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Living In The Past
Published Tuesday, February 09, 2010 11:20 PM
By Paul Zoeller
Summerville Journal Scene
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The soldiers released a volley of rifle fire followed by a cloud of smoke. As they lowered their rifles to reload, Ensign Boggs rushed up behind them, firing off a volley of his own -- harsh criticism of their shooting skills. The soldiers of the 1st Independent Company of South Carolina raised their rifles once more, fired and received another set of insults -- all to the delight of the crowd.

Visitors were invited to come and witness life during colonial times as soldiers performed drills, merchants sold their goods and children ran along the hillside playing games Saturday at Colonial Dorcester State Historic Site. The park celebrated the 250th anniversary of the building of the fort still standing at what was known as the town of Dorchester.

Members of the 1st Independent Company of South Carolina fire their rifles during a 250th anniversary celebration at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site.

Fort Dorchester

Built in 1757 during the French and Indian wars, all that remains of the fort are the walls made of tabby, a mix of oyster shells, sand and mud. According to Scott Cave, volunteer archeologist at the park, the fort was built to protect the town as well as provide a garrison for those traveling through to Charleston. He said the town of Dorchester was established in the early 1700s and was as big as Charles Town during that period. The town was very successful and key in trade along the Ashley River.

Tony Youmans, director of The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon in Charleston, stands guard at the back of the fort.

The fort never came under attack but the town eventually died out as plantations popped up across the Lowcountry after the Revolutionary War. Though houses in Dorchester were picked apart by locals needing bricks, the walls of the fort were never touched. Little remains of the town but archeologist like Cave are able to dig up pieces from the past to learn more about life in Colonial America.

Now, 250 years later, the walls still standing and a company of colonial soldiers patrols the fort.

George Williams, Deborah Champion and other members of the 1st Independent Co. of SC spent a rain-soaked evening in tents, as they would in colonial times.

Colonial Soldiers

George Williams has always had an interest in colonial history. As an adult, he went to a similar event and recognized a co-worker there. Knowing someone with a similar interest, he started asking questions and soon had bought his own clothing and gear.

The hardest part was researching about life in colonial times, Williams said. Most historic records from that time were word of mouth or sketches unlike the Civil War which was photographed and documented in detail.

Jeff Wells, playing the role of Ensign Boggs, searches for recruits to join his company.

"Hunger for knowledge," he said, motivated him to learn as much as possible. Soon, Williams had inundated himself with every aspect of the colonial period from art and clothing to furniture.

He joined the 1st Independent Company of South Carolina based in Fort Loudoun, Vonore, TN. The group, consisting of men and women, travels to similar events and participates in colonial reenactments. They eat, sleep and live like soldiers would have during colonial times. Everything they wear and do resembles life in the military including assigning rank and running drills.

Visitors could purchase coffee at one of the shops next to the colonial camp.

I asked why a unit from Tennessee would call themselves the 1st Independent Company of South Carolina. They explained that during the colonial period, Tennessee did not exist. The Carolinas extended further west back then and Tennessee would have been a part of the state at that time. Some suggested the state stretched as far west as the Mississippi.

Each of the reenactors with the 1st Independent Company of South Carolina had a similar story -- an interest in learning about history.

Steve Cordle, of Maryville, Tenn, cleans his flint lock rifle.

Steve Cordle of Maryville, Tenn., says watching television shows growing up with characters like Daniel Boone sparked his interest in the colonial period. He collects antique arms and even hunts with a replica flint lock rifle.

Olivia Caldwell of Summerville looks at the many tools used by doctors during colonial times.

Colonial Life

The 250th anniversary offered visitors a unique look into life in the 1700s. Times were obviously different and people had to be dependant on themselves for food and shelter, especially while trying to settle across South Carolina. I can't imagine trying to cut a path through the swamps and thick lines of trees while trying to settle the area.

I always wondered how they first reacted when explorers from Europe saw an alligator. I can't imagine too many had ever seen such an thing.

Matt Vincett, with Charles Town Artillery, explains how munitions for cannons worked.

Demonstrations were given as well on how colonists would have washed clothes, cooked and entertained themselves. Visitors could interact with blacksmiths, buy coffee brewed over a fire or buy fresh-baked goods while kids played games on the hillside.

At the medical tent, instruments of all shapes and sizes were spread across the table. What could be described as medieval torture devices -- saws, large knives, pliers and sharp pointed instruments -- were actually used to save lives. A demonstration was given with a T-handle shaped device used to dig out a bullet -- ouch!

Anna Flemming and her son Alex Flemming, of Birmingham, Al, visit the grave site near St. George’s Anglican Church.

The reenactors offered insight into the life of a soldier as well. Living in bottomless tents, long hours spent running drills and protecting the colonists.

Tony Youmans, director of The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon in Charleston, said many joined the military. Some joined because it was easier than working hard on a farm for a meager living, while others joined seeking adventure.

Visitors learn how they lived during colonial times including doing laundry.

The reenactors offered a interesting perspective on life back then. Though we may never have a clear picture of life in the town of Dorchester, archeologist are learning more all the time.

Cave said it is easier to learn about life at Colonial Dorcester State Historic Site then say Charleston where buildings have been torn down or built over. The park, lacking any buildings except the fort and the brick tower of St. George's Anglican Church is perfect for digging. Every Saturday, visitors are invited out to the park to watch the archeologist sift through the soil for remnants of the past.

Members of the 1st Independent Co. of SC eat, sleep and live as soldiers would during colonial times.

After talking with Cave, it was amazing to me how Dorchester's past could be pieced together with artifacts pulled from the ground.

Thought the fort and church steeple still stand, Dorchester has long been deserted. It was nice to see the town come alive again, if only for a day.

Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at

Comments (3)

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010 7:01 PM

Wonderful history summarizes, accompany by great photographs of the way of life back during the colonial times. Thanks for sharing Paul.

Posted by: Teuschler
Friday, February 12, 2010 5:50 PM

i visited the event and was disappointed that there were so few young local students from the local schools were not visiting. there is so much history in this area and so few [ especially the young ] not taking advantage of this very historical site event. local history teachers could do a better job,

Posted by: fred day
Ft. Dorchestor
Friday, February 12, 2010 11:50 AM

Our family attended this wonderful event. It was a wonderful way to bring history back to life and help us remember we are all a product of our past. Stepping back in time provided good perspective to today and the many different struggles we face. Life was surely different.
LShaw Summerville

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