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The past comes to life

Fort Henry Days returns Labor Day weekend

August 28, 2011
By KIM LOCCISANO - Staff Writer (kloccisano@timesleaderonline.com) , Times Leader

By KIM LOCCISANO

Times Leader Staff Writer

Life on the American frontier in 1777, in the area known as the Ohio Country-what we know now as the Ohio Valley -was anything but inherently safe, quiet, calm or predictable for just about anyone brave enough, or foolish enough, to try carving a home from the unforgiving and unyielding wilderness.

Article Photos

T-L Photo KIM LOCCISANO
MANY?BATTLE reenactments are stage during Fort Henry Days. This battle shows how some settlers were burned out of their homes. The two-day long event will be held at Oglebay Site 1 on Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3 and 4.

No matter how a person came to call the Ohio Country home, untold and often deadly dangers were seldom far away, and in 1777 frontiersmen living and working in the rugged and essentially isolated Ohio Country could actually feel the intensity of the region's threat level rise.

It eventually became known as "The Year of the Bloody Sevens."

Details of life on the frontier at this time provide the structure on which this year's annual Fort Henry Days battle scenarios have been built, according to organizers.

As is tradition, the two-day long event will be held at Oglebay Resort, Site 1, in Wheeling on Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3 and 4.

The 14th annual Grand Encampment and Battle Reenactment that are Fort Henry Days 2011 will begin coming to life Friday afternoon as re-enactors will be arriving more than ready to step back in time to the late summer and early fall of 1777.

The grounds will not be open to the public Friday.

The encampment will be open to the public from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

This period in local history became infamous as a time of bloodshed and of relentless harassment of frontier families by native forces incessantly encouraged by a British government seeking to confine the growing wave of Europeans willing to risk the dangers inherent with pushing past a boundary set largely by a government half a world away.

Natives were increasingly angered by the growing tide of whites advancing westward attempting to claim lands as solely theirs, and often feverishly working to turn the forests into sites where families would settle, build homes and farm newly cleared lands which had often been hunting grounds.

Visitors will be seeing a completely different scenario unfold throughout the 2011 Fort Henry Days weekend than was shared during the 2010 program which focused on the famed run for gunpowder.

Fort Henry Days organizers say guests will be well advised to expect the unexpected-whether in the encampment area at Site 1 or on the battlefield itself.

Shouldering the duties of the official Battle Planner for Fort Henry Days 2011 is David Perri. He works closely with organizers representing all factions involved in any of the warfare of this historic time in the local area's history.

Cloaking details from the public as is often the practice, Perri would only offer as insight to the highly anticipated events of Fort Henry Days weekend two hints: action will not be restricted to the traditional afternoon's battle reenactment segment as has been called for by scenarios highlighted in past events; and visitors should expect the unexpected.

Clues can be found among the pages of the book "The Heroic Age - More Tales of Wheeling's Frontier Era - An Expanded Edition" was written by historian and author Joe Roxby of Wheeling and nationally known author William Hintzen. The fourth edition of the book will be offered for sale at this year's event as a new expanded edition.

Illustrations featured in all editions of the book have been the work of award winning artist Anne Hazlett Foreman of Wheeling.

Featured on its cover is a work by noted frontier artist Lee Teter, "The Lesser of two Evils - McColloch's Leap".

The additional chapters and reference materials included in the expanded edition will explain not only this year's reenactment scenario but many aspects the days, weeks and months that made up what historians have come to call "The Year of the Bloody Sevens."

"After a summer of nearly continuous Indian raids, the first siege of Fort Henry began in the early morning hours of September 1, 1777. Just after dawn, two parties from the fort went out to recover livestock and were attacked near the crest of Wheeling Hill. About two hours later, a substantial part of the garrison was lured into an ambush in the present day area of East Wheeling, where a majority of them were killed. The fort's defense was conducted under the leadership of Colonel David Shepherd.

"The emotional high point of the battle occurred in the afternoon when Major Sam McColloch and two other mounted men attempted to come to the relief of the fort. McColloch tried and failed to force his way past the Indians at the front gate. He was trapped at the top of Wheeling Hill and made his dramatic leap to freedom and subsequent escape back to Van Meter's Fort. After killing the livestock and burning the cabins outside the fort, the Indians departed sometime after dark.

