By Julianne Mosher
Long Island — and especially the North Shore — is rich with history. Chapters can be written about what has happened in these neighborhoods ranging from the early days of the Native Americans and the struggle they encountered when settlers came to shore to the boat-building community that thrived in the early 19th century in Port Jefferson.
And while history lovers in Huntington, Smithtown, Setauket and Port Jeff thrive on the Revolutionary War stories and how several families helped General George Washington with the Culper Spy Ring, the local community has even more history that was never really spoken about — for instance, the Platt Brothers and their role in the Civil War.
On Friday, March 3, the Port Jefferson Historical Society is planning to host their annual dinner at The WaterView at The Port Jefferson Country Club. Joan Townley, vice president of the society, said that while the dinner is held every year to include the usual election of officers and reports as well as projects for the future, 2023 is bringing something special to the table — the premiere screening of a locally-produced film.
Titled I Now Take Up My Pen, the 38-minute film written and produced by St. George Living History Productions — a local group that creates films and webinars for nonprofits and other historical societies — tells the heart-wrenching tale of William and Jesse Platt, who separately volunteered their service to the 5th Regiment of the Zouaves from Long Island.
Townley said that for over a year the historical society was working on getting a $10,000 grant from New York State that would help fund a film they had been wanting to do for a long time.
It all started in 1970 when the society was contacted by a woman in North Carolina claiming to be the granddaughter of one of the Platt Brothers. “She had these letters that were written to each brother and their father during the Civil War,” Townley said. “She sent the Mather House Museum copies of the letters and they sat around for quite a while, but the dream was to one day have them transcribed and turn it into a film.”
Well, that dream finally came true nearly a decade after the letters were read through, pieced together and put together in a book.
Without giving too much away, the film follows the Platt family as 15-year-old William enlists in the war, much to the dismay of his father. Upset and angry, the father (played by the historical society’s president, Nick Acampora) sends his second son, Jesse, on a mission to bring his younger brother home. The film follows the letters that Jesse and William wrote to each other and their family describing in detail everything they saw.
Sal St. George, who read each and every letter, wrote the screenplay.
In December of 2021, Townley said that Assemblyman Steve Englebright secured the grant for the historical society to use. Using local actors and members of the historical society, with costumes created by the late Nan Guzzetta, filming began in the summer of 2022 in various locations in Setauket and Port Jefferson including the Sherwood-Jayne House and Farm, Cedar Hill Cemetery, the Mather House Museum and the Port Jefferson Village Center. Post production was finalized in December.
When the board began discussing plans for this year’s dinner, they realized it would be the perfect time to premiere a film showcasing a piece of Port Jefferson history.
“Someone gave us these letters as a gift and we wanted to share them with as many people as possible,” Townley said.
Darren St. George, creative director to the film and also the actor who played William, said that being able to show viewers this piece of history was very rewarding.
“The historical society has letters of correspondence and we brought that story to light. Through their writings you can see the brothers on the battlefield. It’s always challenging when you’re portraying someone’s real life in a film, but you recognize as you read more about William’s life in the letters that there are emotions I had to portray and there’s the truth that he lived in them. You see the tragedy that befalls him for enlisting in the war, but also for his family … you see that with his father, it affects everyone,” he said.
“Two normal young men chose to serve their country,” Townley said. “With this film, they come to life and their story is being [finally] shared.”
In the future the historical society is looking to distribute the film to local schools.
“This is our history,” said Darren St. George. “It’s not a Hollywood depiction of what happened, and it’s a great way to understand history if you can connect it to your local community.”
The Port Jefferson Historical Society invites the community to its annual dinner at the Waterview at the Port Jefferson Country Club, 44 Fairway Drive, Port Jefferson on Friday, March 3 from 6 to 10 p.m. Enjoy dinner (choice of chicken francaise, beef sirloin or salmon), dessert, raffles and the premiere screening of I Now Take Up My Pen. Tickets are $49 per person. To order (by Feb. 28 please), email [email protected].