Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

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State park celebrates Jackson's 244th birthday

By Jesef Williams

There was no electricity or assembly line available to help with the process. 

Rather, he used a vice called a shaving horse to shape wood into eating utensils, furniture and other items found around the house.

It took patience and a steady hand to make a spoon or a jug from a piece of stock wood in Colonial America. But the shaving horse was the best option for American settlers in the 1700s. 

Wood-shaving demonstrations were among the re-enactments and interpretations from this period at the the annual Andrew Jackson Birthday Celebration, held Saturday at the state park off U.S. 521 bearing his name. 

The six-hour event not only remembered the life of Jackson, the United States’ seventh president, but also gave visitors a chance to experience the way people lived during the 18th century. 

Colonial lifestyles 

Historical interpreter Bill McGinn led the wood-shaping demonstration Saturday. He worked on a shaving horse, which holds a piece of wood in place, allowing the user to carve and shape the wood with both hands. 

McGinn said the vice even shaped wood that was turned into house shingles centuries ago.  

“It had a lot of different uses and was basically indispensable for the early settlers,” he said.  

McGinn’s presentation piqued the interest of a young girl named Lauren, who was visiting the park with her mother and a group of friends. 

Lauren quickly approached McGinn and asked, “What are you doing?” 

He then led her through a live demonstration and discussed his collection of recently made items, including serving spoons, a jug and a children’s chair. 

Lauren’s mother, Erin Tindal, said she hoped the event allows youth to develop a greater appreciation for the way of life centuries ago. She said children may not realize that people back then didn’t have computers, video games and other gadgets that are so commonplace today. 

“I want them to see that our culture now is different from what Andrew Jackson grew up with,” Tindal said. “I want them to know that there’s more to the world that just electronics.” 

Live colonial cooking demonstrations were also part of Saturday’s activities. 

Members of the Historical Cooking Guild of the Catawba Valley dressed in colonial attire and cooked a meal using popular methods from that era. 

Philip Moore tended an outdoor fire with turnip greens cooking in a Dutch oven and chicken roasting on spits above the coals. The meal also included ham, biscuits and apple turnovers. 

Mary McGinn, who puts on demonstrations with the cooking guild throughout the region, said a lot of preparation goes into replicating the lifestyles of colonialists. Guild members go on two research trips a year – visiting libraries, touring historic sites and reading old manuscripts. 

Their goal is to pass that knowledge on to visitors who come out to events like Jackson’s birthday celebration. 

“It’s education from both ends of the spectrum,” McGinn said. 

A yearly celebration 

Nicknamed “Old Hickory” for his tough demeanor as a war general, Jackson later became the United States’ seventh president, serving from 1829 to 1837. 

Jackson is said to have been born in Lancaster County, though debate continues over which side of the Carolinas state line he was born on. Saturday’s event commemorated his 244th birthday. 

The celebration was sponsored by the S.C. State Park Service, Friends of Andrew Jackson State Park and Lancaster County Retired Educators Association. 

Jill Marshall, president of the Friends group, said she was pleased with this year’s turnout. 

There was a steady flow of traffic throughout the day, which can probably be credited to the warm weather, she said. Temperatures Saturday afternoon were well into the 80s. 

“The weather has been so kind to us,” Marshall said Saturday. “It’s good for people to get out and enjoy the day with their family.” 

The event also featured recurring re-enactments of Jackson and those of Kessie the slave by local interpreter Kitty Wilson-Evans. 

One of the other recurring events Saturday was the black powder demonstration, which included men dressed up as militiamen or British soldiers firing shots from muskets, rifles and other guns popular during the American Revolution. 

Fort Mill resident Robert Ryals, who played a militia rebel, said it’s important for the annual Andrew Jackson celebration to continue. 

It’s essential for people to know about their history so they can learn from mistakes of the past, he said. 

“It’s OK to look back,” Ryals said. “If we’re not careful, we can forget the sacrifices people made to achieve the liberties we appreciate today.”