The typically raucous chatter of seamen was more nervous than usual at the Allen’s Tavern in old Holmes Hole (modern Vineyard Haven), where Islanders gathered to hear news of a restive colonial mainland. It was December 1773, and the mood was tense.

Tending a dinner of lamb and boiled cabbage at the back, Mrs. Sarah Chase Daggett Allen, tavern keeper and mother of 10, listened intently. The Boston Tea Party was hours away.

In Chilmark on Saturday, 250 years later to the day, another tea party will take place, again featuring Mrs. Allen, but this time as portrayed by local historical interpreter Norah Van Riper. Over a cup of the same Bohea Lapsang tea tossed in the harbor two-and-a-half centuries ago, dressed in a heavy woolen formal dress in 1770s style, Mrs. Van Riper will lead a conversation with modern Vineyarders, in character as Mrs. Allen, highlighting what the revolutionary period might have been like for a woman running a tavern on Martha’s Vineyard.

“I really specialize in the history of everyday life,” Mrs. Van Riper said. “History is the interplay between the meta and the individual work, if you will, but also the personal part is what we tend to forget.”

In the typical school classroom, Mrs. Van Riper said, individuals can sometimes get lost in the swirl of dates and battles that form the outline of textbook history.

“When you’re looking at a textbook, it’s a chronology,” she said. “This happened on this date in this place, now memorize that, and there’ll be a test on it.”

An up-Island reminder of local history. — Tim Johnson

Historical interpretation, Mrs. Van Riper said, can bring to life the story of history, a way to connect with the past and to get away from the “old, dead, rich, white men” who are so often the focus of the textbooks.

Mrs. Van Riper has been a historical interpreter for decades now; she was 16 years old when she started her first museum job. Since then, she has become enthralled with colonial New England history, leading tours of the Freedom Trail in Boston and acting in character at the Plimoth Patuxet Museums and Old Sturbridge Village.

“You’re translating a foreign world, a foreign language — making something totally alien accessible,” she said.

Mrs. Van Riper landed on the Vineyard to work at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in 2021, before taking a leave of absence to care for her mother.

The opportunity to act as Mrs. Allen, she said, gives her the ability to highlight how individual historical figures on the Island might have been affected by big historical trends.

“For a really long time, history [on the Vineyard] has been written and presented in such a way as it all happened here in a vacuum, that it had nothing to do with what was going on elsewhere,” she said.

In Holmes Hole, a deep-water port situated on the second busiest shipping lane in the world at the time, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“There was a huge transient population,” she said, with sailors from London to Lisbon stopping on the Vineyard as part of the bustling Triangular Trade, and often staying at one of the Island’s numerous taverns.

But in the 1770s, that world of trade began to show signs of fracture, as new British taxes impelled some traders to use the Vineyard as a waystation for smuggling untaxed Dutch tea.

“British vessels, they look at Holmes Hole and go, ‘they’re nothing but smugglers and they won’t sell us a cabbage or some milk,’” Mrs. Van Riper said.

Other businessmen with Island ties also started to chafe under the excise taxes. In Boston, Mrs. Allen’s cousin, Thomas Chase, became a key organizer of the Boston Tea Party protesting the new taxes.

“We’ve got privateers in the family. We’ve got revolutionary family. You can’t tell me that this woman is not well aware of everything that’s going on and possibly involved,” Mrs. Van Riper said of Mrs. Allen.

Mrs. Allen’s inn was likely the first place many Islanders heard about the Boston Tea Party, as it was the location where they received their mail, news and mainland gossip from travelling sailors.

“Sarah must have known about these developments, just by proximity,” Mrs. Van Riper said.

The changes also likely would have been felt in Mrs. Allen’s pocketbook as head of the household. The Island was hugely dependent on maritime trade in the 1770s, and as new taxes raised the price of imported goods, Vineyarders would have noticed.

“It’s all about the economics, and women are absolutely deeply involved in that,” Mrs. Van Riper said.

At the Chilmark Library this weekend, Mrs. Van Riper said she will focus on the pre-Tea Party period, on the lived experience of a female tavern keeper from a prominent family in a changing and turbulent world.

“People are looking for a way to enter history,” Mrs. Van Riper said. “When you start scraping up things, you start realizing that individuals are involved, repeatedly, and that’s when the stories start to come alive.”

The Chilmark Library Boston Tea Party presentation takes place Saturday Dec. 16 at 3 p.m.