|Living history at Washington’s Headquarters|
|Posted by Graham Humphrey, THV Student Conservation Associate|
|on May 30, 2012|
“Hurry, the sergeant is expecting you!” With these words a family of three and I began a first-person living history tour of the Hasbrouck House at Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh.
Entering the house, we were informed that it was August 1, 1783, that we were the replacement kitchen staff, and that Sergeant John Phillips would explain our duties. We were told to hurry because we had been expected at noon and it was now 3 p.m. In addition, we were warned that the sergeant, portrayed by Matthew Colon, could be a bit gruff.
Once inside, Sergeant Phillips explained we would be preparing three meals a day and even the kids would be expected to help out in the kitchen. But first, we visited Washington’s office where we learned that he rose with the sun and after shaving would begin work on orders for the day. Dinner was served at 3 p.m. for 10-20 guests and often consisted of duck and pork.
Sergeant Phillips recounted how General Rochambeau was recently the guest of honor in the parlor and showed us where the aide-to-camp worked and slept. We moved on to Washington’s bedroom where we learned more including the fact our first president slept sitting up so that he would not breathe in “bad humors.”
At the end of the tour, we were instructed to alert the general if we saw a signal fire from Beacon Mountain across the Hudson River because it might mean the British were moving up the river from New York City for a possible attack. In that case the military staff would have to pack everything into the trunks we saw in each room. (Mount Beacon is now a 234-acre park. The hike to the top is just over a mile, steadily uphill, and follows a winding road passing some lovely rock formations.)
As an emerging museum professional, I enjoyed this living history program because it allowed us to learn more about the region’s colonial history in an interactive manner beyond what would have been possible on a regular house tour. The living history interpreter did a great job engaging everyone. The two young children on the tour were introduced to unfamiliar objects, such as the chamber pot, and were shown how military staff wrote with ink and a quill.
"Colonial and Revolutionary War Life," a unit in THV's free on-line library includes four lessons based on visits to Washington's Headquarters. Designed for fourth grade social studies and English/Language Arts by Peekskill teachers Melissa Fidanza and Tara Fidanza, they could be adapted for younger students.