Story by Kristina Hoti
The grounds of the General Hathorn historic site in Warwick were transformed on Sat., Jun. 1 into a Revolutionary War-era living museum, thanks to the generosity of the site owners, Arek Kwapinski and Sylwia Kuasiak and the collaboration of the Friends of Hathorn House, the Warwick Historical Society, and the Albert Wisner Public Library.
All attendees checked into this free event and were asked to choose a side: British, Colonial, or undecided. Based on their choice, they received a sticker to wear that marked their allegiance and thus began their journey back in time. The dedicated living history re-enactors portraying the 5th NY, a regiment from the Hudson River Valley, and Muskets of the Crown, portraying the 42nd Regiment of Foot, known as The Black Watch, camped out overnight on the grounds of the Hathorn House just as the soldiers, tradesmen, and camp followers would have done in Revolutionary times.
Two Regiments at War
The Black Watch was a regiment of Scottish Highlanders who had been fighting with the British Army long before the American Revolution, even during the famous uprising of 1745, which culminated in the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Culloden, known as “the ’45,” according to re-enactor Mike Young. These Royal Highlanders were grenadiers who came to New York in 1776 and later went to Nova Scotia, returning to Ireland in 1783.
The 5th NY re-enactors included not only colonial militia, but a blacksmith, a woodworker, a weaver, and a cook, to name a few. Commander Lawrence Wood spoke about the 5th NY Militia being stationed in Fort Montgomery, NY, which was the point at which the American militia famously placed a large chain across the Hudson River from to West Point to the opposite side in order to prevent the British vessels from advancing north up the river.
“I’m here to keep history alive,” Wood said. “It’s one thing to read about it in a book, and it’s another to experience it in person.”
Wood proudly spoke of his 40 documented ancestors who fought in the American Revolution. One was a wagon master from CT and another fought in the Battle of White Plains, was captured, and placed on the HMS Jersey, which was, in essence, a death sentence.
“I’ve been in a lot of re-enactments, and this is as real as it gets,” Wood said.
Life During Revolutionary War Times
Cindy Wolf, the cook with 5th NY, has been re-enacting with the group for about five years, and it is where she met her husband, none other than Commander Wood. Wolf made a breakfast for the entire camp of sausage and eggs with homemade butter, authentically cooked over a fire. Dinner for the evening was to be a beef stew. Does food taste better when cooked over a campfire?
“Without a doubt,” says Wolf. In addition to cooking for the group, Wolf gave butter-making demonstrations to those interested while visiting her cooking tent.
Also cooking over a fire was culinary historian, cook, and cooking teacher, Lavada Nahon. Nahon specializes in the work of the enslaved and free African-American cooks of New York. She spoke of the various cooking methods and ingredients used in the African-American culture during revolutionary times.
“Food traditions,” she said, “are one of the last things that people let go of.”
Jennifer Lee, who is of Narragansett Ancestry, gave a three-hour class on how to make one-piece bark baskets, which is an eastern woodland tradition.
“Native heritage wasn’t talked about in my family…but I heard a native drum and I knew that’s where I belonged,” she explained. “I’m a mixed blood person, but my native heritage is what really calls me.”
Founders’ Day Skirmish Action
At 1:30 p.m. and again at 2:30 p.m., the crowd was alerted by the town crier, who shouted the famous call, “The British are coming. The British are coming,” whereupon pop-up skirmishes ensued between the 5th NY Colonial Militia and the 42nd Regiment of Foot.
The kilted, red-coated Royal Highlanders marched up the hill behind the Hathorn House, around a large tree and back down towards the Colonial encampment, where the appropriately rag-tag rebel militia stood in formation, guns at the ready. Mock gun shots, complete with gunpowder for the added excitement of the crowd, were exchanged, and a soldier or two fell on each side during each 20-minute dramatic display.
At the conclusion of the clash, each group cheered the other in a show of sportsmanship, with shouts of “Hip-Hip-Huzzah!” Event attendees joined in on the cheers, fully engaged.
Colonial-era games were available for the children to try, such as “Rolling the Hoop,” and members of the 5th NY even taught interested youngsters military formation, leading them through a mock “charge,” much to their delight.
The Hathorn House History
Perhaps the most prestigious characters lending their time and talents to the occasion were George and Martha Washington, portrayed by Tom Brennan and Linda Blake, along with General John Hathorn, played by his actual descendant, Kevin P. Hathorn.
Having previously appeared on George Washington Day, Blake expressed her gratitude to Cindy Hopper, of Sewcology in Merchants’ Square, for their new historically accurate costumes in “breathable cotton.”
Hathorn explained that his ancestor, John Hathorn, who built the Hathorn House in 1773, was one of the organizers of the Orange County Militia, fighting off Native American attacks for the local landowners. Hathorn was one of the minds behind the location of the Hudson River chain and served as a commander in the Battle of Minisink in 1779 against Joseph Brant, a Mohawk war chief and British Army Captain.
Hathorn went on to become a land commissioner for NY State, was in the first NY State Assembly, and was part of the group that ratified the U.S. Constitution. He was not only a Senator, but was also elected to the First and Fourth U.S. Congress.
After his death, John Hathorn’s land was sold outside of his family, as his children had grown and were “dispersed…throughout the state. Some went up to Chemung County, some went down to Brooklyn. It was time for a change,” said Hathorn. After many generations, the historic home that sits on the very road down which General Washington and his troops marched, had fallen into disrepair.
Saving the Hathorn House
What brought the Hathorn house back to life started with a family reunion of all the cousins throughout the country at the Landmark Inn in 2000, after an initial “Save the Hathorn House” effort in 1999.
“I have the family bible,” Hathorn explained. “He has listed all of the births and deaths and marriages…I showed the Bible, and we started the new Friends of the Hathorn House sometime thereafter.”
Thanks to the investment of Sylwia Kuasiak and Arek Kwapinski into the Hathorn House and to the stone house down the road, they have been restored in the federalist colonial style, with modern upgrades worked in.
“We are very proud of it,” said Hathorn. “Everybody is.”