Revolution descendants dress for President Washington’s birthday

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published February 28, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 27, 2013 at 10:51 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

From the left, John Speer, Larry Huntzinger and Jerry Byrum appear in period costume for a celebration of George Washington’s birthday in Hot Springs.

— Around 100 people met at the Hot Springs Country Club on Friday for a birthday party for the president, and no one took issue that he was born in a British colony.

The celebration was for the first president, commander of the Continental Army and father of the nation — George Washington.

The birthday lunch was held by the local chapters of the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, as well as members of other organizations made up of descendants of some of the nation’s first families.

The special guest for the event was Carla Killough McClafferty of Benton, author of The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon.

But attracting the most attention was the 10 or so people who came to the party dressed in clothes from the period of the American Revolution and the first decades of the new nation.

The women wore shawls, hats and bonnets from that time and long skirts in the style of the period, while four men offered the colorful splendor of uniforms of the American Army that fought the war for independence.

Jimmy Weber of Hot Springs was dressed as his great-great-great-great-grandfather, Maj. William Humphrey, who shared with Gen. Washington the famous, but bleak, winter in Valley Forge, Pa., and was part of the ill-fated American attack on Quebec, Canada.

“The uniform is the familiar blue coat of the Continental Army with the white trim and a white vest of the 2nd Regiment from Rhode Island,” Weber said. “The flag of the state of Rhode Island still carries those colors.”

Also blazing white were the gaitered trousers, worn by many men on both sides of the battle.

“The bottoms of the pants flare out to cover the officer’s shoes in the field and are tight at the legs,” Weber said. “I am also carrying my musket and bayonet, pistol and knife for combat.”

Weber said working models of the firearms can be found, but he has purchased nonworking models so he can have them with him when he talks to school classes about the American Revolution and his famous ancestor.

As a semi-retired teacher, Weber said he appears in uniform to speak to Boy Scout groups and history classes about 1776 and the U.S. Constitution. He also marches with the color guard of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution in Jonesboro.

Talking with Weber was Jerry Byram of Pearcy. He was dressed as Gen. Washington would have been when he was commander-in-chief of the American forces fighting the soldiers of the British Empire.

The long-tailed coat is blue with golden tan or buff trim and has two stars adorning each of his shoulders, like the general’s did. Byram also wore a vest, tan pants and a saber.

Also a member of the SAR, Byram said he has been researching his ancestry to see if he was related to one of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower. In doing so, he found an ancestor who was in the Revolution.

“He was a tavern keeper in New Jersey,” Byram said. “He opened it in 1742, and it is still operating but is not owned by the same family. It is outside Morristown, N.J., where Washington wintered for two years.”

Byram said he likes to think Gen. Washington would often visit the tavern during those long winter nights.

Also dressed for battle was Larry Huntzinger of Hot Springs Village, wearing the blue coat with red trim as a Continental soldier not affiliated with any state unit.

Huntzinger said he has had a Continental uniform for about three years and that acquiring an authentic reproduction of a Continental uniform was expensive.

Weber said a quality, hand-sewn uniform made from the same kinds of materials used back then could cost more than $1,000.

“The weapons can cost from $1,800 to $2,000 alone,” he said.

The uniform can also be very hot, especially in the summer.

“It has to be wool cloth,” Weber said. “The flash of a flintlock rifle causes cotton or gabardine to catch fire.”

Dressed very differently was John Spear of Hot Springs Village. He wore a brown coat and cape combination of rough-texture canvas with fringe, known as a hunting frock.

“It is the clothes of an enlisted man. My ancestor was James Brian, who served as a private in the South Carolina Militia. The others here are officers,” Spear said.

He said his hat, more like a pirate hat than the traditional three-cornered hat seen in pictures of Revolutionary fighters, was fashioned after his ancestor’s unit, known as the Backwater Boys, that fought in some of the main battles of the war in the South like Kings Mountain and Cowpens.

The men laughed when asked if they were in full-colonial dress down to the skin. All admitted to wearing modern comfortable undergarments.

“We are also freshly bathed, which would have been rare in those days, too,” Pearcy said.

McClafferty said her book is about what the first U.S. president really looked like. She said Washington’s face on the $1 bill is not a fair appraisal of Virginia’s most famous citizen.

The portrait by Gilbert Stuart on which the bill’s image is based is of a 64-year-old Washington in the third year of his second term. He had recently had his last tooth removed, and his false teeth (which were not wood) were painful and made speaking difficult. Washington was embarrassed by the way his dentures made his lips bulge, McClafferty said.

That may explain the solemn, even grumpy look recorded in the painting, she said.

“You can’t see the 19-year-old surveyor or the Revolutionary War general in that picture. It is the image of an old man,” she said. “He was a strong, handsome, virile man.”

Part of McClafferty’s book is about the scientific research and technology used to create images of Washington at 19, at 45 and at 57, when he first took office as president. The rest of the book talks about what kind of man Washington was at those ages.

“The science involved attracted me because of my background in radiology,” McClafferty said. “It was perfect for me because it combines science and art, and history and biography, which I love.”

In creating the three new images, measurements, made when Washington was alive, were used. Then computerized adjustments were made to show the younger and older Washington.

The master of ceremonies for the Washington Birthday Party was Susan Page Veal of the Arkansas Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She said this was the ninth annual celebration for Gen. Washington, with the events always held on his birthday, Feb. 22.

Veal said she continues to celebrate the life of Washington to help teach citizens of all ages, born here or elsewhere, about the country’s struggle for independence and the life of the man who stepped up to lead the young nation.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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