Gee Willikers! I have suddenly realized that retirement is all about doing things you could have never done while working. In my case, a school principal works 24/7, 365 days a year and makes few friends, other than children and a faculty. I now know there’s a whole world waiting for my involvement. My most recent totally unique, out-of-my-realm-from-other experiences, took place last weekend in Franklin County, Virginia.
I participated in my first Civil War reenactment at the Booker T. Washington National Park in Virginia called Juneteenth. Juneteenth (June plus nineteen) is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865
That order was read on every farm in every state in 1865. Juneteenth is celebrated in many places now honoring that day. In my case, as part of the Historical Guild at the park, I played Elizabeth Martha Sample Powell (1819-1892) who lived up the road from the Burroughs Farm where Booker T. Washington was enslaved, until the proclamation was read setting he and his family free.
Not only were the chemise, corset, pantaloons, under petticoat, hoop, over petticoat, half sleeves, long sleeved dress, bonnet, cotton socks and period shoes stifling…I had to drink and eat in the period. I had my Mason Jar, period journal and pencils, an 1800’s book to read and no makeup or hair bangs. But I have the Southern accent down pat!
Even more unsettling was being in the actual 1865 moment when all slaves were freed and life as known by the farm owners at the time turned upside-down and fortunes were lost. The 2017 me argued with the 1865 me inside my head about how we could have ever gotten ourselves in the predicament we did in the first place and whether we have learned our lessons.
It was an honor representing Elizabeth and feeling the strangeness of the day. I am having such fun investigating a farmer’s wife’s life during the times. My latest quest is whether Elizabeth would have worn a chatelaine with her dress. If you are reading this and can add to my query, please leave information in the comments box.