By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — The British are coming!
The famous cry by Paul Revere in the run-up to the American Revolution notwithstanding, the British came back once again, from 1812-14, in what is now referred to as the War of 1812.
Fifteen to 20 War of 1812 re-enactors are setting up camp Saturday at the Wake Forest Museum for a living history demonstration.
They’ll run black powder firing drills and conduct historical educational demonstrations about area militiamen who participated in the war.
One of the militia was Wake Forest’s forefather, Calvin Jones.
“Calvin Jones was an Adjutant General in the North Carolina militia,” says John Truelove, a re-enactor organizing the event. Likely Jim Greathouse, a re-enactor playing Jones, will be present Saturday, as Jones was an important person in the war.
“We’ve got them coming from all over the state,” says Truelove. “What we’re planning to do on the 29th is to show the public what it was like to be a militiaman 200 years ago.”
The U.S. declared war in 1812, but most of the fighting occurred 200 years ago in 1814.
The issues involved trade restrictions brought about by Britain’s war with Napoleon in France, American sailors being pressed into the Royal Navy against their will, British support of American Indian tribes and possible expansion into lands that make up modern day Canada.
The local militia was actually based out of Forestville. In 1812, it was the only town around and Wake Forest College, which Wake Forest grew up around, wasn’t even established for another two decades.
The militiamen of North Carolina had no distinct uniform, but suggested uniforms consisted of round hats with a goose feather plume and a white hunting frock with white fringe and trousers.
“It could be made with homespun cotton, that way it would be affordable, No. 1, and No. 2, it’s still [an] elegant-looking dress as well as being cool enough to wear in the summertime,” says Truelove. Officers were less fortunate — they wore blue wool uniforms year-round.
They were part of the Volunteer Guard attached to the Wake Volunteers, with 40 infantrymen, 120 calvary (and one piece of field artillery), mostly made up of men ages 18-55.
“Militia musters were social events. Most men and women would go to the militia musters. Most took place on Saturdays,” he says. “In Wake County, all the musters took place on the Capitol grounds … where the old arsenal used to be. It contained 100 stand of muskets and 20 stands of pikes.”
Younger men and sometimes African Americans served as musicians in North Carolina militias. There were also black infantry who wielded 10-foot pikes, but state law at the time didn’t allow even freed slaves to carry rifles, according to Truelove.
It wasn’t uncommon for the militia men to have their own rifle.
“In 1792 Congress passed a law that said if you were over age of 16 all the way up to 60 you had to own a firearm to comply with your state’s militia laws,” says Truelove.
The brigade the Forestville militia was a part of was called up to Norfolk, but the war ended before they saw any action.
The Wake Forest Museum credits Calvin Jones as having “virtually singlehandedly kept a British fleet from invading North Carolina,” according to a depiction written on the museum website by Jennifer Smart.
“[I]n 1813 Jones distinguished himself by moving his troops east to block the British who’d landed at Ocracoke and Portsmouth,” the website states.
“The British fleet was enormous — consisting of a 74-gun man-of-war, six frigates, two privateers, two schooners, and up to 70 smaller vessels,” it continues. “But Jones, who had assumed command of all U.S. troops mobilized in the vicinity, made a show of force formidable enough to keep the invaders from attempting to move inland. The British fleet set sail after five days of ‘numerous depredations and robberies,’ and for the duration of the war never returned to the North Carolina coast.”
Some of those coming Saturday will likely be dressed as British soldiers; they were dressed similarly during a War of 1812 demonstration at Mordecai Park in Raleigh last month.
One may be Zack Tyler, a resident of Hunting Ridge in north Raleigh. A student of history, Tyler learned of America’s importance in the War of 1812 and decided to join up.
“I was already a re-enactor. I’ve always loved history,” he said. “I was doing Civil War (events) and I knew I was already interested in the Napoleonic era. I knew that 1812 was our part in that geopolitical climate.”
Each re-enactor has his own reasons for joining up, and will gladly talk to any member of the public who attends Saturday.
The event is free and runs from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. It will be held rain or shine, but will move indoors in the event of a thunderstorm. The museum is located at 414 N. Main St.
Free parking is available on the grounds and on surrounding streets.