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Loyalists

Students pet re-enactor Frank Bedford's horse on Nov. 9
Students pet re-enactor Frank Bedford's horse on Nov. 9
Students pet re-enactor Frank Bedford’s horse on Nov. 9

By Alex Petroski

The Revolutionary War leapt from the textbooks and onto the fields of Northport Middle School during an afternoon performance on Monday.

The school’s seventh-graders were treated to a day of fresh air and visual demonstrations by Boots and Saddles Productions, a Freeport-based group that specializes in “living history.”

Principal Tim Hoss said about 250 students attended the “in-house field trip.”

“What better way to learn then being immersed in it?” Hoss said.

Dixie Francis works with a spinning wheel in front of students on Nov. 9
Dixie Francis works with a spinning wheel in front of students on Nov. 9

The students were split into groups and spent time at the five different stations set up by re-enactors.

Gen. George Washington, rebels and British soldiers greeted the students with tales of betrayal to the throne and last ditch pleas to join the Redcoats. A female re-enactor taught kids about the role of women during the Revolution.

The students had the opportunity to ask questions of the re-enactors, pass around props and hear deafening blasts from prop guns.

“They’re actually interacting with us and they’re showing us, not just reading out of a textbook, so we get to hear from them how it was,” Griffin Crafa said. “Now I can actually see it. I heard it, so it’s in my mind, whereas in the textbook you have to just copy notes down and … it doesn’t really stay in your mind.”

Meghan Sheridan said she had fun and Cami Tyrer, referencing the loud musket shots that echoed across the Northport Middle School playing fields, said, “It was a blast, and we learned so much.”

Social studies teacher Barbara Falcone, who organized the event for the second consecutive year, was happy with how the day turned out.

“This is what real learning should be like,” Falcone said. “They’re getting out from behind those dusty computer screens. They’re being outside and they’re seeing from all of these people what real life was like during that period.”

Falcone said the students will remember this event for many years.

Re-enactor Joe Bilardello expressed a similar sentiment: “Out here it’s like we jumped from the history books.”

Gen. George Washington (John Galla) with his headquarter’s flag. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Gen. Benedict Arnold (Brian Cea). Photo by Heidi Sutton
Gen. Benedict Arnold (Brian Cea). Photo by Heidi Sutton

The chilly 45-degree weather did not deter almost 300 brave souls who came out for a special walk through local history last Saturday night as the Three Village Historical Society held its 21st annual Spirits Tour, “The Culper Spy Ring: From Secrecy to Victory.”

“The Culper Spy Ring has really been making news lately,” Carolyn Benson, one of the tour guides, said. This tour shows “how many people from this area were involved.”

The host of the tour, Emma S. Clark, whose name graces the library in Setauket and was portrayed by Karin Lynch, set the scene for what was to come.

“The Culper Spy Ring was a group of men known as the Secret Six who helped George Washington win the war. … Their identity was so secretive that Gen. Washington never knew their true identity. Their messages were written in code and their letters were in invisible ink,” she said. “Tonight you will meet with these patriots and some loyalists who will share their stories with you about what it was like during and after the war.”

Helen ‘Morningstar’ Sells and Nellie Edwards of the Setalcott Nation. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Helen ‘Morningstar’ Sells and Nellie Edwards of the Setalcott Nation. Photo by Heidi Sutton

The 1.5-hour tours ran throughout the evening, beginning with the Young Historian tours. Each group, carrying flashlights and lanterns, was led through the cemeteries of the Setauket Presbyterian Church [established in the late 17th century] and the Caroline Church of Brookhaven [established in 1729].

All the key players were present, from the ring’s most active operatives — Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe, Anna Smith Strong, James Rivington and Robert Townsend — to Gen. George Washington and Abraham Woodhull, the leader of the Culper Spy Ring, to Gen. Benedict Arnold, the infamous traitor. Woodhull, portrayed by Dennis O’Connor, appeared at the foot of his own grave in the Presbyterian cemetery during the tour.

Lesser-known community spirits made appearances as well, including Bette Harmon, born into slavery to the Strong family; Maj. John Andre, a British spy whose capture exposed Benedict Arnold as a traitor; loyalist Col. Benjamin Floyd; patriot Rev. Zachariah Greene; and a special appearance by  Setalcott Nation members Helen “Morning Star” Sells and Nellie Edwards. In total, 20 spirits were conjured to provide an insight into their lives during the Revolutionary War. The period costumes, provided by Nan Guzzetta, gave the entire event an eerily authentic feel.

Private David Williams (George Monez), Major John Andre (Pat DiVisconti), Private Isaac Van Wart (Sage Hardy). Photo by Heidi Sutton
Private David Williams (George Monez), Major John Andre (Pat DiVisconti), Private Isaac Van Wart (Sage Hardy). Photo by Heidi Sutton

At each stop, the spirits gave out secret codes that, when compiled and decoded, formed a secret letter for Gen. Washington, who was the last stop of the night.

Nine-year-old Alex Perrone, of Stony Brook, was experiencing the tour for the first time with his mother, Lauren, but came well prepared.

“My mom and I read a book called ‘Redcoats and Petticoats,’” he said.

Alex enjoyed the tour, especially meeting Washington and learning about the Setalcott tribe and their longhouses, and said he would definitely do it again. His mom agreed, adding, “I just thought it was really informative and I thought the actors were wonderful and I think it was a great way to learn about local history and this special place.”

In all, the 21st annual Spirits Tour was a rare historical treat. For more information, visit the historical society at www.tvhs.org.

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