For the love of history

The song from the Broadway musical "Chorus Line" talks about what performers do for the love of their art. But historical re-enactors can sing the same tune, addressing what they do for the love of history.

Women re-enactors add another level realism to living history lessons of the colonial period. From left are Jessica Madeira, Meredith Barnes and Sharon Kranch.

More than 800 re-enactors gathered at Sandy Hollow Heritage Park in Birmingham Township this past weekend to commemorate the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine, the largest land battle during the American war for Independence. To a man, and a woman, they do it for love.

Sandy Hollow is part of the actual battlefield where thousands of Americans and British clashed during the Philadelphia Campaign. It's also where French volunteer the Marquis de Lafayette was wounded.

British forces under Gen. William Howe were on their way to capture Philadelphia. They eventually did that, but the Battle of Brandywine took so much out of them that they spent an additional five days in the area before pressing on to their objective. That five-day period gave members of the Continental Congress a chance to flee the city and avoid capture.

Paul Loane is a long-time re-enactor with the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment. He was at Chadds Ford Days on Sept. 9 and 10, then at Sandy Hollow Sept. 16 and 17. He said the dedication required learning the military drills, putting up the money for the garb and equipment, and then spending so much time at events up and down the East Coast it can put a strain on a marriage, even to the point of divorce.

Re-enactors share their knowledge with visitors at Sandy Hollow during the two-day commemoration of the Battle of Brandywine.

But, he said, it's for the love of history and to impart some level of knowledge that people, especially the young people, might not get otherwise.

"Living history is an excellent way to turn public attention to our heritage and important occurrences, Loane said. "It's enjoyable for the participants, but it's a great educational tool. The dedication comes from our love of history, and we put that love into creative energy to benefit historic sites and their preservation."

For other re-enactors, such as Noah Lewis, the drive hits another emotional level. Lewis portrays Ned Hector, a free black teamster who served with Washington's army during the war against Britain.

"There were a lot of blacks who contributed to the cause of independence, but people don't know about them. Blacks weren't all slaves, poor or manual laborers. Our power as a nation comes from all the different groups coming together. I want to give them the honor they deserve," Lewis said.

Horses are cared for before the battle.

And as women played a part in the struggle of the colonies seceding from Great Britain, so too do they play a part in re-enacting.

Jessica Madeira, of East Bradford, jokingly said re-enacting was sometimes "The only time we get to spend time with our husbands," but she and the other women also reenact out of love for the history.

"When you can live a moment of history, this all becomes worthwhile," she said.

Another woman, Sharon Kranch, of Bushkill, said it makes her vocation as an archeologist much more real.

"I can find a spoon on a dig, but here we get to play with it, the same as a bayonet. We get to see it and do it."

Linda Kaat, a co-chair of this year's reenactment, said it's all about the history and that holding the re-enactment on the actual battlefield is a perfect setting for the re-enactors to share their knowledge.

Water for the troops.

The other co-chair was Birmingham Township Supervisors'' Chairman John Conklin.

"We have the land and are responsible for its preservation,” Conklin said. "And the battle was the most significant event that happened here. You can't do better for education than this."

Historian Michael Harris, a teacher in the Norristown School District and a former education coordinator at the Brandywine Battlefield Park in Chadds Ford said re-enactments help bring history alive, especially for the younger generation.

"You can read all you want, but unless you can experience something where it happened, you won't fully understand."

According to Supervisor Scott Boorse, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people visited Sandy Hollow during Saturday’s re-enactment.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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