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Students in 4-H club try out plantation life
BY ROB HEDELT
As many of their friends spent much of yesterday watching TV or texting, youngsters in a unique
4–H club were busy re-creating life as it would have been on the 12th day of Christmas at Washington’s Birthplace.
Wearing period costumes, club members from the ages of 6 to 19 spun yarn, pounded metal on a forge, organized Colonial dances and wove wool sheered on the grounds into a rough cloth, scenes a young George Washington might have witnessed on Pope’s Creek plantation in Westmoreland County.
A graduate of the group, now employed by the national park known as Washington Birthplace National Monument, even put together a full feast on the eve of Epiphany.
It was complete with a roast of beef cooked in a tin oven at the edge of the kitchen hearth.
“We grew all the herbs and some of the vegetables here,” said Meagan Gay, who learned her Colonial cooking as a member of the 4–H Heritage Club that’s headquartered at and run in cooperation with the national park.
She added, “Funny thing, we’ll have half the rangers and most of the club members down here to the kitchen once the roast’s done and you can smell the doughnuts cooking.”
But perhaps the most fitting and natural adaptation of Colonial behavior—at least for youngsters—was demonstrated by club member Jaden Hight, 10, of King George.
As Gay pointed out, there aren’t many days when the young Hight and her friends aren’t seen munching a frond of fennel from the garden planted to approximate what the Washingtons might have grown.
Liking the licorice-like taste, Hight made no excuses when asked if she was prone to munch a bunch during living-history events at the birthplace.
“Because it’s historically accurate, you don’t have to worry about pesticides,” she noted, swirling the colorful cape that topped the sort of period frocks and skirts she and her friends donned for the day.
One of the key figures in the club, Deborah Lawton, spent most of her day in the spinning cottage just down from the big house.
There, she was sweetly and patiently helping 9-year-old Emily Kegley of King George turn lengths of washed wool into yarn, using a walking wheel.
“The club’s going into its fourth year, and though our numbers ebb and flow, we’ve had as many as 50 young people involved at times,” she said.
The group got going when Lawton and her family joined forces with park and 4–H officials to create a unique sort of history-oriented club.
“I’ve always been interested in history, and my family and I had volunteered before here at the park,” said Lawton. “Others were interested in being involved in the history here.”
To that end, said Lawton, children in the groups and many of their parents got basic training in activities central to the plantation in Washington’s time.
The skills include spinning and weaving, blacksmithing, Colonial cooking and dance, while other topics included manners of the period and plantation history.
Lawton said members put as much time as they can into the group, which strives for one meeting or activity per month, sometimes even traveling to other historic sites.
On a cold day Saturday, a place almost as popular as the kitchen and its wide hearth was the smithy, with its hand-pumped leather bellows and forge.
There, 13-year-old Jacob Gray and 15-year-old Jonathan Gray took turns firing metal, which was transformed through steady pounding of hammers from flat metal slab to a kitchen hanging hook and kitchen knife.
This was all done under the watchful eye of blacksmith volunteer Mark Bogue of King George, who himself made small metal pins for many young visitors.
Richard Lahey, a park ranger who works closely with the club, said it helps the park demonstrate how the work of a plantation got done in Colonial times.
Lawton added: “When our youngsters actually teach adults what they’ve learned about these heritage skills, it’s great.”
nps.gov/gewa. Those interested in the club can call the park at 804/ 224-1732.
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415