Strange How These Things Happen

Looking back on the 1976 Bicentennial and my early years as a Revolutionary War re-enactor.

Spring has always been a trigger for me to try and clean out the piles of stuff I accumulate year after year. I am not a pack rat but I do try and save things, more for sentimental reasons than anything else.

As I was going through some old boxes the other day I came across an item I haven’t seen in decades - an advertisement for a Revolutionary War Documentary I was part of for the Bicentennial in 1976.

Many of you may know that since 1969 at the age of 11, I have been part of an organization called The Brigade of the American Revolution (BAR), the only authentic and best known living history group established depicting the 18th century and the Revolutionary War period. It was what started my interest in studying and understanding history - not just military history or the dates things happened but the general day-to-day “life and times” of an era, which is why living history is such an important aspect of teaching history.

I started out as a drummer as I was too young to use a musket but by the time the American Revolution Bicentennial came around I was well into becoming a “regular” soldier in the 1st New York Regiment. Our base of operations centered around the New Windsor Cantonment near Newburgh, where the famous address Washington gave to his fellow officers took place toward the true ending of the war in 1783. Other units were located around most of the northeastern states and grew to large numbers during this time.

For those who remember 1976 the focus on the Bicentennial was inescapable. As “The” group authentically depicting the Revolutionary War period we were in particularly high demand to participate in various events. Every weekend there were re-enactments of battles or encampments at every conceivable historic site in the northeast and as far west as Ohio.

Among the requests we received was to participate in numerous documentaries and, later on, even feature films. Among them was a documentary by the NY State Bicentennial Commission entitled “Don’t Tread on Me! Voices from the American Revolution” by the well-known producer Jack Ofield. When the movie came out during the Bicentennial I was shocked to see that whoever designed the poster advertising the film used my photo as the feature image! Needless to say, as a teenager, it was very cool to see. My family, of course, thought it was cool too.

When I found the poster it brought back many memories. I thought, hey this deserves a Google search. Could the film still be available? I never saw it by the way, so I thought it would be fun to look. My search led me to Jack Ofield’s website which advertises his numerous films and artwork. As I scrolled down through his films and descriptions, lo and behold, there was “Don’t Tread on Me!” …and… wait, the cover of the DVD once again had a photo of me from the film! This time it was a different photo from the original poster and one of me pointing my musket toward the camera.  The site describes the film as 28 minutes long and indicates it is “excerpted from the PBS one-hour special.”  So it is not the full original version but at least it is still available in some form.

Yes, I ordered it and am looking forward to watching it when it arrives to see how much of the footage from the BAR is included.

Of all the films I participated in over the last 43 years this will be the first documentary I will actually get to watch. In 1985 I was involved in a feature produced by Alan Alda called “Sweet Liberty.” Our parts were filmed on Long Island and became a central part of the film since the movie is about the Battle of Cowpens, a lesser-known battle that took place in South Carolina in January of 1781. Another film the BAR contributed to was Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” in 2000. Unfortunately I was unable to dedicate the time to participate in the film due to my schedule but many of my friends were part of the movie.

As many of you know, I have been very involved with the restoration of Peekskill’s original railroad depot and establishment of the Lincoln Depot Museum and the Civil War connections to Peekskill and the region. Another project I have been supporting is the creation of the Battle of Pines Bridge Memorial in Yorktown that will commemorate and honor those involved in the Revolutionary War event from 1781. In fact just this past week I attended a wonderful fundraising event for the monument. It is great to be able to once again be involved in a Revolutionary War related project.

The very next day is when I came across the poster for the documentary that inspired this post. It is strange how these things happen!

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JM April 24, 2012 at 10:23 AM
This was very cool to read. Sigh... how times have changed since the 1970s, no? Yes, older, perhaps wiser, back then we worked 40hr weeks now we work 80hrs a week. But I wish I had the luxury of free time today in which to participate in these historical activities too. :-(
LaMigra April 25, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Heartwarming to find someone who cares about this countries history. Its terrifying how stupid most people are, especially the younger generations. Only a tiny % know anything about history, how government works etc. They only know the sound bites that the lefty media pumps into their brians like the chahting in Animal Farm "four legs good two legs bad" . All they know are snooki, Idol, Kim and Kanye and that Obama is a cool dude who wants everyone to share and sharing is good!. Only bad people won't share! It makes me sick to my stomach.
Bushrod Washington April 25, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Excellent article by Squire Testa. It is gratifying to know there are still flickering embers of the revolutionary generation and the values they incarnated. I myself have been asked to portray my Uncle George on various occasions and I have never refused. My Uncle took very seriously the admonitory motto “Don’t Tread on Me”. I once saw him beat mercilessly a French interloper who dared to steal some crops from Mt. Vernon. As a warning, my Uncle cut off one of the interloper’s hands and placed it above his parlor fireplace. A less merciful man would have claimed the other hand as well. I also re-enact in Civil War battles but usually just as a soldier or staff officer. I briefly appear in the attack on Cemetery Ridge in the Gettysburg film. According to the script, I was supposed to bayonet a Federal soldier but the local actor who was slated to play the Johnny Yank got so angry waiting for the filming to begin that he stormed off the set and went home. In the movie, I wound up just bayoneting a phantom Yankee. But it was good acting experience. My Uncle would deplore what has happened to America. He would not recognize its current state. It is good he is resting well in his tomb at Mt. Vernon.


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