UPPER MAKEFIELD >> The sound of musket fire intermingled with the cadence of the fife and drum on Independence Day as Washington Historic Park hosted a revolutionary celebration.
Visitors braved the Fourth of July heat to learn from re-enactors and historians about the war for independence as the park turned the clock back to 1776 and the nation’s first Independence Day.
Standing on the steps of the McConkey’s Ferry Inn, Philadelphia resident Sean Corcoran read the immortal words of the Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson that set the stage for the Revolutionary War.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” his said as the words fell on the ears of the assembled crowd.
As Corcoran read the document, the gathering heard a lengthy list of grievances made against the king and the reasons for declaring independence from Britain.
As Corcoran concluded the reading, he lifted his hat in the air and joined the crowd in shouting, “Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!”
After listening to the reading, General George Washington, portrayed by John Godzieba, shared his thoughts with the gathering on the document and upon the meaning of the day.
“You’ve just done something that hundreds of thousands of citizens have done today across this nation - you listened to these words,” he said. “This is the awe we hold this document. Imperfect, certainly. Written under stress, certainly. But it’s a road map that continues today. Can we change certain things in here, absolutely. But we still revere it. We still celebrate its birth and celebrate its signing.
“We all have our differences,” he continued. “Certainly my officers and I did not always agree. We had differences of opinion. But we listened to each other. All the men who signed this document may not have gotten along, may not have agreed. But they did agree to one thing. Let’s start something and let’s keep it moving.
“This is a legal document. It lists grievances ... This had to do with a king who never set foot in this country, trying to rule a country so far away, trying to devalue it and trying to use us as a bank account. These men (who signed the Declaration) took a great chance because everyone knew who they were, everyone knew where they lived. Flawed yes, but it’s a beginning of something,” he said of the document. “We need to keep it moving forward.”
His words set the tone for the rest of the day as the park bustled with visitors, many of whom came to the event wearing red, white and blue.
In front of the Durham boat house, re-enactors were busy mustering youngsters into the Colonial Army, equipping each with toy wooden muskets.
They assembled along Embarkation Drive, taking part in a series of drills before heading to a nearby patch of grass to “charge” the field.
Later they got to see a real musket drill narrated by re-enactor Frank Lyons of Yardley. Lyons and the men led the musket firing drill on the banks of the Delaware River where Washington launched his bold and daring crossing of the Delaware River in 1776, a military maneuver that changed the course of the war.
At the other end of Embarkation Drive, cannon fire split the afternoon air sending circles of sulfur-laden smoke billowing toward the river.
Kids covered their ears as parents captured the artillery firing demonstrations with their smart phones and cameras.
Throughout the park, the sights and sounds of the American Revolution were everywhere from a display of Colonial era flags to the sounds of the park’s newly-formed Fife and Drum Corps, which played prior to the reading of the Declaration and then led young recruits into the field of “battle.”
Stacy Roth-Niemiec of Fairless Hills, who helped organize the new Corps, said the group formally organized this year and made its first appearance at the park’s Memorial Day observance.
“When the re-enactors are drilling it’s nice to have the music. It adds another dimension to the park experience,” said Roth-Niemiec.
Music was a big part of the military, adds Roth-Niemiec. “All the movements that the troops did were to various signals and beats and their whole day was regulated by the fife and drum calls.”
The new Corps, which also played on the Fourth of July and at the park’s Rebels and Redcoats classic car show on July 6, was started for the express purpose of adding music to the special events at the park.
The Corps is looking for new recruits. If you can play the fife or drum, contact the park at 215-493-4076.
If you missed the Revolutionary fun over the Fourth of July holiday, mark your calendar for these upcoming events:
- Bark in the Park, Saturday, August 17 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- Colonial Cocktails & Cuisine in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Friends of Washington Crossing Historic Park on Saturday, Sept. 28 from 6 to 10 p.m.
- Stargazing at Bowman’s Tower on Saturday, Sept. 28 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
- Lantern Tour, Friday, October 18 from 7 to 9 p.m.
- Fall Brewfest, Saturday, Oct. 25 from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.
- Waffles with Washington, Saturday, Nov. 16 from 10 a.m. to noon.
- Christmas Crossing Dress Rehearsal, Sunday, Dec. 8 at 10 a.m.
- Christmas Day Crossing, Wednesday, Dec. 25 at 12 p.m.