By Sean CW Korsgaard
The bells of St. Peter’s Church toll on the hour, crowds fill the streets, and the wind carries both the words of the town crier reading the Declaration of Independence, and the smell of steamed crabs and hot dogs on the grill.
Independence Day has come once again to Port Royal, with the 18th annual Historic Port Royal Fourth of July Event bringing life to historic downtown, and celebrating the 241st Anniversary of the United States of America declaring its independence from Great Britain.
Bonnie Cannon, the chairwoman and organizer for the event, was very happy with how it turned out, saying it grows and gets better every year.
“It’s a wonderful event this year, and wonderful tribute to the USA,” said Cannon. “I think Port Royal has a lot of history, and a lot to offer, and is a wonderful place to come and visit, and events like this really get to highlight that.”
Ted Haenlein would certainly agree that the event draws attention to Port Royal – he’s been coming to the Fourth of July events at Port Royal ever since the event almost literally sent a broadside across his front lawn.
“I live in King George County, right on the Rappahannock River across from Port Royal, and one year, they’d set off cannons and were firing off towards our house, and we came over to see what that was all about,” said Haenlein. “I’ve been coming back ever since! This is my 16th time attending.”
Locals aren’t the only ones coming out to the event though Charles Wissinger, an actor from Colonial Heights, was attending the event to give performances as Francis Scott Key and James Madison, and had high praise for Port Royal.
“I’ve been here before for a number of events, but never for the Fourth of July, and this is a great event for a great little town,” said Wissinger. “I’m an actor first, but I love history, being able to bring history to life like this, for a crowd that appreciates it like Port Royal does, it’s so rewarding.”
Bringing history to life is what has brought Hashmel Turner out to the event as well. Turner, who is a historical reenactor as well, as a member of the 23rd US Colored Troops, before joining his great grandkids to set off fireworks in the evening.
“We love telling the story of these brave men in the Civil War and the great contribution and impact they had on American history and local history,” said Turner. “This is our sixth year coming down to the event, and we love being able to come down and support this community event, and celebrate American history, especially often overlooked chapters like this one.”
The Fourth of July Celebration included Civil War reenactors, blacksmithing demonstrations, horseback riding, and several vendors representing everything from local farmers to the Fredericksburg Chapter of Disabled American Veterans. Several local museums, such as Port Royal’s Museum of American History, had special hours as well.
“You can come in, hear them read the Declaration of Independence, poke around some local vendors selling everything from soap to organic honey, and grab a shawarma from a Lebanese food truck on the way out,” said one attendee. “If that isn’t positively American, I don’t know what is!”