Just a teenager in 1782, Betty Zane braved gunfire and flying arrows to deliver much-needed gunpowder to militia fighters under siege by British soldiers at Fort Henry on the Virginia frontier.
Altama Elementary fourth-grader Kiara Frederick told folks all about it Saturday during the Patriots Day ceremony at the casino on St. Simons Island. Moments later, Kiara just about jumped out of her skin when the cannon boomed and the muskets popped during a salute on the green to all of our Revolutionary War heroes.
Her personal feelings about loud artillery aside, the experience of taking part in the Patriots Day celebration gave Kiara keen insight into Miss Zane and other historic figures from America’s fight for freedom. She and seven other area elementary school kids took part in the 14th annual observance, dressing the part for presentations on the exploits of Revolutionary heroes and heroines such as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Nancy Hart and Patrick Henry.
“The British and Indians were shooting arrows and guns at me and every shot somehow missed me,” Kiara, in her role as Betty Zane, told the crowd of about 300. “When I got back to the fort, I gave the powder to the men.”
More than 50 historical and heritage organizations took part also in the ceremonies, which featured patriotic songs, the laying of memorial wreathes, the aforementioned salute of firepower, and a lively parade through the adjoining Pier Village. The local annual event is one of the rare Patriots Day celebrations outside of Massachusetts and Maine. There it is a state-recognized holiday to commemorate the April 19, 1775, anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the start of the Revolutionary War.
However, April 19 also was the date three years later of the Frederica Naval Action off of St. Simons Island, when three galleys of the Georgia State Navy outgunned and outmaneuvered three British warships. The local chapters of the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution honor both historic events in this local Patriots Day celebration.
Those local DARs and SARs put considerable time and energy into making this even happen, but it is nothing compared to the part they play in keeping history relevant in local classrooms. Dressed in Colonial-era attire, these dedicated adults bring history’s heroes alive for fourth- and fifth-graders who are being introduced to American history in the classroom.
These youngsters who took part in Saturday’s Patriots Day celebration put in several weeks of preparation for their roles. Jimmy Boatwright of the Marshes of Glynn SAR chapter even visited each child at their home, helping them review and research their parts.
Parents got in on the act as well, of course.
“She had to do some real in-depth research for this,” Yolanda Ketchup said of daughter Kiara’s efforts. “It was an eye-opener for me too — I didn’t even know who Betty Zane was, so we both had to do our homework.”
St. Francis Xavier Catholic School siblings Luke and Lea Maye Smith did not realize they would have so much fun preparing for their roles. Luke portrayed founding father Thomas Jefferson and Lea Maye played Nancy Hart, the feisty Carolina backwoods woman who bamboozled and executed a cadre of snobby British officers.
“It was so much fun!” Lea Maye said. “We researched stuff, and we learned a lot of stuff we didn’t know before. It was wonderful!”
“It was great,” Luke said, when his sister finally let him have a word in edgewise. “We learned a lot about all these cool people from the Revolution.”
Altama Elementary fourth-grader Nimil Watson hopes his part Saturday as Paul Revere is the first of many theatrical roles. But the budding actor said the historical significance of Revere’s midnight ride to warn the minutemen at Lexington and Concord was not lost on him.
“I know I want to be an actor some day, but I did all this so I can learn about history,” Nimil said. “I got to learn about Paul Revere and all the other patriots that made history in the past.”
Sharon Watson, Nimil’s grandmother and a retired Altama Elementary teacher, was proud of her grandson’s performance.
“He realized his responsibility and he had fun with it,” she said. “I’m so glad (the SAR and DAR) provide this opportunity for our students.”
Others taking part included: Mason Scott of Altama Elementary as Patrick Henry; Ronny Castanon of Altama Elementary as Ben Franklin; Austin Harris of St. Simons Christian as George Washington; and Anna Belle Chapman of St. Simons Christian as Emily Geiger, the young heroine with a taste for espionage.
Additionally, the Risley Middle School chorus sang patriotic tunes, the Brunswick High Navy JROTC saber team took part and local Eagle Scout Sam Parker of Troop 248 led the Pledge of Allegiance.
For his part, the SAR’s Boatright was pleased to see so many youngsters taking active roles in keeping history alive.
“They all performed so well,” said Boatright, who also served as the day’s Master of Ceremonies. “They just really knocked it out of the park. We feel like it is important that our history is remembered. We just try to augment what they are learning in the classrooms, to enhance that.”