary War, Lafayette had been lauded as a national hero. Four decades after the Treaty of Paris, Americans still wished to express their gratitude for the beloved French general: in 1824 Lafayette embarked on a tour of 24 states across the U.S. where he received accolades and the dedication of countless monuments, parks, and street names. During his visit to Providence, Lafayette was deeply impressed by a spectacle of female supporters, who lined the path to the State House to welcome him. The Providence Patriot reported: “The poplar avenue . . . was lined on each side with nearly two hundred misses arrayed in white, protected by a file of soldiers on each side, and holding in their hands bunches of flowers, which (as the General proceeded up the avenue . . .) they strewed in his path, at the same time waving their white handkerchiefs.”
Unlike the very public display of gratitude for Lafayette in Providence, the six women who wrote the letter to Gov. Cleveland expressed a clear support for Dorr, but were nonetheless concerned about their privacy. It appears that as strong as their convictions were, they did not wish that their families or neighbors discover where their alliances lay. A postscript written in the bottom lefthand corner of the letter indicates a wish to remain invisible: “P.S. Keep our names from the public.”
Note on Location: 151 North Main Street was along the route of Marquis de Lafayette's parade when he visited Rhode Island.