A family-friendly opportunity to safely enjoy an escape to another place and time is coming Oct. 24-25 when Chippokes Plantation Park hosts an unusual Revolutionary War Reenactment specifically adapted to fit in with safety as well as the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re partnering with the 7th Virginia Militia to bring history to life for that one weekend,” said Chief Ranger of Visitor Experience, Kevin Koons, “and the battle – right down to the cannons firing and the cavalry riding up on their horses, will be just like something you ordinarily only get to see in the movies. It’s so meticulously researched it’s like taking a step back in time to 1781 to experience how soldiers lived, fought and survived.”
“There will be battle scenes involving foot soldiers in both American and British “redcoat” Uniforms, real cannon fire, and a cavalry unit fighting on horseback,” he continued. “And between battles the reenactors will be answering questions – socially distanced, of course – about what it was like to actually be there, right down to the smallest detail.”
While these experiences are sometimes available for those prepared to travel to where they are being staged, one aspect of the Chippokes reenactment is not. For this special event, the living historians will be portraying camps stricken with a smallpox outbreak. Koons explained that this will demonstrate a seldom-considered aspect of the harsh life of colonial soldiers as well as serve to keep the immersive experience true to life for visitors, since reenactors will be wearing masks just as soldiers did during the frequent outbreaks of serious illnesses at that time.
He emphasized that this is but one of many safety precautions reenactors and park staff will exercise to ensure that in addition to being authentic and entertaining the experience will be safe. As a further safety precaution, the event will be split into three separate time periods, and the free tickets for each session will be limited to the first 120 people per time slot who reserve them.
“Each group will have the opportunity to view cavalry and artillery demonstrations and a skirmish-type battle,” Koons said. “Guests can also enjoy the historic grounds of the Jones-Stewart Mansion, talk with the soldiers, and enjoy period sutler shops where things of that era like hats, patches, and period toys will be available for purchase. It’s truly going to be a great opportunity to enjoy a beautiful day at the park safely immersed in the history. Plus, kids who have been stuck receiving their education this year in front of a computer can get a real feel for history out in the fresh air.”
Koons said that visitors can expect a peek behind the scenes at demonstrations like open fire cooking by ladies in period dress reenacting how camp followers assisted with food and medical attention. And when not involved in battle scenes, the soldiers will demonstrate cavalry movements as well as offer opportunities for visitors to ask questions about how they had to train horses during that time not to shy from gunshots and how the animals would move, speed up, and stop during battle. There also will be artillery demonstrations including cannoneers who will demonstrate the entire process of readying and firing a cannon. One of the reenactors, Lt. Greg Fisher of the 7th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line, said “There’s not many times you have the opportunity to watch history come alive. We’re bringing to life the stories of those that helped fight for independence for this country.”
“There are no photos or people from that time, so for somebody interested in what life was like in historic times this is the hands-on opportunity to go talk to folks about it. We have done a great deal of careful research to be prepared to answer probably any question anyone could ask about the period. We have history teachers, authors – people from all walks of life.”
He added that they are particularly looking forward to this event because, due to COVID-19, this will be their first opportunity all year to do what they love and, in past years, have done at least once a month. Fisher also emphasized special precautions being taken to ensure that visitors can comfortably and safely enjoy the experience.
“We don’t want anybody just to think we’re doing this without being careful,” Fisher said. “We are limiting this to 100 re-enactors to allow for the safety of 120 socially-distanced guests in each time period.”
“We’re heading up the American side,” he explained, “and the Crown Company (British Unit) will be the 7th Royal Fusiliers. Because, of course there will be British soldiers as well or it is not authentic. We always want to be as historically accurate as possible, which is why we came up with the smallpox outbreak scenario to accommodate the masks they would have worn. And when do you get the chance to watch a cannon fire up close, or see a group of dragoons ride in formation in person?”
“This will be such a rare opportunity,” Koons added, “here at Chippokes Plantation or anywhere for that matter, and we’re really excited about it. It is a perfect break for adults, for children, for families - just a great chance to get out of this craziness and escape for a little while to enjoy some fun, and maybe even learn a thing or two.”
The reenactment event will be at Chippokes Plantation State Park, 695 Chippokes Park Road, Surry, VA 23883. Due to COVID restrictions, food and beverages will not be available at the event, but Koons said that guests are welcome to bring snacks or a picnic to enjoy on the grounds, and may also bring a lawn chair or blanket for resting and/or watching the battle.
Free tickets for the 120 guest slots per session are available by advance registration only. Time slots are Saturday, Oct. 24, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. and Sunday, October 25, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. The mansion and the farm museum will be closed during this event for safety reasons, but the grounds around the mansion will be open, as will the carriage house and the beaches. Face coverings will be required for entering indoor park facilities and also outside at any place where 6’ social distancing is not possible. The only charge related to the event will be the regular $7 fee per vehicle for park entrance and parking. Reservations for the free tickets can be made at vasp.fun/prelude or search “Prelude to Yorktown” on www.eventbright.com. For further information call 757-294-3439.