Colonial Camp offers hands-on 18th-century experiences

A daylong Colonial Camp gave fifth-graders at Joppa View Elementary School insights into 18th-century life in America and surprising news about whether they would have been eligible to fight in the revolutionary army.

At 10 years old, they would have met the age requirement for enlistment. But before they could be armed with a musket, children also had to master 12 camp calls on fife and drum that were the army's battle commands. And they would have to have demonstrated a strong bite.

"The soldiers carried their muskets in their left hands and their cartridges in the right," said Jeremy Hodgson, one of two re-enactors who brought the traveling camp to the White Marsh school last week.

With both hands occupied, they would need at least two aligned teeth, one up and one down, to crack open those cartridges, he said. Most of his audience of about 100 students would pass muster, he said.

The re-enactors pitched large tents on the school's playing fields and set up stations designed to bring the 1700s to life with hands-on experiences. Dressed in Colonial garb and tricorn hats, they opened the day marching through the building while playing fifes (but not drums, which had been inadvertently left back at headquarters in North Carolina).

"Think of this as a field trip you can make without leaving school," Hodgson said.

Campers participated in activities designed to "bring history to you," Hodgson said. The students made candles, dipping wicks in hot wax, and bread, following the best kneading techniques. They shopped at a trading post, posed in Colonial dress, dabbled in 18th-century economics and applied war paint to their faces.

"It is knowledgeable and dramatic and so motivating for the children," said teacher Heidi Womack. "They make things to go home and can make connections to what they are studying in class."

One group of students split into American farmers and British sailors. They acted out a lively bargaining session with beans, candy and money rapidly changing hands. The exercise in basic economics resulted in a few shrewd participants holding all the money. The Americans called for another harvest so they would have more to sell, and the English imposed taxes so they could take more cash back across the Atlantic.

"It was fun but hard," said Kendra Stephen, playing the farmers' agent. "I ended up with one bean, and I still owed the Colonists money. It all cost too much."

Other activities were not so intense. Mariah Murphy tried on a floral print dress, a white pinafore and a floppy cap. "I feel old," she said. Eugene Samuel said he liked playing a British sea captain and practiced his best English accent on his classmates.

Students produced golden loaves of crusty bread on an open fire and then sampled warm buttery slices.

"It was fun, but I have flour all over my face," said Regan Gurung.

Cassidy Finnerty asked for the recipe and her classmate Lauren Fernandez said all a baker needs are strong hands to punch and roll dough. Brianna Creswell was certain she could make bread at home, "if only I had yeast," she said.

Her father, Mike Creswell, volunteered at the trading post, where the campers could buy oddities like fool's gold, rabbits' feet and buffalo teeth. The best-sellers were faux animal skins and faces, especially those of skunks and coyotes.

The activities showed the children that they could entertain themselves with age-old games and that they could make everyday items without benefit of the latest technology, said teacher Jennifer Connolly.

"It will inevitably be the talk of the school for weeks afterward," she said.

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