In Support of Dorr
A strange-smelling package arrived at the residence where Thomas Wilson Dorr was staying during his exile in 1842. He opened the box to find the following: “one prime codfish weighing 15 lbs., 2 mackerell [sic], 1 peck of clams, and a few oysters.” Since Dorr would have been well aware that his female supporters organized massive clambakes to support his cause, perhaps he would not have been surprised to discover the leftover seafood. Through their thoughtfulness, the clambake organizers ensured that Dorr did not miss out on the flavor (or, presumably, the odor) of the day’s festivities.
The clambake in question had occurred here on Acote’s Hill, Chepachet, on September 28, 1842, and drew crowds upward of 5,000-8,000 people from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, according to different reports. Rhode Island women organized several clambakes during the summer months of 1842, which served both as rallies and fundraisers. Although universal suffrage did not extend voting rights for Rhode Island women, they nonetheless participated fully and ardently in Dorr’s cause, as these clambakes suggest. These massive political events garnered statewide attention and support for the Dorrites and raised funds for “needy Suffrage families.”
Women addressed the crowds at the clambakes, often extemporaneously, like Providence-native Ann Parlin, whose husband, a physician, had been imprisoned in June following the failed capture of the Providence arsenal by Dorr’s forces. Making it clear that she had maintained an appropriately modest role in public, Parlin wrote to Dorr that she had given a “brief speech on impulse” at a clambake in August. Parlin emphasized that she had not spoken for long, and that it had been unplanned. If Parlin was brief in her remarks in Rhode Island, she was not in New York two months later. She addressed a crowd of Dorr supporters at the Shakespeare Hotel in New York City, and her speech was later printed by the New York Daily Plebeian. Parlin told the crowd:
"After untoward events, too recent to require a recital, had destroyed their hopes of immediate emancipation from aristocratic thralldom, the patriots who had not fled were thrown into prison, and there dealt with as felons. A band of ruthless aristocrats strode over their State, spreading terror throughout the land. Informers, spies, denunciators crowded the cities, the hamlets, and the isolated abodes of husbandmen, violating everywhere the sanctities of private life—vengeance, and all the resentments of individual hatred mingling all the while their vile worship to the despotic measures of the victorious party."
Parlin speaks at length about the so-called patriotic cause of the Dorrites, making it eminently clear that it is Governor King’s Law and Order Party who are the true villains in the conflict.