The Legend of Isaac Jones

Pamela W. Fox writer

It’s a bitter cold Saturday in January. Men and boys in colonial breeches and coarse linen shirts gather in front of the historic Golden Ball Tavern on Boston Post Road in Weston. Some wear masks and others have painted faces. Suddenly a stone is thrown and shatters an upstairs window. Another man breaks down the door with an ax, and the mob storms into the tavern carrying lanterns and torches. They overturn tables, splinter chairs, and smash earthen­ware tankards. The mob’s leader demands to see the innkeeper, Isaac Jones, but he is away. In his bedroom, his wife Mary is weak from childbirth. The baby, just two weeks old, howls. Isaac’s 17-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, confronts the mob with a pistol. They back off, leaving Elizabeth and her younger siblings terrified but unharmed.

Under the direction of Weston High School video production teacher Ted Garland, a re-creation of the “Weston Tea Party,” as it is known, has been made into a film entitled Allegiance: The Legend of Isaac Jones. The film tells the true story of Jones, a prominent Tory-leaning merchant and tavern keeper, during the turbulent period leading up to the Declaration of Independence. The completed film of about 35 minutes will premier on Tuesday, May 19, as part of the Weston High School arts festival. The public is invited to attend this or other screenings, which will be listed on the Web site The movie trailer, a short preview demonstrating an impressive professionalism, is also posted on the Web site.

Allegiance is a cooperative project of the Golden Ball Tavern Museum, Weston High School, and a team of 11 volunteer professionals from the Screen Actor’s Guild, all coordinated by producer James Searles. Unlike the events of 1774, the 2009 reenactment caused no real damage. The shattered glass was made of sugar, baked in special trays at the Weston High School cooking room. The window sash, fake front door, and taproom tables were made for the occasion by Weston resident Will McFarland and Weston High School Art Director Chris Fehl, who also made the tankards that were broken. McFarland and Fehl recreated a bar enclosure known to have existed in the taproom. According to Joan Bines, Director of the Golden Ball Tavern Museum, “we are excited about keeping the bar in place, as it gives such a wonderful feeling of what that room would have looked like in its tavern days.”

Bines explained that the idea of involving students in making a movie about Isaac Jones’s life originated with the education committee, headed by Kay Conrad, Carolyn McGuire, Karen Valovcin, and Susie Nichols. Funding was provided by the museum’s Gambrill Education Fund. One goal was for students to produce a high-quality film depicting the Weston Tea Party and the important events that preceded and followed the attack. Bines added that, “as another goal, we wanted to foster a sense of community through the collaboration of students, teachers, and Weston residents of all ages.”

The committee contacted Ted Garland, who has overseen the production of six student-made films in recent years. Dozens of Weston High School students participated in writing the script, planning the production, filming, editing, and completing post-production tasks. World languages director and teacher Cort Mathers took on the role of Isaac Jones, and METCO director David Fuller played Caleb. High school students Anna Been, Kara Joseph, and James Lichtenthal honed their acting skills as family members or townspeople, and Doug Stone played a British spy. Students, parents, teachers, younger community members, re-enactors, and tavern volunteers participated as extras.

Members of the Screen Actors Guild played the roles of Mary Jones (Rena Baskin), Elisha Jones (Chris Conte), Samuel Savage (Bill Rossi), Veanus (Andrea Lyman), Edward Stowe (Don Warnock), Lucas Green (Roy Souza), Hezekiah (Rob Grey), Thaddeus (Duncan Putney), DeBernier (Ted Garland), Hepzibah Jones (Madison Garland), Amos (David Lincoln), and Captain Hawkins (James Searles).

Allegiance explores the moral, political, and social turmoil of the pre-Revolutionary War years and its impact on an ordinary family in Weston. Although he was a well-respected citizen and tried to stay neutral, Isaac Jones incurred the ire of patriot groups. Not only was his home raided and ransacked by the “Liberty Boys,” but a patriot convention held the following year called for Isaac and his tavern to be “shunned.”

In a pivotal scene in Allegiance, Samuel Savage, Weston’s most famous patriot leader, scolds Isaac for continuing to sell tea in the months after the Boston Tea Party. Isaac replies that he is selling Dutch tea, to which Savage responds, “That’s not the point, Isaac. To an angry mob, tea is tea. It’s become a symbol of British oppression.” Isaac replies, “I’ve taken no side in this, Samuel, as you well know. I’m just trying to provide a service.” Savage answers in frustration, “That’s the problem, Isaac. You can’t afford the luxury of neutrality. People want to know where you stand.”

