History came to life at this weekend’s Revolutionary Germantown Festival [gallery and video]

A neighborhood’s past flashed-forward into the present for people who headed to Cliveden for Saturday’s Revolutionary Germantown Festival, an annual event which featured reenactments from the 1777 Battle of Germantown along with food, drink, presentations and games for people of all ages.

“I wanted to learn more about Philadelphia history,” said Jordyn Kimelheim, 22, who came from South Philadelphia for the festivites. “The reenactments really make the past come alive.”

The story they told

Through the reenactments, the crowd was transported back to Oct. 4, 1777, when Gen. George Washington plotted a campaign to liberate occupied Philadelphia from British control, a plan which came to an abrupt end.

During the battle, Washington’s troops were forced to retreat into Montgomery County while the British tightened their hold.

At the Revolutionary Germantown Festival, the story came to life with troops rushing the Cliveden mansion as cannon blasts rang out in all directions.

More than a battle

“Each year, it’s different. Each year, you learn something new,” said lifelong Germantown resident Gaylord Grant. “This year, they’re really brining African-Americans in the war to light, and I really like that.”

Helping in that mission was reenactor Noah Lewis, who portrayed African-American revolutionary soldier Ned Hector. In front of the historic Upsala mansion, Lewis broke down the battle from Hector’s perspective and talked of the importance of African Americans in the Revolutionary War.

“They were fighting for a country’s freedom,” he said, “and didn’t know if they’d have their own freedom by the end of the war.”

Originally, Washington did not want African-American soliders in his army.

As time passed, though, both free and enslaved African-Americans were invited to fight and by war’s end, they constituted 10 to 25 percent of Washington’s army.

“Our power was in our diversity and always will be in our diversity,” said Lewis.

Teachable moments

ACES Museum‘s tent showcased a custom relating to wedding ceremonies called “jumping the broom.”

“The jump-the-broom ceremony was the only way for slaves to get married during this time,” said Renee Workman, ACES’ program coordinator. “Our goal here today is to teach. We want people to learn.”

Awbury Arboretum set up an exhibit of historical plants that are indigenous to Germantown, and were used during the war. Kids got a first-hand experience of signing documents with juice from the pokeberry, which was used to sign many important historical documents.

“We’re working on telling the story of the historical plants and nursery trade in Germantown,” said Beth Miner, Awbury’s director of outreach and community engagement.

The crowd could also sample freshly churned ice cream from Grumblethrope and participated in colonial games at Wyck house.

Representatives from the Stenton mansion, the historic home of James Logan, were also on site with an array of traditional colonial attire for attendees to try on.

“We like to see the kids get involved and have fun,” said Kaelyn Taylor, Stenton’s program coordinator. “The adults like to dress up and take pictures of themselves, too. It’s simple, but people enjoy it.”

Amanda Staller is a La Salle University student who writes for GermantownBeat, a local student-produced news site. NewsWorks features articles from GermantownBeat on its Northwest Philadelphia community sites and contributes multimedia journalism training to the program.

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