Researching the Austin Tavern, the class discovered that Mary Austin Seymour was an important and powerful woman here in Suffield; as a widow she owned a tavern in Suffield. Members of the Austin family would later go on to found the city of Austin in the new country of Texas. This member being Stephen F. Austin. Even though Stephen Austin was not from Suffield he was a part of the prominent Austin family. Texas had just fought for their independence from Mexico and became its own country. The Austin family was also a very prominent town here in Suffield with many buildings in the historical part of Suffield being houses that they built in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In colonial times the tavern was an important part of the community. The tavern was usually used as a meeting ground for organizations in and around the town. George Washington visited this tavern in the late 1700s, George Washington hitched his horse on an elm tree directly across the road from the tavern. This elm would be later named Washington’s Elm in tribute to Washington’s horse. But the reason for Washington’s visit was not mentioned in anyway. To commemorate this famous woman and this famous family of Suffield, a sign needs to be erected in the spot of the Washington Elm. This sign would describe the impact that Mary Austin made on the community of Suffield and the impact the Austin family in general had on Suffield and the whole of the United States.
As our 2017 Project Base Learning class has continued to look into 1774 regarding slavery and freedom in Suffield, Connecticut, we have been expanding to our search to the surrounding colonies and the Triangle Trade. The Triangle Trade was very crucial to the colonies economy. Slaves from Africa were sent to the West Indies to work on sugar plantations. This sugar was then transported up to the Colonies to be sold, and in return the Colonies traded food and supplies to the West Indies. The islands in the West Indies were populated with sugar plantations, and with this monopoly and wealth, they had enough money to pay whatever necessary funds for food and supplies. This allowed for the Colonies to charge high prices and enabled anyone to get in on the trade. I was curious of my hometown of Bermuda and where it fit into all of this during this era so, I started investigating our role in the trade.
I discovered Bermuda was not only apart of the triangle trade but also sympathized with the colonists idea of freedom. In the book “In the Eye of all Trade”, by Michael Jarvis, the details of Bermuda’s role in the trade is presented. Bermuda’s economy was dependent on trade by sea, and merchant ships from the Colonies and the West Indies. Being such a small island, Bermuda was not able to join the Colonies in their rebellion against the British, so instead they assisted the Colonies by selling them over a thousand Bermuda Sloops, which are very fast sailboats. However, along with the West Indies, when the revolution began, Bermuda worried of starvation as they relied heavily on imports of food from the Colonies. Likewise, the Colonies depended on Bermuda for salt, so Bermuda began exchanging salt for food. To further assist the Colonies, two Bermudians, Benjamin Franklin and Henry Tucker, robbed a hundred barrels of gunpowder to send to the Colonies. As the Revolutionary War continued,
Bermuda was still unable to join due to the power of the British Royal Navy. Nevertheless, George Washington wrote a letter to Bermuda addressing the topic of trade and Bermudas role in assisting the colonies. In his letter, Washington stated that if Bermuda continued to assist the Colonies in their fight for freedom, he would ensure that “your island may not only be supplied with provisions, but experience every mark of affection and friendship, which the grateful citizens of a free country can bestow on its bretheren and benefactors”.
The connection between Bermuda and the Colonies is clear and their support during the Revolutionary War was very beneficial in the fight for freedom. The small island of Bermuda played its own role in the rebellion and was a large part of the triangle trade.
Today in class we found an excerpt from the book called The Biography of a Town by one of our town’s historians, Robert Hayden Alcorn. This book gives us a history of Suffield, Connecticut from 1670-1970. Towards the beginning of the book on page 80 there is a page that mentions George Washington’s two visits. He came to Suffield in 1775 and 1789. On both occasions, he traveled up from Windsor and continued on to Springfield, MA. In 1775, we learned that he addressed Suffield’s residents across from the Austin tavern and under the town’s two sentinel elms. In this image of an excerpt from Alcorn’s history,
we also found another letter (primary source) regarding Mary Austin (Seth Austin’s wife) who wrote to Washington in 1789 about the Austin Tavern receiving counterfeit money from a man named Jonas Mace, who apparently made a very good career by counterfeiting money. She wrote to Washington asking for help to see if he could save them. She writes: “Necessity is my only apology for addressing a Gentleman of your dignified Merit—Having no alternative; you will excuse me…” In this letter she said her household and tavern had about twenty people living there, and they were very low on money and in much distress. I believe that these twenty people must have included the five slaves that my classmate discovered on the 1790s census. This fact rings true with how we learned that ministers and tavern owners owned slaves throughout the Connecticut River Valley.
The webpage Founder Online, published by the National Archives, supports our claim that George Washington had lunch at the Austin Tavern in 1775 when he was passing through on his way to take control of the Continental Army in Cambridge. This letter that Mary writes was written after the war.