One of the pleasures of living in Pennsylvania is the rich history woven deep into the fabric of the land. There are many celebrations of such history, and I’ll gladly travel quite a distance to take part. One occasion in late September commemorates the Battle of Paoli.
Though the battle was bloody, Paoli Heritage Day is a happy celebration of history in general, and the Colonial and Revolutionary War periods especially. On a sunny, sloping field, inventors, soldiers, crafts-men and women, and artists pitched tents and shared their talents and passions.
One I sought out in particular was Dr. Franklin. I had met him earlier at a previous Exhibition and Demonstration held in a public library.
He was extremely affable, and demonstrated for me his recently-built re-creation of a small vacuum pump, made from a design invented in the mid-17th C. He also pointed out the handsome flag beside him.
He designed it for the Associators of southeastern PA, a volunteer militia group (which was, he told me, the roots of the Pennsylvania National Guard).
The sound of music drew me to a tent aswirl in color, where a group of men, women, and children were dancing: the Heritage Dancers.
I delighted in watching them, and then they invited me to take part! The learned lady who talked us through the steps later told me that the English Country Dances, like those we were doing, were very popular in the Colonies. A Briton had made written record of many of them, and that is our sole surviving record of most of them. (That record now is protected in a British museum).
Next door was another musical sound: the blacksmith.
He was making various kinds of useful hooks out of iron, and when his hammer hit the hot metal just so, it rang with a bright, clear, penetrating sound that resounded – I could feel it in my body! I’ve watched blacksmiths before, but never heard or felt quite that musical a sound; maybe this man had particular skill. A gentleman who came up to buy some of the blacksmith’s handsome hardware said that he had dug up a number of just such hooks while restoring a historic house. History relives!
Nearby to the blacksmith, a woman was churning ice cream – yes, an authentic Colonial treat! Thomas Jefferson, in fact, had imported from France the receipt (recipe) she was using for – what else? – French Vanilla.
The woman was Susan McLellan Plaisted of Heart to Hearth Cookery. She was using what looked a great deal like the ice-cream maker my family had when I was a kid (ours was a replica – I’m not quite that old!). It was a rather narrow, wooden-staved bucket holding a metal canister in a bed of crushed ice and salt. Unlike ours, hers had no crank; she turned the tall pewter cylinder with her hands. Anyone who helped churn could get a taste of ice cream; it was chilly work. I would have liked to get a picture of her, but she was always surrounded by an audience eager to try her ice cream! (It was delicious).
There were more fun things for children. Another booth had a spread of Colonial toys and games.
Two ladies there were making corn husk dolls, one for a child who waited with delightful eagerness.
I visited a number of tents with information from a wealth of historic sites nearby, like Historic Waynesborough, home of “Mad” Anthony Wayne. Did you know that General Wayne was the “ancestor” of Bruce (the Batman) Wayne? I’m enough of a comic book geek that I did! And Historic Waynesborough did, too: their tent had a poster with a comic book panel of Bruce Wayne researching and musing about his ancestor!
The sun was powerful on that open field, so it was a relief to go down to the tree-line, where a woman was surrounded by a small audience seated on straw bales. The woman was Molly Pitcher.
She had a warm accent that sounded like it came from the British Isles – but then, many of the Colonials did, too! She talked of how she supported her husband and showed us the gear she carried. Sometimes in the heat of summer, a soldier discarded his hot and heavy blanket, but if a woman traveled with a soldier, she kept hold of that blanket!
Molly told us how she braved cannon balls and musket fire to fetch water and carry ammunition during the famous battle of Monmouth. In the act of passing a cartridge, she got her petticoat shot off!
While Molly recounted her story, a Patriot soldier nearby enlisted children volunteers to come into the woods to scout for Redcoats.
Several minutes later, we heard gunshots! But the children came running out of the woods chasing the Redcoats – it was a rout!
Around the field was a veritable timeline of American Military History: the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, The Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. All had re-enactors in historical dress, many with camps and arms. I gravitated toward the Colonial period…but sometimes, time warps appeared on the field.
The celebration was a commemoration of history both local and national, and a fine way to Remember Paoli.