18th Century Market Fair takes attendees back in time

Jenna Thebalt-Dean sits with her sons Oliver and Ellowin at the 18th Century Market Fair on The Green in Dover last year. (Delaware State News file photos/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Delaware is a state full of history. In the 1700s, The Green in Dover was the site of annual autumn market fairs. But instead of reading about that history through books or lectures, attendees can take a step back in time during the First State Heritage Park 18th Century Market Fair on Saturday.

The free family fun event that recreates the sights and sounds of the 18th century plans to have its biggest turnout yet during the fair’s 10th anniversary.

“This year is going to be special,” said Heritage Park Superintendent Sarah Zimmerman. “Since it is the 10th anniversary, we have a lot of returning favorites as well as new vendors. So there will be even more for people to see and do. We love having people back that come every year as a family tradition and we always have people who have never visited before.”

The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on The Green. Last year, almost 5,000 visitors chatted with living history characters, watched traditional artisans at work, and enjoyed comical interactive performances — all with an 18th-century twist.

“This year, we will have craftspeople demonstrating their trades as well as having some of their handcrafted wares for sale,” Ms. Zimmerman said.

“We also have several different entertainers performing at different times throughout the day.

“Each performer has done extensive research into how people were entertained in the past and created characters to present this. By watching the entertainment, our visitors will have the opportunity to experience the same joys and fun as our ancestors — maybe even hear some of the same jokes.”

This year the event will have a new feature for attendees to celebrate the fair’s 10th anniversary.

“We created a new piece of historical theater to be performed in two parts on the streets of the 18th Century Market Fair,” Ms. Zimmerman said.

“In Dover, there was a clash between Loyalists, who believed Delaware should remain with England and the Patriots, who supported the idea of breaking free and declaring independence.”

Steven Mumford, with the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, acts as the town crier during last year’s Market Fair. This year, the event, set for Saturday, marks its 10th anniversary.

Ms. Zimmerman said Teresa Pierce, First State Heritage Park historical interpreter, researched the event to gather all of the subtle nuances of the “Black Monday Insurrection” and wrote it into a script as a part of the Market Fair.

“With the help of our visitors, we will recreate this event, allowing guests to choose sides and experience this history for themselves. The first portion will take place at 11 a.m. and the exciting conclusion will be at 1 p.m.,” she said.

Children can enjoy the many hands-on activities, engage in a military muster with the 1st Delaware Regiment or visit the free photo booth where visitors can have their picture taken with fun props from the colonial era to create their Market Fair memories.

Attendees can also watch the comical interactive performance of Mr. Peter Gardiner — Colonial Conjurer. Signora Bella will bring to life sthe tradition of the traveling performer of the 18th century, juggling knives and flaming torches on the rola bola and the slack rope.

Ms. Zimmerman said it’s been fun watching the evolution of the fair each year.

“It started as just a small event on one side of The Green, and it has grown to encompass both sides of The Green with over 40 craftspeople and entertainers. It originally started to fill the void left when the Book Festival ended, which took place in November on Legislative Mall,” she said.

“The event usually hosts several thousand people each year. It is a family-friendly event so we usually have multi-generational families visiting The Green that day. It is exciting to see grandparents sharing an experience with their grandchildren. My favorite part is when their eyes light up by making a connection with the past.”

That experience is what makes the fair special each year.

Mike Follin performs Dr. Balthasar’s Mircle Medicine during the 18th Century Market Fair on The Green lat year.

“Our goal for the 18th Century Market Fair is to allow people to interact with history in ways they might not otherwise have the opportunity to do so, all right in their backyard,” Ms. Zimmerman said.

“Our craftspeople are specially selected because they are the best in their chosen trade, but they are also committed to educating the next generation about the past. Most interactions people have with history start and end with a textbook in history class. We want to bring the past to life for people and help them to understand the rich connections we can all have with our history.”

Arshon Howard is a freelance writer living in Dover.

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