Visitors meandered around Fort Morris Historic Site overlooking the Medway River in Sunbury on Monday to learn how early U.S. patriots toiled and entertained themselves long before Labor Day was an official federal holiday.
To commemorate the occasion, volunteers sported authentic Colonial attire and performed cannon firings and musket demonstrations, gave educational talks, played Revolutionary War-era games and explained a way of life that has been preserved thanks to re-enactments.
After entering the fort, program attendees first encountered volunteer Debbi Edgar and her grandson, Trenton Lagano, 6, who demonstrated his skills with several Colonial-era games, such as Happy Jack, spinning tops and Jacob’s Ladder. After the duo taught fellow volunteers Renni Salter and Jessie McCorkle how to play Graces — a game that involves tossing a ribbon-laced hoop back and forth with sticks — the college-aged history enthusiasts gave it a shot.
“I’m a huge fan of history. I want to be a history teacher,” said Salter, a Georgia Southern University sophomore who is studying education. She said she learned of the volunteer opportunities at Fort Morris from one of her colleagues at GSU, where she also works as a community leader. She jumped at the chance to get involved and brought her friend, McCorkle, along for the ride.
“I’m having fun with these games,” said McCorkle, who is a sophomore at Ogeechee Technical College. “And I’ve always loved history.”
The girls, dressed in period costumes provided by Fort Morris, said they definitely want to volunteer again, and they plan to go all out when they return.
“We know a seamstress who we’ll pay to sew us some more-elaborate costumes,” Salter said.
Edgar said the best part of being involved in Fort Morris’ programs is watching children learn about history.
“Over the years, we’ve impacted a lot of kids. They learn to help take care of nature and to be more appreciative of what they have now because they learn about history,” she said.
Visitor Dan McDowell was happy to help a youngster take advantage of the educational opportunities Edgar spoke of. He brought a friend’s son, Brody Garver, out to enjoy the festivities while his dad, a military police officer, was at work.
McDowell said he’d been to Fort Morris before and thought his friend’s child would have fun.
“It’s nice and quiet, and it’s educational for the little ones,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the cannon firings.”
“Yeah,” Brody piped up, “we’re waiting for that.”
As they waited for the weapons demonstrations to begin, Aimee and Walter Phillips led their two boys, Raymond, 6, and Aaron, 4, over to the viewing area.
“We’re trying to see all the forts in the area, and I looked online and saw they were going to have cannon firings, and the boys would like to see that,” Aimee Phillips said.
So far, in addition to Fort Morris, the Phillips family has been to Old Fort Jackson, Fort McAllister and Fort Pulaski.
“Every time we get stationed somewhere, we try to take advantage of the local flavor. Before we move out of the area, we want to see everything,” said Aimee Phillips, whose family lives on Fort Stewart.
After the highly anticipated cannon and musket demonstrations, members of the firing crew answered questions and explained the intricacies of the weapons to guests.
Dave Swinford, a long-serving Fort Morris volunteer, enjoys participating because doing so goes hand-in-hand with his hobby.
“I like building the stuff to use. I like playing with the equipment,” he said. “I built the cannon and the swivel gun, and I maintain their muskets for them.”
Swinford rarely misses one of the site’s programs. He lends a hand for Labor Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Christmas at Fort Morris, the Come and Take It encampment and the Junior Rangers’ program.
Attendance at the programs varies quite a bit, he said.
“Sometimes we have 20-30 people; sometimes we have 150,” he said. “Today we already have about 40 and it’s only noon, so it looks like it might be a pretty good Labor Day this year.”