The University of New England's Premier Student News Publication

Nor'easter News

The University of New England's Premier Student News Publication

Nor'easter News

The University of New England's Premier Student News Publication

Nor'easter News

Debating the American Revolution: UNE Students Represent Historical Mainers During a Town Meeting Reenactment

Watch as eleven UNE students come together for a town meeting at the First Parish Meeting House this Thursday, taking on the roles of real Mainers who debated the American Revolution in the same location in 1774.
Photo provided by Jonathan DeCoster

Almost two and a half centuries ago, a group of miscellaneous Mainers came together to discuss their opinions on what would soon become the American Revolution. Participants ranged from local elites to fishermen and were a mix of Loyalists and Patriots.

First Parish Meeting House. Photo taken from:

This meeting occurred in our backyard at the First Parish Meeting House in Biddeford. And now, 250 years later, the same debate will take place again — this time, however, the participants will already know the outcome of their discussion.

This meeting, a tribute to the historic one, is a reenactment put on by the eleven students in Doctor Jonathan DeCoster’s ‘What Actually Happened, Debating the American Revolution’ course (HIS 395). 

“The goal of the course is to teach students how to think about history, not as a set of names and dates, but as a series of investigations and arguments,” said Dr. DeCoster. 

Dr. DeCoster has taught this course three previous times, and this semester, he decided to try something new. So, coupling his background in history with copious research on Maine’s role in the American Revolution, he partnered with the Biddeford Historical Society, which owns the First Parish Meeting House, and created this assignment. 

The tweaked syllabus is an attempt not just to update the course but to stay current in UNE’s changing history department, which is unofficially reframing all of its classes. 

“We are moving toward what we call public history. So that’s trying to frame our courses and prepare our students not just to be academics or scholars, or even teachers, but also to understand the regular, public interactions with history,” said Dr. DeCoster. “So this local connection and the partnership with the Historical Society all fit with the direction of where we’re going to be taking the program.”

At the beginning of the course, the eleven students were given a list of historically significant Mainers to choose from. “One of the figures we will be representing in our debate… his house was actually Stella Maris! So I think for students, it’s exciting to look around and realize that things on our campus are directly connected to something as significant as the American Revolution,” Dr. DeCoster said.

Courteous of his students’ comfortability, Dr. DeCoster left it to them to determine whether they would represent their characters in the first person or simply represent the figure’s political opinions. The students chose to represent their Mainers in the first person. Costumes, which the Biddeford Historical Society has provided, are available but optional.

Over the semester, the class visited the Meeting House twice, one of the times getting a lesson in public speaking from Professor Sean Ramey. “I don’t care about evaluating the students on public speaking. I just want them to feel confident,” said Dr. DeCoster.

Ben Fitzgerald, a senior History major enrolled in the class, is assigned to play Rishworth Jordan, who was a town clerk and judge. 

“The American Revolution is a super important subject, but when you break it down at the local level and play these actual characters in Biddeford, it makes things interesting,”  said Fitzgerald. “It’s like Night at the Museum, and we all have felt a connection with our characters, so I cannot wait for everyone to see it play out.”

For anyone interested, the debate will take place Thursday, April 25, at 7 p.m., at the First Parish Meetinghouse, 7 Meeting House Road, Biddeford. It is free and open to the public.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Nor'easter News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *