Tom Hartley joked that he has probably never really looked cool in his life.
But a dozen or so visitors who flocked to him Thursday afternoon at Fort Frederica National Monument would beg to differ. They all thought Hartley looked fiercely dapper, armed to the teeth and dressed head to toe in the crimson regalia of an 18th century British soldier.
“This is the uniform they wore, whether it’s March or August,” Hartley noted, after explaining the ponderous layering of wool clothing that made up a soldier’s outfit back then. “They didn’t learn yet that it’s hot in Georgia.”
Hartley went on to present an account of colonial life at the fort on St. Simons Island, ending it with a detailed display of the 24 painstaking steps required to fire a musket in battle. It would take too much space to describe the process here and, actually, you really had to be there.
Not to worry. Hartley will be back Saturday, along with many other historical interpreters during Colonial Days at Fort Frederica. The daylong event is free and takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fort Frederica was established in 1736 on the British frontier with the Spanish in St. Augustine. It was occupied by some 500 settlers and soldiers by the 1740s and remained a viable community into the late 1750s. From blacksmiths to candlemakers, the folks who inhabited the fort and the tools of their trade will be on display Saturday. There will be many hands-on demonstrations for adults and children alike.
“People who join us are going to see colonial life the way it was in the 1740s and hopefully learn a little history too,” said Steve Theus, site manager at Fort Frederica. “As you walk around, you’ll learn about the occupants of the town, the folks who lived here and why they were here.”
One of those folks was Dr. Hawkins, who practiced 18th century medicine on his neighbors at Fort Frederica. Dr. Hawkins lived at the fort in cramped quarters shared grudgingly with a roommate, but that is another story.
To find out what the good doctor may have prescribed to his patients in those days, visitors Saturday can stop in at Dr. Hawkins’ office.
“He was quite a character,” Theus said.
Additionally, colonial Georgia founder Gen. James Oglethorpe will be on hand. The fort also will garrison British and Spanish soldiers for the day, with displays of cannonade and musket firepower taking place hourly. Oglethorpe’s recruitment sergeant will seek young visitors to swear in as members of the British army.
In addition to his duties as a soldier, Hartley will set up a blacksmith’s workshop. A retired electrical engineering professor from Ohio, Hartley is fascinated more by the brains than the brawn it took to be self- sufficient on the colonial frontier.
“For me this is about the technology,” said Hartley, 61. “Those guys were just so incredibly smart.”
Hartley’s wife, Karen, will be among those displaying the arts of spinning wool and flax, dying cloth and other textile techniques of the era.
There will be candle- making exhibits, and folks can join in a game of colonial -era cricket.
Native American historian Jim Sawgrass will have an encampment depicting the natives who allied with the colonials.
“These were fascinating times,” Theus said. “Hopefully, folks will come out Saturday and find out all about it.”