| The Providence Journal
COVENTRY – The house that Revolutionary War Gen. Nathanael Greene built here in 1770 has stood witness to the American experience for 250 years.
Unity. Division. Dissent. The war that gave birth to the nation, and the civil, world and other wars that followed.
“The house outlives everyone,” said David M. Procaccini, president of the Nathanael Greene Homestead, a National Historic Landmark.
It was Sunday and he was standing with trustee Josh Wojnar outside Greene’s house. The men kept a safe distance from a Journal reporter. A cold wind blew. The temperature could have served as a metaphor for the 2020 Homestead year, when COVID-19 curtailed activities and caused a degree of financial stress, a story hardly unique to them.
“We took a huge hit this year,” Procaccini said, but not one that impeded the opening of a research library and a gift shop, and house and grounds maintenance. With belt-tightening and wise management, the president said, the homestead will get through the winter and into 2021 and beyond. Perhaps 250 years beyond, Wojnar said with a smile.
The last time this reporter visited, in late 2017, the nearly 50-acre homestead grounds were the scene of one of the organization’s renowned living-history events – in this case, a Civil War reenactment, complete with authentic uniforms, the smell of campfires, the firing of replica weapons loaded with blanks.
Several such events had been planned for this 250th-anniversary year, but then came March and April and the coronavirus shutdown. Attention turned to reopening the homestead for tours and other programs under the state’s new, restrictive guidelines for businesses of all sorts.
“We didn’t want anybody to come here and get sick,” Procaccini said. “We didn’t want any of our help to get sick. And we didn’t want to have to run into any problems with the state, doing things incorrectly.”
Finally, on the Fourth of July, an appropriately historic day, the homestead welcomed its first visitors of the year – in smaller numbers and under different circumstances, needless to say.
“We decided to scale back to just two days a week, and we moved our whole operation outside,” Procaccini. “So every Saturday and Sunday, we would set up a tent in the driveway. We had spots in the driveway six feet apart. We put our gift shop outside. We had all the stuff you needed to be screened, every group that came in.”
Masks were required. Hand sanitizer was available. Groups touring Greene’s residence were limited to no more than four people.
“When we were done with each tour, we wiped everything down,” Procaccini said. “We didn’t open our bathrooms to the public. We did some business, though not a huge business. And we threw in some free events throughout the year.”
The last event in 2020 was a Halloween program.
Procaccini closed The Journal’s Sunday visit with the announcement that in 2021, the homestead will feature a Rhode Island Slave History Medallion, through an agreement with Charles Roberts, chairman of the project. Medallions are placed at sites that have a connection to Native Americans and African Americans who were enslaved centuries ago.
“Nathanael Greene was a slave owner” during the last few months of his life, Procaccini said, a fact many Rhode Islanders do not know.
Like the wars, pandemics and the countless other events Greene’s 250-year-old residence has witnessed, slavery, of course, is also a part of the American experience and the country’s reckoning of it continues.
“Maybe the house will last as long as America lasts,” Procaccini said. “You know, the Roman Empire lasted five hundred years. Maybe America and the house will last 500 years.”
More: RHODE ISLAND AND THE SLAVE TRADE
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