Reenactors bring history to life

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The day opens with a blast from the past.

It was a great day for a battle reenactment. Sunshine and clear skies greeted visitors and reenactors alike this weekend as the Chadds Ford Historical Society hosted the Battle at Chadds Ford and a traditional Chadds Ford Days. The two-day event commemorated the Sept. 11, 1777, Battle of Brandywine.

More than 80 reenactors and 20 camp followers were on hand to show what battle and elements of colonial life were all about. There were candle-dipping, marble-making, and blacksmith and carpentry demonstrations as well as mock skirmishing and contemporary crafters and artisans.

“Rev. Tim” ministers to a fallen colonial soldier as another soldier looks on.

“We have something for everyone,” said CFHS President Randell Spackman, “and that’s what Chadds Ford Days and the Battle of Chadds Ford is all about, bringing history and the community together.”

Spackman was elated with the energy of the volunteers and reenactors saying it proves there is a great interest in the community and heritage. He acknowledged that interest in Chadds Ford Days had fallen, primarily because of competition from other events held on the same weekend. He specifically mentioned The Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square. Both events had been held on the first weekend after Labor Day. And while Chadds Ford Days was the first of the events to use that weekend, the Mushroom Festival drew the larger crowds.

A demonstration of colonial dancing.

“The volunteers are starting to come back again. We had a long time when it was so hard to get volunteers, but we have a renewed interest and a renewed life. People want to get out there and experience and help one another. We really appreciate that because being a small non-profit, we could not do that without the support of the community. That’s vital to our existence and our mission going forward,” he said.

Visitors saw the mock battle with cannon and musket fire. They saw the blacksmith firing and pounding iron, and they saw the carpenter turning wood on a manually powered lathe. And on Sunday, they could hear something more about another aspect of American history from Noah Lewis who portrays Ned Hector, a freed black man who was a bombardier and teamster in Washington’s army. Bombardiers were members of artillery units. Teamsters drove wagons and tended to the horses.

Lewis has been portraying Hector for more than 20 years and he said during a brief interview Saturday that his giving life to the character of Hector came about by accident when he was researching his own ancestry.

“My job is to present history in a way that people can receive and, hopefully, internalize,” he said.

Noah Lewis as Ned Hector said his beliefs changed as he researched Hector’s life.

Lewis, while a reenactor who takes part in mock battles and as a ceremonial honor guard, refers to himself as a living historian.

He said he was able to track his own genealogy to 1800 in North Carolina, but then the trail went cold. However, that got him thinking about the Revolution and how black lives were affected. That became the focus of his research.

What he learned during that line of research changed his mind about what he had previously taken for granted.

“My belief at the time about colonial blacks was that they were all slaves, they all were poor and, if they were in the military, they were nothing but manual laborers. That’s what I believed. So, I, like a lot of my other blacks and like a lot of other Americans, they don’t see us as having any kind of place in the American Revolution,” he said.

But his beliefs changed the deeper he looked and came upon the name Edward Hector, Edward “Ned” Hector, the man Lewis portrays during events and in classrooms.

“Wait a minute. The guy is a soldier. Not only is he a soldier, he’s with an elite fighting unit, artillery. Not only that, but he’s also considered a hero at the Battle of Brandywine,” Lewis said.

That heroism came about because Hector’s position came under fire during the battle when, after being ordered to retreat, he saved his horses, wagon, and some guns. According to Lewis’ research, Hector reportedly said, “They shall not have my team. I will save my horses or perish myself.”

Hector Street in Conshohocken is named for Ned Hector, an honor not just for anyone, but for a man who was once a slave, was freed in his teens or early 20s, and fought for American independence. Hector’s status from slave to free man is something Lewis said he just learned about four months ago.

“The thing that really got to me,” Lewis said, “is that number one, I was really angry at my own ignorance of my people’s part in this country being free and, number two, that basically, my people weren’t given the proper credit for what they contributed to this countries freedom.”

An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 blacks fought on the side of the colonials for independence. They were outnumbered by the 7,000 to 10,000 blacks who fought for the British crown. Britain was offering emancipation for blacks who fought to put down the revolution. The colonies offered blacks nothing.

It begins with a skirmish.

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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