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September 6, 2013
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Nevada City celebrates 47th annual Constitution Day


September rolls around and children are back in school, leaves begin to change colors, and while some prepare scarves and outerwear for a chillier season on the horizon, others are grabbing their wool coats, powdered wigs and muskets in celebration of the anniversary of the United States Constitution.

Re-enactors from the Delaware Regiment of the American Revolution will present a true-to-life portrayal of colonial life during Nevada County’s 47th annual Constitution Day festivities this weekend.

Multiple members of the regiment said performing at historical events is an opportunity to express their passion for history while having fun and interacting with the public.

“Many of us find an event and see what people are doing and are fascinated by history and decide, ‘We’ve got to be a part of this, not just look at it,’” said John Hess, clerk of the Delaware Regiment of the American Revolution, who began re-enacting when his son, Eric Hess, 12 at the time, expressed interest after the family attended a Civil War event in Nevada City.

“He came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Dad, I want to do this,’ so my wife and my daughter and I said, ‘OK. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it as a family.’”

One of the greatest joys of the events is sharing the history with children, who are unable to fully experience the history from a textbook, Hess said.

“Kids can come out and see people portraying life in this era and get a sense of what it was really like back then that you can’t get from a book,” he said. “It’s one of the most important things we do ­­— portray what life was like so you can see it and smell it, (since) the black powder is pretty smelly.”

The original Delaware Regiment began in 1976 in Southern California, which Hess was a part of for eight years until he established the Northern California branch last year. The regiment includes solders, civilians and ladies who portray various occupations in period uniform and reflect colonial life, said Hess.

“We all have an encampment with a number of tents. Women will show textiles and how wool was spun and sew clothes for gentlemen; others will show how to start a fire if you’re a frontiersman. And we will have a historian on site who will talk about the war to the public, and there will be a lot of soldiers drilling and firing,” he said.

The drill will also involve activities for adults and children, who can hold replica muskets and learn a soldier’s drill.

Randal Mitchell, an education professor at San Jose State who also taught public school history for more than 30 years, will attend the event, offering a first-person account of history, re-enacting the lives of a slave ship surgeon and Williamsburg jailkeeper Peter Pelham.

“We enjoy the people we do it with and enjoy talking to people who come out to the event and learning about the way people lived in that period of history,” said Mitchell, a friend of Hess’ who attends re-enactments with his wife, Geraldine Mitchell.

The slave ship surgeon role was decided as a way to explain slavery and what it was like to journey overseas as a sailor, Mitchell said.

“The slave ship surgeon came from wanting to tell the story of slavery matter of factly from a different point of view, which definitely talks about the horrors of slavery but points out the attitude that I’m doing this to make money,” Randal Mitchell said.

The inspiration to recreate Peter Pelham came from a paragraph Mitchell read about him after visiting Williamsburg, where he found that Pelham was a teacher but couldn’t afford the salary, was offered a job as secretary to the governor and became keeper of the public jail. That visit has helped Mitchell in depicting the crime and punishment situation of the time, he said, joking, “I found it interesting that teachers made nothing back then, the same way it is today.”

“It gives you a chance to tell the human side of history,” he said. “History gives us a chance to tell a story, and textbooks just provide facts like an encyclopedia. The real stories are so much more wonderful.”

The Nevada City Constitution Day celebration was started 47 years ago by the Nevada Lodge 13 Free and Accepted Masons, who wanted to honor public schools and the U.S. Constitution, said Nevada County Chamber of Commerce volunteer George Harper, who organized the parade for 22 years.

“We’re a patriotic little town here,” he said. “I was told at one time that we were the only town west of the Mississippi that celebrates the signing of the Constitution.”

For information, visit the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce at 132 Main St., Nevada City, visit http://NevadaCityChamber.com or call 530-265-2692.

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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The Union Updated Sep 6, 2013 11:11PM Published Sep 8, 2013 01:13PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.