Father of Nation returns to march in parade

Will Tuttle, dressed as George Washington, leads the inaugural Crossing Day parade in 2022. The event commemorates Washington’s crossing from West Ferry to East Ferry in 1781.

Will Tuttle, dressed as George Washington, leads the inaugural Crossing Day parade in 2022. The event commemorates Washington’s crossing from West Ferry to East Ferry in 1781.

George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in 1776 has been immortalized through history books, paintings, films, historic districts, statues and state parks.

His crossing of Conanicut Island in 1781, however, has been remembered with significantly less fanfare. That is the reason why two local businessmen, for the second consecutive year, are reminding the community about the general’s quiet visit to Jamestown.

The second annual Crossing Day event, which is scheduled for May 13, will step off with a parade at 11 a.m. from Central Baptist Church. The procession will end at the East Ferry waterfront where activities, refreshments and a beer garden will be open through 3 p.m. The event is being hosted by The General’s Crossing Brewhouse.

“Everybody enjoyed it last year,” co-owner Tom McNiff said. “It was very positive.”

Washington crossed Conanicut Island, from West Ferry to East Ferry, in March 1781 to reach Newport. There, he met French military commander Rochambeau to discuss plans for what became known as the Battle of Yorktown. The commanders and their troops then traveled to Providence before heading to the site of the decisive Virginia battle in September.

A bird’s-eye view of the festival at East Ferry.

A bird’s-eye view of the festival at East Ferry.

McNiff and his partner, Will Tuttle, conceived the event, which honors a moment in history that inspired their company’s name. Tuttle, again, will portray Washington, who was eight years from becoming the first president of the United States when he was in Jamestown.

“He is still playing George,” McNiff said. “He agreed to it after I said, ‘You’re doing it.’”

Tuttle will be dressed in a period costume like what Washington might have worn on that day in 1781, including a blue velvet coat with gold trim and a tri-cornered hat.

“It’s a lot of fun to do something that gets people out before the tourist season officially kicks off on Memorial Day,” Tuttle said.

Because the event benefits the entire commercial district, the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce became involved in the inaugural year. The 2022 Crossing Day was among the first large-scale community events following the COVID-19 pandemic. Joan Goldstein, executive director of the chamber, said “people loved it.”

“We wanted to make an event that everybody could go to and reconnect with people after a couple of tough years,” she said. “The chamber is supportive of things that will bring business to our town. Hopefully, people will get into the town and visit our other shops and support them.”

McNiff said the event will mostly mimic last year’s festivities. Tuttle will be accompanied by the Kentish Guards, which is a volunteer fife, drum and musket nonprofit organization based in East Greenwich. It was founded in 1774, seven years before Washington’s visit to Narragansett Bay. Tuttle will walk the parade, opposed to being on horseback, which historians believe could have been the mode of transportation for the general. Starting at Central Baptist Church, opposed to West Ferry like Washington, made for a more logistical decision. This shorter route, which will benefit the marchers if it’s a hot day, also keeps the event in the heart of the commercial district.

“It just seemed like a more manageable distance for everybody,” McNiff said.

People are invited to observe the parade from the sidewalks or march to East Ferry with Tuttle and the band. The parade should last about 20 minutes with police handling the traffic flow during that time.

Refreshments at East Ferry will feature a beer from the sponsoring brewhouse and food from Yagi Noodles, a ramen restaurant at Long Wharf Mall in Newport. There also will be cornhole tournaments. The prize for the children’s tournament will be a plush George Washington doll; the adults will play to win a gift card to the brewery.

The beers on tap at the beer garden will include the brewhouse’s flagship hibiscus honey wit, a Ukrainian golden ale, a hefeweizen and a weizenbock. Those beers were picked because they are seasonally appropriate.

“The golden ale is light, refreshing and perfect for this time of year,” McNiff said. “The hefeweizen, same thing. It’s straw colored and great for when it’s hot out. The weizenbock is going to be our darker offering, because not everybody likes lighter beers and prefer something darker. We’re trying to give everybody a good option.”

The Jamestown Historical Society also will be involved with the event. Rosemary Enright, treasure of the organization, will dress in period attire to detail the story of Washington’s crossing. The historical society will also provide a table with information and windmill cookies.

“Anybody who wants to know anything about it, I certainly can tell them what originally happened,” Enright said.

“It’s that time of year where people who are not here all the time come back,” he said. “It’s a chance for everybody to reconnect with their neighbors and friends.”

“It was Jamestown, being where we are, that protected Newport under many circumstances,” Enright said. “We can’t say Washington slept here, but we can at least say he was here and came across the island to get over to Rochambeau.”