Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Bicentennial has Really Begun

I've been meaning to write a post summarizing the various War of 1812 Bicentennial activities I've taken part in since OpSail in Norfolk. Things have been hectic to say the least. Aside from many work-related projects, I've had lots of work to do surrounding my classes and some professional development, which I may get into later. I was talking with Mike Hill from the Office of Archives and History Research Branch earlier this week and was reminded that I really needed to write this post, so this one's for Mike.

On Friday, June 29 the NC Department of Cultural Resources War of 1812 Bicentennial Planning Committee hosted its Bicentennial kickoff symposium at the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort. I had been very much looking forward to this symposium for a number of reasons. I knew it would give me a chance to see colleagues I don't often see like the aforementioned Mr. Hill, Josh Howard, LeRae Umfleet, Dr. David Brook, and others. I was also very interested in hearing a number of the speakers on the program, particularly Stephen Budiansky, author of the excellent book Perilous Fight. Mr. Budiansky did not disappoint; his keynote address was very good. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to his presentation. Tommy Sheppard's discussion of American sailors impressed into the British navy was unique and interesting. Most folks know that impressment was one of the causes of the war, but to hear stories of the sailors who suffered that fate was a nice change of pace. Thus ended the morning session and I was off to lunch at the Royal James Cafe with Josh and Dr. Larry Babits. The conversation was stimulating and the fellowship enjoyable.

Gerald Thomas was the first speaker of the afternoon. He has authored numerous works on the history of Bertie County, NC including a recently published work on the county during the War of 1812. My feelings on this presentation are decidedly mixed. I didn't agree with some of his conclusions and though his research seems pretty thorough it just seemed like there were some holes that were left unfilled. Next was a panel discussion featuring Dr. Wade Dudley, Dr. Lindley Butler, and William Thiessen. Each gave a short presentation on a particular "niche" of the war. All three were great, and could have easily done a full-length presentation if not for the time constraints of the program. The symposium wrapped up with Dr. Larry Babits' presentation about doing living history on the USS Niagara. It was a real treat listening to one of the foremost maritime and military historians in the state talk about a craft that many of us strive to be as good at as he is.

All in all, this was an excellent symposium and the committee should be proud of their efforts. The attendance was, I think, better than expected with about 75 folks in attendance throughout the day. The unveiling of the museum's new War of 1812 exhibit was icing on the cake. Friday evening there was a harbor cruise and dinner; I did not take part in that activity and I'm not certain how many did.

The following day, a living history encampment was held on the Beaufort Historical Association grounds, just a block or two from the museum. Reenactors representing the NC Militia, British 4th Regt. of Foot, and the privateer Snap Dragon were on hand to interpret the war for visitors. Musket demonstrations were conducted throughout the day, but visitation was somewhat light due to excessive heat. Still, the reenactors all had a good time and were well taken care of by the BHA staff who provided lunch and other amenities. Toward the end of the afternoon a number of us trekked the two blocks to the Old Burying Ground and visited the graves of many notables, including the privateer captain Otway Burns. I would definitely consider the weekend a success and think it was a quite commendable way to kick off the War of 1812 Bicentennial in North Carolina!

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