While many in Middle Georgia were barbecuing and boating on the Fourth of July, some were taking a trip back in time.
Jarrell Plantation, a state historic site near Juliette, held its annual Ole Time Independence Day, while at Fort Hawkins in Macon, visitors saw Col. Benjamin Hawkins portrayed by Marty Willett.
At Jarrell visitors had a glimpse into the lives people led when they couldn’t buy whatever they needed at a store.
Yarn was being made on spinning wheels, tools were hammered out on anvils, and a steam engine more than a century old puffed away.
One of the most popular demonstrations seemed to be the Ocmulgee Blacksmiths Guild, where members were hammering out shapes from iron heated red hot over a fire.
Jim Archambault said the guild’s mission is to preserve the craft of blacksmithing by teaching it to others.
“If someone doesn’t teach it, the art of blacksmithing dies out,” Archambault said. “We are passing it down to the next generation.”
Nearby, volunteer Fred Dismuke operated a stationary steam engine that once powered the plantation’s saw mill, grist mill and cotton gin.
“I would just about pay to do it,” he said as it steamed away rhythmically at idle speed. “It just reminds me of a simpler life.”
The first demonstrators that visitors saw as they entered the plantation grounds were James and Jenna Thrasher-Sneathen of Locust Grove. They were using spinning wheels to turn raw wool into yarn.
They became interested in the craft after seeing it done at a Renaissance fair about four years ago.
“Not a lot of people do it anymore, and we kind of like the idea of self-sufficiency,” Jenna said.
Wendy Smith, the park naturalist, said the Fourth of July is the park’s biggest event of the year. Usually 200-300 people attend.
“It’s original, it’s old-fashioned,” she said. “It gives people a chance to truly see what it would have been like here in the 19th Century.”
At about noon, most of the visitors in the park gathered up around the saw mill building and listened as John Wayne Dobson of Macon read the Declaration of Independence.
At Fort Hawkins, Willett portrayed Col. Benjamin Hawkins as if he had risen from the dead to speak to those in current times. He focused on the consequences of the War of 1812.
Hawkins was an Indian agent who advocated for peace with the natives. He oversaw the construction of the fort that bears his name.
As Hawkins, Willett discussed how close America came to losing the War of 1812, or what he called “the second war for independence.” He concluded by reading the little known final verse of “The Star Bangled Banner,” which was inspired by Frances Scott Key’s experience watching Fort McHenry bombed by British ships during the War of 1812.
“I hope now when you hear that song, you will be moved even more to realize how close it came that we would no longer be America,” he said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.