2019 Winter Civilian Immersion Day

Hey Everyone 😀 Just got back from completing another successful Winter Immersion Day at Historic London Town & Gardens. It was a very frigid Saturday (low in the 30's and dropping, to the point where you could see your breath the majority of the time). I mostly stayed as close to the fireplace between the Ferguson's Tailor Shop and the Brown House as much as possible.

"Maria Boston" looking out for the Ferry 

We kicked off at 10AM when the museum opened. This year, I portrayed Maria Boston: A woman formerly enslaved by the Sprigg family of the South River area in Annapolis, MD. According to the lawsuit, Maria and 23 of her family members sued their master for unlawful enslavement, since their Grandmother was identified as a "Hispaniola woman" from Portugal. According to Maryland law at that time, no person(s) of non-African descent were to be enslaved....Can you imagine that? Only one race and their descendents were by law to be the only ones enslaved? After presenting the evidence, the Judge ruled in favor of the Boston family, and they were legally manumitted. Now that Maria is free, she would make her way to Annapolis to start a new life. 

In interpreting Ms. Boston, I really didn't have much to go from other than the court case; I had to improvise. What would Maria look and sound like? How old was she? Did she have a husband and children? If her Grandmother was from Portugal, would she know both English and Portuguese? I speak very little Spanish from taking it as an elective in school, so I decided to use both. I also wondered about how she worshiped. Was she Christian or did she attend the meeting house that her master and his family attended? The Sprigg's were practicing Quakers...which also lead to more questions and more research. Quakers for the most part did not participate in slavery, however upon further research there were a few who did hold slaves. Didn't the institution of slavery go against their morals, and if so, why'd did the Sprigg family go with the grain instead of against it?  Before I go further into that rabbit hole, there were other questions I had about Maria. Most importantly, what did Maria do when she arrived to Annapolis? 

The Ferguson Family
As the day went by, I engaged in conversation with a lot of visitors who braved the cold-we had a lot too! However, when I had a little bit of down time, I hired Daniel Ferguson (the youngest son of the Widowed Ferguson) to give me a lesson in reading and writing. Though I am already well educated in 21st century penmanship, 18th century writing is very different and definitely a skilled art. I learned the differences between handwriting and print. I also learned that for those who were illiterate, they simply signed their name with an "X" and had a witness co-sign. Now that I could write my name, I could sign documents. Pretty pivotal thing in the 18th century. 

Trying to stay warm by the fire with  "Daniel Ferguson" played by Paul Malcom

"Daniel Ferguson" making a pair of woolen mittens

Following the lesson, we headed back to the tailor's shop to stay warm by their fireplace again, and discussed topics such as how the family plans to support themselves now that there is no longer a Patriarch, and if they were interested in hiring me for a few hours before my ferry arrived (just to raise some money). Suddenly the eldest son, Alexander Ferguson, entered the shop begrudgingly. He had been attempting to collect his late father's debts from the neighbors, and had little to no luck.

While some were able to pay back what was owed, there were others who advised him to either contact their Lawyer, or to wait a few more days until they were able to make a payment. One customer in particular, a sea captain named William Strachan, was giving him a hard time. Not only did he refuse to pay Alexander back, but as they exchanged letters throughout the scenario, came a slough of name calling and insults. This obviously ended up in a duel between the two. As selected visitors participated in preparing the men for the duel, the sea captain's wife watched from the sidelines. She was anxious about the whole ordeal. What if her husband dies? What will become of her? What if he is maimed from the bullet and powder? She'd have to care for him for the rest of her life on what's left of his earnings until it runs out.  Me and the servants on the other hand placed bets on Ferguson, who had the larger pistol. To everyone's surprise Ferguson's gun jams up, and ended up calling it a draw and broke for lunch. 

After lunch, I met a very bright and inquisitive young lady who was had some very deep and mature questions to ask me. One being "How was I treated in the 18th century?" "Did I ever get separated from my parents, and would I hope to see them again?" " What do I plan to do once I get ot Annapolis?"  These were very good questions that while at first caught me off guard (she was six years old!). I was very happy to answer all of her questions as best as I could. In turn, I asked her a few questions of my own. I wanted to compare and contrast with her about education in the 18th century vs. in the 21st century. I asked her what subjects does she learn in school that would have been different in the 18th century, and does she help her mother with any chores at home and what differences are those chores compared to the 18th century? As we happily talked more about chores and the importance of getting an education, it made me realize the true value of education as a whole; also learned from this interaction, that using a great icebreaker can almost always spark a great conversation between you and the kids and that they really are becoming more engaged in living history, as long as it's approached in a way that could be relatable to them. That experience alone honestly made my day.

Dinner and fondue by candlelight

By 4:00 PM we were closed to the public and we got ready for dinner at the tavern. In retrospect, I would say that this year's Immersion Day was a tremendous improvement than last year's premiere. I really enjoyed portraying Maria Boston more than I did with Beck because I had more freedom and did not feel emotionally drained as I had previously when portraying Beck at my 100%. On a teaching level, I learned how to reach out to the younger audience and get them interested in the subject: ask questions that they would find relatable to them, and then transition that into a conversation. You'd be very surprised as much as I was. All in all, I really enjoyed the whole experience and look forward to doing it again.


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