By Carter Giegerich
Nearly one hundred years before the first presidential proclamation of thanksgiving, Richard Caswell, the first governor of North Carolina, declared a day of “general and solemn thanksgiving” following the victory of the Battle of Saratoga, which is regarded as a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
This celebration mirrored many fall celebrations throughout the United States’ infancy, usually commemorating a successful harvest or major military victory. On Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 16-17, Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area will be marking the harvest season with its very own Colonial Harvest Celebration.
The park’s living history interpreters, the Washington County Regiment of North Carolina Militia, will serve as hosts for the event.
“What we think of as a traditional Thanksgiving meal is a holdover,” said Chad Bogart, one of the park’s historic interpreters and an officer in the militia.
Bogart said harvest celebrations have historically served the purpose of bringing people together following the hard work involved in gathering the summer’s crops but before the harsh winters began.
“Another reason to celebrate was to repay neighbors for their hard work,” Bogart. said. “With the huge amount to be done during the harvest, a community needed to work together to get everything preserved and ready for winter. When everything was finally finished, it’s no wonder people were ready to let loose a bit.”
With autumn in full swing, the time seemed perfect for a mid-November harvest celebration. The two-day event will feature demonstrations by the militia, as well as examples of frontier life and the harvest days from the 1770s. There will also be a reading of Gov. Caswell’s 1777 thanksgiving proclamation during the festivities.
This month’s gathering of the militia, known as a muster, coincides with the harvest celebration and, according to Bogart, these musters were a way for people to come together as a community.
These muster, he noted, would have consisted just as much of meeting with neighbors and friends as they would of actually training. According to Bogart, a muster provided one of the few opportunities a frontiersman had to see the other people residing in his community.
The Colonial Harvest Celebration and militia muster will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17. Admission is free.
Other activities throughout the weekend will include open hearth cooking programs, flintlock musket and rifle demonstrations, 18th century artillery demonstrations, militia drills and training and many more aspects of daily life on the colonial American frontier.
Bogart said the celebration provides is a perfect opportunity for the entire family to visit one of Tennessee’s finest state parks and enjoy two days immersed in history and fun that showcase Tennessee’s rich heritage.
During your time at the park, be sure to experience the new interpretive exhibits and the Eastern National Book and Gift Shop located in the park’s visitors center.
Below is the complete schedule of events:
Saturday, Nov. 16
10 a.m. – Militia Inspection and Raising the Colors: Hear the roar of muskets and rifles as the militia members start off the day with a patriotic ceremony.
11 a.m. – Artillery Demonstration: Witness the procedures for loading and firing the fort’s cannon.
Noon-3 p.m. — Visit with colonial frontier families as they celebrate the bounty of the harvest season.
3 p.m. – Militia Drill: View the county militia as members train and prepare for military action.
4:30 p.m. – Camps Close: Visit again on Sunday for another exciting day of 18th century living history reenactments.
Sunday, Nov. 17
10 a.m. – Militia Inspection and Raising the Colors: Hear the roar of muskets and rifles as the militia starts off the day with a patriotic ceremony.
11 a.m. – Worship Service: Feel free to join the militia for Sunday morning service held in the courtyard of Fort Watauga.
Noon – Artillery Demonstration: Witness the procedures for loading and firing the fort’s cannon.
1 p.m. – Afternoon Tea and Sunday Social: Join the women of the settlement for this delightful social gathering. Gentlemen are also invited to attend.
1:30 p.m. – Artillery Demonstration: Witness the procedures for loading and firing the fort’s cannon.
2:30 p.m. – Militia Drill: View the County Militia as they train and prepare for military action.
Ongoing activities and displays will also include demonstrations of colonial life skills, such as working with hides and pelts, open hearth cooking, hand sewing, leatherwork, wool processing, flint and steel fire starting and much more.
Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area is located at 1651 W. Elk Ave., Elizabethton.
For more information about this and other exciting events at the park, call 543-5808 or visit www.sycamoreshoalstn.org, www.tnstateparks.com/SycamoreShoals and www.washingtoncountyregiment.wordpress.com.