History is coming to life at Providence Plantation in Evans City
By Sandra Fischione Donovan
Published: Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Providence Plantation and its foundation grew out of Carl Robertson's love of 18th century history.
The historian and his wife, Jeanne, formed the nonprofit Providence Plantation Foundation in 2002 on their 40-acre Evans City farm to provide actor-interpreters in period attire, who portray figures of the 18th century from the upper Ohio Valley frontier, and not just white settlers, but Indians and slaves as well.
Robertson said it's important to include cross-cultural voices in historical presentations “because otherwise, you get a truncated perception of history.”
He said many re-enactors of the French and Indian War do not include Native American presenters, which is not a full view of the period. And, he said, there were blacks on the frontier at that time.
“Black history has not been properly told,” he said. “There were many noble people who rose above their circumstances” to do the right thing in crisis situations on the frontier.
Two of these cross-cultural voices will be featured at a 7 p.m. program Sept. 18 at Sticht Auditorium in the Hall of Arts and Letters at Grove City College.
Robertson and Diane Crews of the Providence Plantation Foundation will do first-person presentations. Robertson will give an interpretation of Christopher Gist, a guide for George Washington when Washington explored this area; and Crews will portray Peggy, a slave captured in an Indian raid in Virginia, whom colonial forces attempted to rescue.
Robertson said he and other volunteers offer the first-person interpretations because “It's a very effective way of speaking history. One of the things we routinely hear (is), ‘Why didn't we learn history this way? This would have made it much more effective.'”
Robertson said he and other volunteers go into schools to supplement what teachers are teaching and also teach the teachers how to do such interpretations.
Robertson and Crews drew on historical records, including the diaries of Washington and Gist and the records of Col. Henry Bouquet, who told the Indians he would “burn their villages unless they returned all captives, including the slaves,” Robertson said.
In Western Pennsylvania in the early 1750s, Gist served as an agent of the Ohio Company and piloted Washington's first official mission in this area in 1753.
Crews said Peggy, described in historical records as a mulatto slave, was taken in an Indian raid in Winchester, Va., along with the baby grandson of her master, who was killed.
Bouquet's army brought Peggy to Fort Pitt, where she debated whether to flee back to the Indians to gain her freedom or return to Virginia and possible re-enslavement.
The program will include audience participation and interaction and provide for question-and-answer sessions.
“My objective is to put (the audience) in the middle of it,” said Crews, 65, of Fombell, Beaver County, a volunteer for nearly 10 years at Providence Plantation. “(Peggy's) story appealed to me because so frequently it is omitted that there were slaves in this area.”
Robertson, who holds a doctorate in history, will provide a presentation that relies on the journals of Washington and Gist.
He will touch on Washington's and Gist's route through Western Pennsylvania.
At one point, an Indian guide and his colleagues laid a trap and made an attempt on the lives of Washington and Gist.
“Most reenactors say Gist saved Washington's life; Washington in his journals said he saved himself,” Robertson said.
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
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