Despite the summer heat, a gray-haired man donning a black wool coat climbed atop the steps of a mill house promptly at noon.
There wasn’t much of an introduction to the crowd, which listened intently to his passionate oratory.
“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” 65-year-old John Wayne Dobson said with fervor.
“And for the support of this Declaration ... we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Dozens who gathered in the shade gave applause in a moment of shared national pride.
Saturday marked the eighth straight year Dobson read the Declaration of Independence aloud at Jarrell Plantation’s Ol’ Time Independence Day, an annual event since the 1980s.
“It’s become very special to me, much more than maybe it was in high school,” said Dobson, who wore a straw hat and Revolutionary War-era style broadcloth trousers. “It’s a powerful document. There’s a lot in there (once) you get past some of the language from that period. ... You get to reading what they’re saying, (and) it kind of gets your dander up.”
Here we were taking a stand against what was then the most powerful country in the world. … Here we were a little upstart country saying, ‘We’re just not going to take it anymore.’
John Wayne Dobson
Dobson said he practiced for the oratory at home in front of his cats.
“I feel like I’m closer to it or I’ve got a better understanding of it every time,” Dobson said. “Here we were taking a stand against what was then the most powerful country in the world. … Here we were a little upstart country saying, ‘We’re just not going to take it anymore.’ ”
While Jarrell Plantation was once a cotton plantation with 39 slaves, the man who built most of the structures there today didn’t take over until 1895. Dick Jarrell, his wife and 12 children tended the farm that included a sawmill, cotton gin, gristmill, sugar cane press and syrup evaporator, powered with two steam engines. They also had a blacksmith shop, smokehouse, chicken house and beehives. In 1974, his descendants donated the buildings, and Jarrell Plantation State Historic Site was established.
Tydra Miller, 32, of Macon, had never been before. After reading about the celebration on a state parks website, she planned to check it out with her kids.
Miller said she enjoyed Dobson’s speech, but her three children had more fun playing tug-o-war and learning about toys in the olden times.
A wooden yo-yo and dolls were new to 11-year-old Akia Miller, who said she thought her toys were “just kind of” more fun. Her siblings, both 8, enjoyed seeing a well.
“We looked around at the smokehouse, the flower pit, the chicken coop,” Akia said. “We saw this lady, she had these biscuits frying on the stove, and we saw the Jarrell House.”
Spinning fibers, music, quilting, sack races and egg tosses were also part of the Independence celebration.
The Jarrells were Primitive Baptists and, “of all the holidays of the year, this was the only one that they really celebrated,” recently retired Interpretive Ranger Bretta Perkins, 61, said. “This was the only holiday that Mr. Jarrell let his kids take a day off. ... They celebrated it mostly with family being together and time off from work.”
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.