Dover Days gives glimpse into 18th-century life

 

Students from Welch Elementary school performing the Maypole dance on The Green as part of the Dover Days celebration Saturday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Students from Welch Elementary school performing the Maypole dance on The Green as part of the Dover Days celebration Saturday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER –– Despite threatening clouds looming overhead throughout the morning and afternoon, the 83rd annual Dover Days Festival was as successful as ever.

Thousands lined State Street for the nearly hour-long parade before heading to The Green and Legislative Mall to see the unusual blend of modern and colonial.

The Green played host not only to maypole dancers dressed in their colonial garb eating Grotto Pizza but 18th-century re-enactors demonstrating various aspects of colonial life being photographed with smart phones.

Ten-year-old Ryan Blocksom of Denver, Pennsylvania, demonstrated common children’s games like Shut the Box, Line of Three, Jacob’s Ladder and Stick and Hoop.

“I’ve been doing it for about four years now,” he said while demonstrating Line of Three, a game reminiscent of tic-tac-toe. “It was kind of a long drive to get here but worth it.”

Even though he’s only 10, Ryan said someone of his age may have been used as a messenger in 18th-century battle.

“Say you have something you need to tell one of the commanders like that the troops need to charge, you’d tell me, and I’d run as fast as I could to tell the other person,” he said.

Ryan and his 7-year-old brother Benjamin do various re-enactments throughout the year with their parents Justin and Laura who are members of the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment.

“We do it to make people aware of how life used to be,” Mr. Blocksom said while hand-stitching a jacket. “People usually only learn about this kind of lifestyle from books but here they can see it in real life.”

Just beside the Blocksom family and the rest of the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment was the 1st Delaware Regiment where Tom Marvel of Camden played the role of 18th-century doctor James Tilton of Milford.

Tom Marvel, of Camden, portraying a Revolutionary War doctor for the Dover Days celebration Saturday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Tom Marvel, of Camden, portraying a Revolutionary War doctor for the Dover Days celebration Saturday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“These are the kinds of tools and medicines doctors of the time would use,” he said standing behind a table of tools that looked more fitting for a gardener than a surgeon.

Dr. Tilton, served a portion of his career as a military doctor, treating soldiers on the battlefield.

“During war, doctors were assigned to a regiment but not actual members of the military,” Mr. Marvel said. “Obviously doctors didn’t have the scientific knowledge or resources back then as we do now so it took a lot of improvisation and sometimes doctors would need to mix their own medicines from whatever was on hand and if it was during a battle, they might need to go into the forest and find the right plants to make a remedy,” he said.

Although the natural remedies were very primitive, colonial doctors, for the most part, were effective at stopping bleeding and accomplishing surgical tasks such as removing bullets and stitching up wounds. But patients didn’t always see great outcomes.

“The doctors were definitely crafty but without the sanitation of today, they were able to save lives during battles but unfortunately nearly a third of those wounded died of infection, not their actual injuries,” Mr. Marvel said. “Doctors would go from patient to patient, up to their elbows in blood, never stopping to rinse off between patients.”

While many individuals of the late 18th century were involved in battles, others lived more leisurely lives with fewer worries like entertainers such a puppeteers.

Ronald Mouland of Plowville, Pennsylvania, demonstrated the 400-year-old tradition of marionettes a la planchette.

Mr. Mouland, dressed in colonial wear complete with a tricorn hat, played music, either a flute or violin while making a puppet held on only one string dance before him.

“Even after 400 years, this is still a kind of performance that’s common on the streets of Europe,” he said.

Beside Mr. Mouland, the Diamond State Lace Makers were weaving lace by hand, using only string and bobbins. The labor-intensive craft uses about 40 different strings to weave the lace.

“I first learned about making lace like this at a fair when I lived in the UK and thought it was interesting so I joined a group and learned how to do it,” Kim Czerwinski of Dover said.

She and three other women were hard at work making the lace that would have been rather uncommon in early America.

“Most people were more worried about basic survival than anything else so the wealthy would import lace from Europe for the most part,” she said. “Lace making in colonial America was a unique, very specialized skill.”

Historical-themed festivities continue through today and end this afternoon with an 18th-century cricket game on Legislative Mall from noon to 3 p.m.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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