Not to steal Anthony Skaggs’ thunder, but Elijah Clarke was a fierce Georgia backwoodsman whose tactics as a militia commander dogged British and loyalist troops throughout the Revolutionary War.
An eighth-grader at Jane Macon Middle School, Anthony will represent the home-state hero of the American Revolution today during Patriots’ Day observances at the Casino on St. Simons Island. Anthony has been working with members of the local Sons of the American Revolution chapter in preparation for his presentation on Col. Clarke, who led militia forces in a rout of loyalists at the Battle of Kettle Creek in Wilkes County, Ga., on Feb. 14, 1779.
Anthony will be joined by fellow Jane Macon Middle Schoolers Evan Ratiff, Hayden Gordon and Risley Middle Schooler Aidan Philipbar for the ceremonies. Evan, Hayden and Adrian will perform representations of Georgia’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence — George Walton, Lyman Hall and Button Gwinnett, respectively.
The patriotic pageantry also will include a host of folks running from gray to balding, who will don homespun militia attire and crisp Continental Army uniforms; ladies from various American heritage societies will turn out in their best Colonial-era dresses and accessories. Cannon smoke and thunder will echo across the green, accompanied by the crack of musket fire.
Fittingly, Paul Revere (Jason Zangla) and Sybil Ludington (Sienna Sahlberg) will be on horseback to lead a parade though the Pier Village shopping district to conclude the Golden Isles’ annual Patriots’ Day. If you have never attended one of the previous 14 Patriots’ Day celebrations on St. Simons Island, stop by the Casino on Beachview Drive and check it out. It begins at 10 a.m. and will wrap up with the parade sometime in the early afternoon.
For the record, Patriots’ Day is not an official holiday in these parts, but it should be. In fact, except for the Fourth of July, there is scarce little on America’s holiday calendar by way of celebrating this nation’s bold stand for independence. Patriots’ Day has long been a paid state holiday in Maine and Massachusetts, held on the third Monday in April to coincide with the opening salvos of the Revolutionary War.
That occurred on April 19, 1775, when steadfast minutemen stood up to the world’s most powerful army on a field in Lexington, Mass. The day started badly for the Americans, but the Battle of Lexington and Concord would turn into a drubbing as concealed militia pelted the sharp red ranks of British soldiers with a withering fusillade of musket fire all the way back to Boston.
Lest we forget, numerous engagements of the Revolution were fought on Southern soil, some in Georgia. One such showdown was the Frederica Naval Action, in which a crew of the Georgia State Navy bamboozled its British counterparts and captured three warships in the waters off St. Simons Island. The decisive patriot victory occurred on April 19, 1778.
Local members of the SAR could not ignore the coincidence.
With the Frederica Naval Action taking place on the same date three years after the famous “shot heard round the world,” they decided to combine the two. And that is how we got our local Patriots’ Day celebration.
Watching the fellows in tricorne hats and coonskin caps shoulder their muzzle-loading muskets makes for a fun piece of creative anachronism, to be sure. And the ladies of the Colonial Dames and Daughters of the American Revolution add to the gentle deception with charming attention to 18th century fashion detail.
But for avid historic preservationists such as William Ramsaur, this annual event would not worth the time without the participation of youngsters such as Anthony and Evan and Hayden and Adrian. Ramsaur has spent countless hours over the years taking history lessons on America’s revolution into local classrooms. Most students, however, probably would not even recognize him without his signature Continental Army general’s uniform. If his appearance bears a likeness to Gen. George Washington, this happy coincidence has served him well over the years. Fellow SAR member John Turrentine does an equally admirable job of bringing Paul Revere alive in local classrooms.
Folks like Turrentine and Ramsaur know they are not getting any younger. For them, passing on their youthful enthusiasm for American history to a new generation is the most rewarding part of membership in the SAR. That is why the mature historical pomp and circumstance of Patriots’ Day ceremonies will always be infused with a healthy dose of youth.
Folks attending today’s event also will be treated to patriotic songs performed by the 30-member Risley Middle School Chorus. Members of the Brunswick High JROTC will form crossed-sabers for the wreath-laying ceremonies. A host of girl and boy scouts, as well as students from St. Simons Christian School and Oglethorpe Point and St. Simons elementary schools, will take part in the parade through the Pier Village shopping district.
“When I go schools, or when we visit scout troops, I see a great feeling of patriotism,” Ramsaur once told me. “I see that it is being instilled in our young men and women, people of all colors and nationalities. They demonstrate patriotism with their actions.”
Want to join the action? Head out to Patriots’ Day today and celebrate our nation’s original declaration of independence.