Fred and I just returned from Peterboro NY where we spent the weekend participating in the 22nd annual Peterboro Civil War Weekend.
Dot Wilsey, of the National Abolition Hall of Fame (NAHoF), and other historical groups in Peterboro, invited me to speak during the weekend. I was so honored and happy to participate in this amazing weekend.
Peterboro NY played a very important part in the fight against slavery and inequality during the 1800s. Gerrit Smith called the town home, and from there managed the North Elba NY land donations to free blacks starting in the late 1840s. If you owned land, you could vote, so Smith set up the land package to assist blacks become landowners. Unfortunately, many of the families had never lived on a farm, and knew virtually nothing about farming, let alone farming in the cold long winters of North Elba. John Brow purchased 244 acres in 1848 and moved his family to North Elba to assist the new farmers, help them get started and to assist with the growth of the settlement also known as Timbucktoo.
Civil War Weekend 2014
The kids settling down. Photo Fred Mecoy 2014
On Friday I spoke to 150 5th graders who had spent the day participating in a "Living History" day in Peterboro. Groups of 15 - 20 kids spent 15 minutes at various areas listening and learning about life during the Civil War years. They learned about the wounds that soldiers experienced and how they were treated, or if necessary, amputated. They learned how soldiers slept and washed and cooked while on the battlefield. They learned about Abolitionists and the underground railroad. At the Gerrit Smith Estate they learned what the wealthy philanthropist did to fight slavery, encourage equality and aid in the war effort.
Alice with kids. Photo Fred Mecoy 2014
Then, at the end of a day of running around the green in the middle of town, they filled the community center and sat down to listen to me. I gotta tell you, I was sure that they would bored, tired, and done with history by the time they got to me. Boy was I wrong!
They had studied John Brown, and his impact on the Civil War in school, and were very attentive and engaged with my talk. I told them about John Brown and Gerrit Smith, about North Elba, how big the Brown family was, how they lived, and of course, Harper's Ferry.
They were quiet, polite and FULL of questions. They were very interested in how old everyone was - John Brown when he married, Mary when she became his second wife, how old the children were when they died, and how old I was. One young man guessed I was 40, and I said that was a great answer and we will go with that!
150 kids sitting quietly. Photo Fred Mecoy 2014
But they also asked questions about the family, where they lived, how they lived and all seemed interested in learning more about Brown's fight against slavery. I had a great time and I hope that they will continue to ask questions and learn more about the fight against slavery.
Photo by Fred Mecoy 2014
Although it was cold and overcast, a number of people came out for the opening ceremonies. We watched a detachment of Civil War Reenactment Soldiers march on The Green. One of the longtime members of the group had recently passed away and the detachment fired musket shots in tribute to his memory.
Photo F. Mecoy 2014
We heard from the descendants of Aaron Bliss, who escaped from Andersonville Prison, who shared with us the decorative sword that was altered with a knife to serrate the edge and allow Bliss to cut his way out of the outhouse and escape. The knife used was supplied by freed slave Billy Smith, who had to report to work and was not able to escape with Bliss. A descendant of the freed slave, Billy Smith, was also in attendance.
Photo Fred Mecoy 2014
Many people were dressed in period clothing, and all of the vendors were set up in canvas tents, so The Green resembled a camp during the Civil War. Soldiers sat around campfires, ladies spun and cooked, dentists and surgeons displayed there wares and even President Lincoln made an appearance.
Photo F Mecoy 2014
I gave a speech at 11:30 in the Community Center,"New York to Harper's Ferry - John Brown's Journey" to a group of 35 - 40 attendees. I talked about John Brown and Gerrit Smith's relationship from 1848 till Brown's death, and Brown's travels to fight slavery and solicit funds. Since I normally speak about the Brown women and the family, this was a completely new subject for me. I enjoyed preparing for the talk, and the audience seemed to appreciate my sharing this information with them.
Photo F Mecoy 2014
Sunday the sun came out and the skies were clear. I presented on the family "Life after the hanging of John Brown - a family legacy." I had to give the talk twice, once at 11:30 and again at 12:15, due to an error in the posting of the time I was to speak.
After my talks, Fred and I wandered around The Green and watched the skirmish reenactment.