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Children learn about 18th century living at Providence Plantation in Evans City

| Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Alex Klukaszewski | Cranberry Journal
Dr. Carl F. Robertson shows an authentic beaver skin to the campers.
Alex Klukaszewski | Cranberry Journal
It wasn't all work and no play back in the 18th century as the children got the chance to play a hoop and stick game that was played in Colonial days.
Alex Klukaszewski | Cranberry Journal
Bill McGary, who played the role of an indentured servant, explains to a girl from the Cobham Day Camp about how sun dials work.
Alex Klukaszewski | Cranberry Journal
Some of the children from Cobham Day Camp of Warren County congregating before a presentation.

In a modern-day world jumbled with electronic gadgets and efficient problem-solving, local historians at the Providence Plantation Foundation in Evans City are proud to role play their interpretation of actual 18th century citizens in order to teach what life was like from that time period.

In June of 2002, CEO and President, Dr. Carl Robertson, and his wife, Jeanne, formed the Providence Plantation Foundation, a nonprofit, 18th-century living history center located on their 40-acre farm, with the goal of being the region's leading early American frontier history center.

The plantation includes real artifacts and live storytelling based off of thorough research and preparation by volunteers.

With the collaboration of returning volunteers, Robertson is able to fulfill his objective to educate children and adults who come and learn about hardships endured during the colonization of America. Visitors leave better able to understand what a more primal lifestyle was like.

“We try to make history very entertaining and fun for people,” Robertson said.

“We like to get them involved in the games and mannerisms that were a part of that time. We're always looking for new things to do. We like making things interesting and formative, and the kids seem to enjoy it.”

Last week, the plantation hosted Colonial Youth Day in which the Cobham Youth program of Warren County, consisting of several dozen children, came to learn more about the history of America.

Robertson explained that he wanted to tell the children the story of how people, like Native Americans and early settlers, became dependent on each other through trade.

The group congregated at four separate stations anchored by different historians of the plantation. The children, ranging in age from elementary to middle school, considered the idea of people not having electronic utilities or entertainment to pass the time.

“Life was really hard in the 1700s. There was no TV or video games, and most people didn't have much money,” Jackson Shaw, 7, of Sheffield said.

“A lot of people traded for what they wanted to get.”

Following a youthful culture shock of how people communicated compared to today, lessons of traditional greetings and mannerisms were only part of a bigger picture.

Diane Crews, a volunteer at the plantation, role plays “Peggy the Mulatto” a freed slave who, because of desperate times, had to chose between what was best for her and the boy she raised in a life-or-death situation.

“I want the kids to learn that you have to make choices, and your choices may not be necessarily for your own good,” Crews said before her presentation.

“You may have to make a choice that benefits someone else.”

Bill McGary, a cooking instructor at Slippery Rock University, has been role playing historical characters for over 20 years.

He plays an indentured servant at the plantation. His food influence inspires many of his acts, and he delivers his message with the idea that as long as humans have been around, they've needed to eat.

“We talk about 18th century world views and try to tie it into 21st century world views, getting people to think about their own world views - what does it mean to live now?” McGary said. “I am able to present this through food.”

Since the plantation opened in 2002, various additions to the history center have been built, including a smokehouse, dairy and formal stable.

For more information on the Providence Plantation Foundation, including tour schedules and volunteering opportunities, visit www.frontier-history.org.

Alex Klukaszewski is a freelance writer.

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