Youth lessons from history
Published 7:54 pm Thursday, October 11, 2018
About 20 children stood in formation at Morgan Memorial Library on Tuesday afternoon with prop muskets in their hands. Following the young uniformed man’s instructions, they poised, marched and took aim at imagined British forces in the lobby, putting themselves in the era of the American Revolution.
That was just the start of the library’s Homeschool Hub on Tuesday, a bimonthly meetup during the school year for homeschooling families in and around Suffolk. The group rotates between meeting at the North Suffolk and Morgan Memorial libraries for hands-on activities that are meant to enrich the children’s curriculums, according to suffolkpubliclibrary.com.
More than 50 children and parents enjoyed the history lesson conducted by the Youth Virginia Regiment history club and re-enactment group on Tuesday for the Homeschool Hub’s fall session.
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“We decided we wanted to do history (and) they fit really well in that,” said Elementary Services Senior Librarian Deborah Ward.
Young re-enactors beat drums and showed the homeschooled children games that date back centuries, including a recognizable yet worn set of checkers. They learned how to spin wool using some of the authentic tools and gear on display. Re-enactor Kathryn Tribble opened up small bottles of various period-accurate cooking ingredients and spices, like nutmeg and bitter horseradish.
“It’s delicious in mushroom ketchup, but not so much up your nose,” Tribble told the children.
Parents were grateful for their children to have these hands-on learning opportunities.
“We’re studying colonial America this year, so this fits right in for us,” Leslie Keene said as her daughters learned how to spin wool the old-fashioned way. “It adds that hands-on experience versus just reading a book.”
“This is much more detailed and thorough than I was expecting,” said Nicole Izquierdo, who brought her three children on Tuesday. “It’s wonderful.”
Those details didn’t shy away from hardships, either. Dressed in period-accurate regalia, the young re-enactors described the lives of camp followers during the Revolutionary War. This group included the wives and children of the soldiers in addition to the tradesmen and other civilian service providers for cooking, blacksmithing and other needs.
They traveled along miles of supply lines while carrying all their clothing for coming winters, eating hardtack that could sharpen axes — one re-enactor recounted how another did exactly that — or contracting diseases while working in hospital conditions that were beyond unsanitary.
“A lot of people know the soldier part of history, but not a lot of people talk about the camp followers’ part of history,” said re-enactor Eowyn Stephenson, 13.
The “re-enactor tools,” as 14-year-old re-enactor Martin Tribble called them, also showcased that same attention to historical detail. Martin showed a collection of authentic items that such as a flintlock officer’s pistol, axes, knives and metal shackles for both hands and feet.
There was also the cat o’ nine tails, a multi-tailed whip that was typically made more effective by attaching fractured glass or rusted nails, Martin said.
“It’s important to know (this), because it’s a part of history,” Martin said, adding that even the brutal parts must be told. “We want to give them more details about what it was like for insubordinate soldiers and criminals.”
Described as the “ambassadors of 18th century American history,” the Youth Virginia Regiment is a youth representative living history re-enactment group that primarily consists of children ages 8 to 13. Tom Sasso started the group about five years ago to allow children to be included in re-enactment activities, as most are focused on adults teaching the history.
Sasso said that the group allows children to teach other children instead for a much more effective and fun experience.
“Children respond to other children, and when these guys go out, you’ll see that in their interactions,” he said.
One of those rising re-enactors is Martin, who has spent 2018 honing his portrayal of William “Billy” Flora, a free-born African-American from Virginia who served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War.
He’s known as the “Patriot Hero of the Battle of Great Bridge” in the winter of 1775.
“It puts a lot of pressure on me to learn his history so I can answer people’s questions,” Martin said about the responsibility.
The young African-American will be answering more questions when he’s once again in character to assist the Great Bridge Battlefield and Waterways History Foundation this week.
“I’ve been doing the research and getting to know what he would have done back then, starting when he first joined the militia at age 18,” he said.