Liberty Bell encampment reminds visitors of historic trip
It was in September of 1777, with the revolutionary capital of Philadelphia defenseless, that the city prepared for the inevitable British attack. Bells, and any item made of iron that could be melted down and recast into cannonballs and ammunition needed to be removed from the city. Among the larger bells that faced the fate of a hastily put-together trip was the Pennsylvania State Bell, known today as the Liberty Bell.
The bells and other iron items were quickly gathered from within the city and sent by a heavily guarded wagon train to the Zion German Reformed Church in Northampton Town – known today as Allentown. Some accounts say as many as 700 wagons and 600 soldiers made the trip.
Under the command of Maj. Nicholas Dietrich, Baron de Ottendorf, the guardians of the Bell marched from Philadelphia to Allentown, mostly along what we know today as Allentown Road.
Last Saturday and Sunday, the historic Rising Sun Inn, 898 Allentown Road, Telford, hosted an event titled “The Guarding of the Liberty Bell Encampment.” What an event it was.
The stifling heat did little to discourage those who challenged Mother Nature to witness the staged arrival of Maj. Ottendorf and his troops. Arriving promptly at 10 a.m. on Saturday, some 30 re-enactors marched in line, protecting a large wagon pulled by a team of strong horses and loaded with a large, wooden crate. They marched up Allentown Road and onto the property of the Rising Sun Inn, where they made their way down a worn path to their encampment near the banks of the North Branch of the Perkiomen Creek.
According to Major Ottendorf, portrayed by Larry Gorecki, “Probably only he and his second-in-command knew what was in the box during the entire trip.”
Portraying Revolutionary War figures is not new to Gorecki, who hails from Harrisburg; for three years he portrayed George Washington in the annual Christmas-time crossing of the Delaware. His second-in-command was portrayed by John Godzieba of Langhorn.
Once among the row of neat tents at the encampment, Ottendorf gave his orders to the sentries who would stand next to the crated bell and guard it with their lives.
But it was just the beginning of the two-day event and there was so much more to experience. It was a local history buff’s smorgasbord, and it wasn’t too bad for those with gastronomic thoughts of dining with the troops in the barn of the Rising Sun Inn. The inn offered the opportunity to dine with the re-enactors for dinner on Saturday night or lunch on Sunday.
This writer opted for lunch on Sunday and what a treat it was. There was Philadelphia pepper-pot soup that pleased my taste buds, even in 95-plus degree temperatures. The fantastic chicken, potatoes, rye bread and vegetables complemented the meal nicely, but it was the buffalo goulash that jumped to the forefront of pleasing the taste buds of the dining crowd.
For those desiring a taste of the past to quench their thirst, there was George Washington Porter and Thomas Jefferson Ale served in the lower level of the barn.
The events over both days featured cannon and musket firing, camp tours, displays of Revolutionary War era items and featured speakers.
Among the featured speakers was Lee Hallman of Marlborough Township. Lee is a noted expert on Native American artifacts. Hallman shared hundreds of pieces from his collection with visitors, including arrowheads, stone tools, and Revolutionary War era buttons and coins that he finds while searching for artifacts on many of his field excursions.
Jack Armstrong, a local re-enactor from the Skippack area, spoke about the different flags of the period and of the meaning of the flag and duty and responsibilities of protecting it during that era. After listening to Armstrong, one came away with a feeling that those who dismiss flag burners of today with “So what, it’s only a flag, could use an earful of the history about what the flag meant to our founding fathers and, especially, the soldiers. Flags and banners meant a whole lot more in 1776.
After thanking him for hosting the wonderful event, and bragging to him about the fine meal, I asked Rising Sun Inn Managing Partner and Executive Chef Fred Duerr why he went through the trouble of organizing, staging and hosting the event. It seems that Fred is a lover of history – and especially “live” events. He was also quick to exclaim that, “We’ll do it again next year.”
This writer can hardly wait.