Despite the raid and proposed shunning, Isaac continued to operate the Golden Ball Tavern, receiving his inn holder’s license each year from the town. In 1775 he harbored General Gage’s spies when they came on a reconnaissance mission to scout the countryside and decide whether to go after patriot ammunition stores in Worcester or Concord. But shortly after the war began, Isaac was persuaded to come over to the patriot cause and began to help haul supplies.

Joan Bines and the museum’s education committee provided Ted Garland with the primary source material needed to write the script, including newspaper accounts, judgments of the Committees of Correspondence, diaries, and journal entries of General Gage’s spies. Garland consulted with writer and historian Norma Jane Langford, who researched every part of Isaac’s story and critiqued the script.

Most of the filming took place at the Golden Ball Tavern, with museum staff and volunteers present in an advisory capacity. Susie Nichols arranged for volunteers to watch over the tavern for six to ten hours on each of the 22 days of shooting. Karen Valovcin, who was present at most film shoots, was in charge of acquiring or sewing costumes for more than 40 cast members and extras. She borrowed clothes and accessories from colonial re-enactors, made and rented costumes, rummaged through consignment shops, and even recycled curtains into costumes.

Weston High School senior David Reitano served as Assistant Director and headed a crew of Video III classmates including Jake Waxman, Alex Aaronson, Ethan Warman, and Doug Stone. To keep the shivering crew warm during long hours of shooting outside, producer Searles purchased an outdoor heater. Reitano, who plans to study film next year at Northwestern, also made the movie poster. Students Suzanne Detour and Katie Graves assisted Searles in coordinating schedules, assembling call sheets, and “breaking down the script” by logging the cast, props, and special effects needed for each scene. According to Searles, the students “got more experience with actual movie production than most film school graduates, in terms of the technical side.”

Teacher Cort Mathers enjoyed working with the high schoolers on an even plane, different from the classroom: “The crew is the boss, and it was gratifying to see how responsibly and professionally they handled that switch in roles.” Weston High School senior Anna Been said she was grateful for the acting experience and excited to learn more about the history of the town.

Each minute of the finished film took at least one hour to shoot. Within the limited budget, every effort was made to be historically accurate. Actors removed 21st century nail polish, earrings, watches, and wedding rings. Orthodontic braces are nowhere to be seen. While 90 percent of the film is based on fact, the scriptwriters created a fictitious villain, Lucas Greene, to highlight the moral ambivalence. “Lucas is a patriot but also a terrorist,” Searles explained. “The patriots did awful things from the point of view of those loyal to the British.”

Searles hopes to show the film at least once in a commercial theatre, which would make it eligible for award competitions. If Allegiance should prove to be a moneymaker, the Screen Actors Guild contract requires that the SAG professionals share any proceeds. “But the real reward is the opportunity to mentor the students,” says Andrea Lyman, the Newton actor who plays Veanus. Ted Garland summarized the project with this observation:

“This is a great example of what people can do when they pull together for an educational goal. Here we have a community group [the Tavern] that can provide resources, a professional group [The Screen Actors Guild] that can provide expertise, and a high school video class with a lot of drive and energy. They all benefit from the collaboration. In the end, the tavern gets an educational and promotional movie that they can show, the guild members get to give back to their industry by mentoring up-and-coming movie­makers, and the students get an education that rivals the very best film schools. It’s a win-win-win. We should look for more cooperative opportunities like this, especially in these challenging economic times.”

The Golden Ball Tavern Museum was formed in 1964 after the death of Ralph Jones, the last of six generations of the family who lived in the former tavern. The non-profit organization has worked for more than 40 years to research, preserve, teach, and exhibit the history of Isaac Jones and the Jones family. The museum’s education program shares this history with school children in Weston and surrounding communities. Weston public school children visit the tavern in the third and fifth grades, when they study colonial life and the Revolutionary War.

The Golden Ball Tavern is open all year round by appointment, which can be made by calling the museum at 781.894.1751. Architectural historians have called it “the most beautifully proportioned example of Georgian architecture in Weston.” Preservation architect Allen C. Hill wrote that, “this is probably the most unusual and without question the most evocative house museum in New England.” Museum founders adopted a sophisticated preservation philosophy that shows layers of change over time. The house contains a remarkable accumulation of Jones family furniture and artifacts. Above all, the Golden Ball Tavern has a compelling story to tell, the story of Isaac Jones and his Allegiance.