By BRIAN BINGAMAN
They bore the brunt of King George III’s taxation without representation. They had to be resourceful to survive and prosper. On occasion they had to adapt to being in the path of troop movements.
The 1700s upper middle class farming families of Southeastern Pennsylvania had just as much to do with the birth of the American way as the Founding Fathers in Philadelphia.
That’s what the Bishop’s Mill Historical Society — since renamed The Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation — was thinking in the 1970s after the state purchased 2,490 acres of farmland in Delaware County’s Edgemont Township to create Ridley Creek State Park.
The organization of colonial/American Revolutionary period enthusiasts took particular interest in caring for a 112-acre area of the park that included abandoned farm buildings which, according to religious and tax records, wills and letters, date back centuries.
Renewed interest in the colonial period, brought on by the Bicentennial celebration of 1976, led to significant financial backing for the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation project.
Instead of a museum focusing on the former nearby grist mill villages, or the families that farmed the land, which was part of Chester County until the formation of Delaware County in the late 1700s, Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation exists to provide a context of early American history from a broader folklife perspective of the everyday people of this area that lived between 1760 and 1790.
“When people ask us what we are, we say we’re a living history farm,” said office manager Joy Woppert.
Although it was not uncommon for large farms to have slaves or indentured servants, the “Plantation” in the name, said director of education Jennifer Green, simply means it’s a farm of 100-1,000 acres.
“The great thing about history is you always find out what you know is wrong. The understanding or learning about history 50 years ago was from the top down,” Green said, explaining why more people know about well-to-do figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson than, for example, the Pratt family, who lived on the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation site from 1720 to 1820.
A working farm that features research-based educational demonstrations of colonial era pastimes, crafts and trades, in some ways visiting the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation is a little like going to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, Woppert said. “Our difference is we’re interpreting middle class families,” she added.
Upcoming hands-on weekend workshops include beehive oven baking, the teas of colonial times, hearth cooking, and a “Historic Conversations” series. For dates, times and cost information, see www.colonialplantation.org/weekendworkshops.html. Reservations are required by calling (610) 566-1725.
And by no means is the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation stuck in one century. The site’s acreage is very attractive to reenactor groups, and among this season’s special events are a World War II Skirmish and Camp April 5-6, a French and Indian War Skirmish and Camp June 21, the Civil War Battle and Camp Sept. 13-14, and a Medieval Days weekend Oct. 11-12.
“It furthers our cause of people knowing about us,” Woppert said.
The Dung Frolic April 12 gets you up close and personal with fertilizer. A children’s Easter Egg hunt is scheduled for 11 a.m. April 19. “Sheep to Shawl” is April 27. May 10 brings “Spring Sowing.” A “17th Century Time Line” weekend is May 24-25. On May 31 “Martha Washington Visits the Farm.” June 14 is “Early Harvest.” “When in the Course of Human Events,” a reading of the Declaration of Independence program, is set for July 4 and 5. July 12 is “Pirate Day.” July 26 is “Farm Day,” featuring an evening concert. On Aug. 30, it’s a “Salute to 18th Century Labor.” The Delmarva Ghost Hunters perform an investigation of the plantation Sept. 6. “Fall Flax and Textile Day” is set for Sept. 27. Learn about “Stocking the Larder” to prepare for the winter months Oct. 18. Children can enjoy “Halloween on the Farm” Oct. 25. “Stocking the Root Cellar” is the theme Nov. 15.
For more information, go to www.colonialplantation.org/eventsandactivities.html.
Co-ed living history camps will be held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with sessions for grades 2-3 from June 23-27, grades 4-6 from July 7-11, and grades 6-8 from July 21-25. Green said “Native Americans and the Natural World” will be the theme, with lessons on how the indigenous peoples of the region taught settlers how to get acclimated to their new surroundings.
Group tours and programming are provided during the week by appointment only for groups of 10 or more for adults and seniors, plus field trip options for school groups. Download information from the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation website or call the office.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation.
WHERE: 3900 N. Sandy Flash Drive, Edgemont Township in Ridley Creek State Park.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last entry at 4 p.m.) Saturdays and Sundays from April to November. Closing day of the season will be “Christmas on the Farm” Dec. 13.
ADMISSION: $8, $6 for children 4-12 and seniors.
INFO: Call (610) 566-1725 or visit www.colonialplantation.org or www.facebook.com/ColonialPennsylvaniaPlantation
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Follow Brian Bingaman on Twitter @brianbingaman.