Back in 1978 I was 25 and in objective terms an utter failure. A dropout, a month shy of graduation, from the Cornell Graduate Business School. I had become suddenly afraid that I would become a CPA. And just as suddenly unemployable.
Inherited a job in my hometown from my sister, editor-in-chief of a Bicentennial publication called The Way It Used to Be, sponsored by the Salem County Historical Society.
Her tenure was almost exclusively about women. Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Mine was different: What the hell am I doing here?
But in my usual way, I got lucky. She was editor during the 1776 celebrations, which were national, flag waving, and generic. Why she tried to drill down into ‘issues’ that concerned her, namely women. When I took over, we were on the cusp of Salem County’s REAL participation in the Revolution, a local militia defense against a multi-pronged British offensive on a key barrier to the agricultural resources of South Jersey.
it was called the Skirmish at Quinton’s Bridge. It happened. Big names were involved. Mad Anthony Wayne. John Graves Simcoe, colonel of the Queen’s Rangers. I was handed a manuscript by an elderly Woodstown dentist-historian who had written a pamphlet called “When War Came to Salem.” Review it or something was my instruction.
So I did. In the Salem newspaper, Today’s Sunbeam.
Then I got called into a meeting with the publisher of the Sunbeam and a man named Stony Harris. The publisher, An eminence grise named Thomas Bowen, who couldn’t have cared less about the daily content of his daily paper, said, “Stony thinks we might be able to do a Reenactment. What do you think?”
I knew OF Stony Harris. He was a legend. The founder of Cowtown Rodeo, the local cattleman who prided himself on traveling to cattle rancher conventions in Texas for the express purpose of reminding them that his family’s cattle brand was older than any in Texas. He wore a cool ivory cowboy hat and a string tie. His eyes were miss-nothing blue. He looked at me, friendly, casual, penetrating. “What do you think, son? Tom thinks we can do it.”
Everything after that was kind of a blur. I made a plan, an impossibly ambitious one. At every turn when resources were needed, Stony provided them. I was a general, arranging for Continental and British troops, instructing county works department employees on signs demarking the course of the skirmish in three locations, writing the promos for the event, and when it came time for the key event, the axing of the bridge over Alloways Creek in Quinton, Stony Harris had the bridge made in a single day. I got to watch like Napoleon on his log at Waterloo. Except disaster never came.
It all came off without a hitch.
And I can prove it happened.
I guess we didn’t hit the right date. My first promo under my own byline for the Skirmish at Quinton’s Bridge was published on September 11, 1978. Go figure.
It was a five part series in Tom Bowen’s paper.
Part Five was this.
The still missing middle was this:
Don’t be fooled. The conquest of Alloways Creek was for the Brits a phantom victory. While the Salem militia held up the Queen’s Rangers, Mad Anthony Wayne scooped out all the hay, food, and cattle in Cumberland and Atlantic counties. Which was a lot. Hallelujah.
Oh you millennials. Probably no way you get the lessons of this experience. I was a lackadaisical snob in my home of homes, where I had one grandmother in the D.A.R. and one in the Colonial Dames. Meant nothing to me till I got drafted into a re-experiencing of an authentic historical event. And had to work and organize and decide and see and hear and smell it. Command decisions about when to move, sweat, and gunfire and axe blows and genuine yelling, even in reenactment. Call it Project Management 101.
What you’ll probably never learn. Real responsibility is actually fun. I actually found green buckskins for the Queen’s Rangers. Try it. You’ll like it.
P.S. The Brits were thieves too. They stole a grandfather clock from Benjamin Holme in the 1778 raid, which was eventually recovered and is now on display at the Salem Historical Society.
Wouldn’t mention it, but I’m a Cohansey boy, meaning a Greenwich boy. I lived in the Benjamin Reeve house on Ye Greate Street. The house is unnaturally tall because Reeve was also a maker of grandfather clocks. We did it as good as they did, you know what I’m saying?
It’s in the blood, dude. My grandfather also made grandfather clocks. Want to talk about White Privilege, do you? Some things are earned, come hell or high water, both of which we have in Elsinboro.
See, libs? We really are Satanic. When the grandfather clock chimes twelve, you’re done.