"This was the first large-scale Indian offensive in the upper Ohio Valley since the Battle of Point Pleasant, which occurred in October 1774. The group that conducted the siege was an all Indian force composed primarily of Wyandot Indians under the leadership of their famous chief, Half King. Though the siege of 1777 lasted only one day, it was by far the bloodiest for the frontiersman who incurred between 15 and 18 casualties," said Roxby's selection "The Siege of 1777."

Local cable viewers will likely catch presentations of the 2011 version of the annual advance work done to document the annual Fort Henry Days efforts and to share as advance promotional and educational video the award winning work of "Shooters Video Productions" headquartered in Martins Ferry.

The company, owned by brothers Joe and Pat Monahan of Martins Ferry, has been recognized nationally for its outstanding work by receiving numerous national awards. Their vast and diverse menu of specialties includes such services as high-end video production and visual effects services.

Grounds of the re-enactors encampment and access to vendors will be available to the public both days from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission to the event is free. Parking is free, and picnic fare will be available for purchase at the refreshment stand in the shelter at Site 1. The location also offers adjacent parking and public restrooms.

Among native communities much of the simmering sense of unrest which had settled over most of the frontier region was actually instigated by the influence of the British crown and its agents whose mission was designed to beat down and destroy colonials seeing the frontier as a place where they too had the right to make a home and raise a family.

Boundaries became rallying cries as they became less and less clear to many involved - while increasingly more clear to others - those who knew they were fighting for the very life of their ancient cultures: the Natives.

As Native American reenactors gather to take part in FHD 2011, set up their handcrafted wigwams - some of canvas and others of bark - and begin stepping from September 2011 back to September 1777, many among them know they literally carry bloodline ties to the men and women who lived in this region as part of the native population which came to be known as the Eastern Woodland Tribes.

Yorkville resident Bo Jacobs is just such a person. He has been sharing this experience with his son, Lakota Jacobs of Adena, for several years, allowing a continuation of a very real sharing of generational tribal and family knowledge via the traditions of oral history.

Jacobs, has great pride in his personal bloodline ties to the Algonquin nation through the Blackfoot and the Eastern Woodland Delaware. Throughout the season of traditional gatherings he is often called on to share his knowledge and personal skill as a dancer for numerous ceremonial dance events.

He is involved in Fort Henry Days as a warrior. Though his personal presence at the event - as are all warriors- is meant to invoke a fearful response from their opponents. He greatly enjoys opportunities to make a friendly and informational connection particularly with younger event guests as he is generally accompanied by his son Lakota Jacobs, a fifth grader at West Elementary in Adena .

The event's schedule includes music and dancing, which were among the most rewarding of frontier socializing activities for families or communities.

Area residents sharing their frontier era dance skills are members of the Heritage Dance Association.

"We provide historically correct dance demos for German Folk Dance, Irish Folk Dance and 18th Century Dance. When most people think of colonial dances they think of formal, dignified minuets where everyone is dressed proper and dance dignified. Sure these dances were done at this time, but in established cities, not here on the frontier," said founders of the organization Angela and Don Feenerty of Martins Ferry.

"According to primary sources like the minister Joseph Doddridge's book on the lives of the frontier, 1763-1783, dancing in this area was more simple. And according to the journal of 18th Century minister David McClure the dancers on the frontier in Wheeling, Virginia were "mirthful and noisy" and he called the dancers wild. We understand this to mean that our ancestors here were a wild and fun loving bunch, who cut loose and had fun while dancing. That is exactly what we plan to demonstrate during our performance at Fort Henry this year. We have been working very hard as a group to be as period correct as we can possibly be," said Don Feenerty.

"We have been working on our outfits, trying to make them as authentic as possible. Personally, I have spent many evenings making bone, antler and wooden buttons for our clothes. Sure there were brass buttons out there, but most of the Wheeling residents made due without such fancy things. Our group practices year round. In the summer we dance outdoors here on the Feenerty farm, and in the winter we utilize the third floor of the Wheeling Artisan Center. Most of our clothing was made possible through a grant from WNHAC. We are always looking for new dancers. Anyone interested in joining us can contact Angela Feenerty at hda@feenerty.com," he offered.

 
 

 

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