Living History Can Be More Shocking Than History Class
I have the privilege of reenacting Mr. Jefferson both individually and with an outstanding group called the League of Most Interesting Gentlemen. As a group we have performed from Plattsburg, NY to Fort Defiance, NC, with most of our work conducted from Charlottesville, VA, to Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, PA. We meet people young and old at historical sites, art centers, wineries, museums, and banquet halls, transporting everyone back two hundred or more years. Often the reactions that we get during our performances confirm what we all have come to understand; history touches our emotions as much as our thoughts, even for those who view history as something taught in a boring history class or read from a dry academic essay.
“How’s Sally doing?” people often ask Mr. Jefferson. They are referring to Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s slave who is believed to be the mother of six of his children. That controversy has been publicly boiling since 1802, so that historical information is not new or shocking to anyone. Mr. Jefferson’s reaction, however, does startle everyone. Textbooks can quote, historians can tell, but saying this to a historical figure, as interpreted by someone portraying him in the first person, is equivalent to verbally attacking someone in front of a group. History brought life leaves a completely different impression than hearing lecture notes or reading it from a book.
Thankfully, Mr. Jefferson, Dr. Franklin, Mr. Madison, Mr. Gallatin, and the “Natural Philosopher,” who constitute the League of Most Interesting Gentlemen, have a fascinating assortment of stories, opinions, commentary, and experiences to offer those who are willing to “suspend their disbelief” for an hour or so, combining “fleckless mirth” with historical scholarship into an experience not found in any museum.
Shocking History at Sweethearts and Patriot Ball, Washington, D.C.
Art Depuy, a guest at the Fox Meadow Winery, said it best when he wrote this to the League,
I never cared for history but as I reflect, I didn’t care for most classes plus I don’t like to read. Over time I have discovered I do like history but I am a very visual person. At Fox Meadow and Hiddencroft [Wineries] I found myself totally engaged listening in on four men enjoying a pleasant afternoon sharing old stories, historical events, laughing and joking while talking about their past. And I realized that this is something I probably do when I have the opportunity to spend an afternoon with several of my old friends. But you men were our founding fathers of this great country called America and I felt transported back in time.