July 4, 2021, turned out to be a red-letter day for me. I had not visited the Oliver Miller Homestead since the pandemic, so I decided to take advantage of one of their special events, the re-enactment of Independence Day.
For once the weather cooperated, giving us a bright sunny day with the temperature being just cool enough to be comfortable on a summer afternoon.
I was pleased to see the event well attended, particularly with so many families with small children.
In addition to the well-preserved stone house built by the Millers early in the 1800s, the Homestead has an impressive collection of outbuildings that provide an excellent example of the way “normal” people lived in colonial days, a perfect contrast to the life of aristocrats like the folks at the Woodville Experience.
This time I decided to skip the tour through the stone house and concentrate on the rest of the estate. I began with the beehive oven, which I photographed on behalf of a member of our extended family who currently is involved in building outdoor ovens for financially comfortable people in New England.
My next stop was at the smoke house. The docent there explained to me that this was a “cold” smoke house, with an external fire pit and a tunnel leading to the “house” in which the meat was being smoked. I was familiar with a smoke house with the fire pit inside, and the inherent difficulty of tending the fire. One more colonial technology that I need to understand better.
The spring house is particularly impressive. The Millers found a dependable spring on the property and built a stone building around it, to ensure the temperature would stay in the 50s year-around, making it a perfect place to store things like milk and cheese. The spring produces about five gallons per minute of water into a trough that ultimately discharges into Catfish Run.
The docent there was holding a drop spindle, which prompted me to request a demonstration. I have tried to spin fibers into yarn with a drop spindle unsuccessfully and am always impressed at how easily artisans do this. She immediately gave her spindle a spin and began to convert a bundle of wool into very respectable yarn.
My next stop was the focus of the day’s event, the Liberty Pole. It had not yet been erected; visitors were encouraged to write their names on red and blue ribbons and tie them on the pole. I chose to put the name of my great-great-great-grandfather, Johan Jacob Euler, on the pole. He was in Maryland at that time and certainly would have been a patriot.
While I was doing this, I was aware of a photographer filming a variety of things. Several days later I got an email from Nancy LaSota reporting that she had seen me on the 11:00 WTAE news writing a name on a blue ribbon. Fifteen seconds of fame!
Nearby, a volunteer in period costume was demonstrating the tools and weapons a frontiersman would carry on a foray into the wilderness. I was surprised to learn that his musket was a replica of a left-handed 1740 (German) Jaeger.
There was a special treat in the log cabin, a young man with a fiddle playing Scotch-Irish airs that were popular in colonial times. He also gave a fine description of the cabin and the life of the Millers in it before the stone house was constructed. Outside the cabin was the extensive herb garden, bubbling over with luxuriant chamomile, rosemary, mint, sage, dill, catnip, and chives.
Next was the carpenter’s shed where the docent was demonstrating the use of colonial tools, followed by the harness shed which was full of interesting things – yokes, hames, doubletrees, etc. Outside the shed was an attractive two seater buggy, beginning to be hitched up.
The blacksmith in the forge is always fun to watch. He was making square-cut nails, cycling between pumping the bellows to heat the workpiece and hammering it on his anvil. It is easy to see why nails where so expensive in those days.
I was eager to get inside the barn and compare its framing to the new one at Woodville. Woodville has bents with three equal bays and sloping purlin posts at the top of each interior post. The Homestead barn bents have four bays, with the two interior ones much wider than the outer ones. The purlin posts are vertical, located halfway between the inner posts. The difference apparently is related to the usage of the space between the posts.
As I was pondering this, I learned that the re-enactment was about to begin. The Liberty Pole had been erected, with its ribbons fluttering in the light breeze. A number of the colonials (volunteers dressed in period garb) then took turns reading the Declaration of Independence aloud, punctuated with “huzzahs” from the crowd. Even though this was just a group of grown-ups play-acting, I found the whole ceremony to be very touching.
It was easy for me to imagine similar events occurring throughout the thirteen colonies two hundred and forty-five years ago, to audiences containing Royalists as well as Patriots. I suspect that there were as many people muttering “Treason” as there were shouting “Huzzah”, in some of the colonies.
The net result of the whole afternoon was a sincere feeling of patriotism that I haven’t experienced frequently in recent years. It was a major contrast to my reaction to the insipid celebration in the nation’s capital that was televised on PBS later that evening. I suppose the fireworks warranted a few “huzzahs”; the rest of the show did not.
We are indeed fortunate for having the Oliver Miller Homestead in our area; its effectiveness is entirely due to the large group of dedicated volunteers who make things happen there. They richly deserve our support, financially and by attending their special events.
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