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By rebeccapricejanney, Sep 15 2017 02:16PM

The Signing of the United States Constitution

As you know, I’m a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (Valley Forge Chapter.) Every year, the DAR commemorates America’s most important document, the United States Constitution, with a Constitution Week. This celebration began in 1955 when the Daughters petitioned the U.S. Congress to set aside September 17th-23rd each year to observe Constitution Week. In 1956, President Eisenhower signed into public law the resolution adopted by the Congress.

A few years ago, I wrote a story about the Constitution’s origins, which I'd like to share with you.

When the United States was born on July 4, 1776, a temporary government existed under the Articles of Confederation. By the end of the conflict, the new nation was struggling with war debt, and some states refused to shoulder their share of the burden—determined to promote their own interests at the expense of the new union. Those who had seen the thirteen former colonies through the perils of revolution gathered one again in Philadelphia, in May 1787 to fix what was wrong with the existing government. A new arrangement was clearly in order.

A great deal of animosity developed as arguments took place around issues such as representation. The more highly populated northern states, for example, argued that it should be based on population, but the more sparsely occupied southern states cried “unfair!”

At one low point, the union seemed about to break up because various sides were so deeply entrenched. At a critical moment, elder statesman Benjamin Franklin addressed his fellow delegates:

In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain when we were more sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor . . . And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: “that God governs in the affairs of men.” And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probably that an empire can rise without His aid?

We gave been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests; our projects will be confounded; and we ourselves hall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war, or conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business.

On September 17, 1787 the new Constitution was signed, a document that began, “We, the people of the United States . . .” On that day as George Washington rose from a chair that carried the design of a half-sun on the back, Franklin observed, “I have often and often in the course of this session. . . looked at that . . . without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

(Great Events in American History, pp. 27-29; AMG Publishers, 2009)

By rebeccapricejanney, Sep 7 2017 02:46PM

With the back-to-school activity this week in my area of suburban Philadelphia (and all those Halloween aisles bursting in the stores), along with Hurricane Harvey’s terrible damage and Category Five Irma on the horizon, I decided to write about “The Year Without a Summer.”

Ever since I first heard about this phenomenon, I’ve been fascinated by what happened.

Back in 1815, an eruption in the Dutch East Indies of Mount Tambora was the largest volcanic explosion in 1300 years. Combined with the cooling of earth’s temperatures from about the year 1300, a time known as “The Little Ice Age,” the volcanic activity contributed to a year in which summer never really came in many parts of the world. The nations hardest hit by the harsh weather were Western Europe, New England, and the Atlantic portion of Canada, resulting in extensive crop devastation. Here are some examples of what happened in New England:

By May of 1816, a persistent “dry fog” enveloped parts of the eastern U.S. Because of its reddened affect, the fog enabled people to be able to see sun spots. Frosts wouldn’t stop coming, and the crop growing couldn’t be supported in much of New England. On June 6th there was snow in Maine and New York State. Nicholas Bennet, a Shaker from New York recorded, “all was froze” and said the hills were all “barren like winter.” Although his Shaker community replanted their crops in mid-June, a month later there was little growth to show for their efforts. In an age when most people didn’t have access to food outside of their geographic zone, many suffered financially and had to find other ways of putting food on their tables.

A 19th century historian, William G. Atkins, said severe frosts happened during every month of the summer of 1816, and there was actual snowfall on two days in June. He said by autumn, the corn couldn’t be harvest because it had been so frozen it never had a chance to ripen. As far south as the tip of New Jersey, frost occurred several nights in a row in late June, ruining most of the crops there. The cold persisted far into the summer months so that in northwestern Pennsylvania there was still lake and river ice in July and August. In late August, even Virginia was getting frost. Oddly, there were also dramatic swings in temperature. For example, on some days the weather would shoot into the 90s, only to nose-dive below freezing within hours.

I think looking at previous weather disasters helps put out current trials into perspective. We aren’t alone in facing harsh conditions.

By rebeccapricejanney, Sep 1 2017 02:21PM

By Guest Blogger Christopher Black

(Two weeks ago my friend Christopher Black wrote about the Bachmann Players, who perform colonial dinner theater in Easton, Pennsylvania’s historic Bachmann Public House. Now that we know more about the B.P., I’ve asked him to introduce us to the men and women who make up this fascinating troupe.)

The Players themselves are an interesting bunch. They are very involved in the community, which always makes scheduling rehearsals and performances a challenge. It is however, an honor and a compliment that people who have so much going on in their lives make the commitment to do Bachmann Player shows.

Two frequent players are Michael Hollingsworth and Bob Thena.Michael has played Easton’s Founder William Parsons in two separate productions. Likewise, Bob Thena has done the same with Jacob Bachmann. It’s interesting to see the actors develop the personas of men who represent Easton in 1752 at its founding, then only three years later at the sudden outbreak of the French and Indian war when Easton was almost abandoned for fear of a massacre.

David Rose is Easton’s official town crier and has played a nice variety of roles, from the Theophilus Shannon, who ran the Bachmann Tavern for George Taylor, to the arrogant and aloof Thomas Penn and the blood thirsty preacher-turned-Indian killer, John Elder. David is a Quaker and has been generous with his time in helping me begin to understand Quakerism, which is of course a huge part of the history of Pennsylvania.

My family has kicked in as well with my wife often playing small roles, supervising the food and serving and stage management. She also oversees our web site’s graphic design and publicity. Her brother Doug Burton has played Easton’s Ferrymann in two productions, and Paul Strikwerda, who is a professional voice over actor, has graced us with renditions of Thomas Paine, Conrad Weiser, and the Moravian story teller William Edmunds.

The support and enthusiasm of the players really keep the project going.

Although I often portray Benjamin Franklin, I think the role I personally enjoy the most is actually “director.” There’s something almost magical about floating in and out of the piece, weaving its creation. Being the author, as well as an actor in the production, allows for a deep familiarity with the material. When it gets to the point in the process when I am able to work with other individuals to add their creativity and talents to the pot, that is where the whole thing really takes off. I believe I enjoy the after-tone of a true collaborative moment of creativity, even more than the applause of an engaged audience.

Some of the 2017 Bachmann Players
Some of the 2017 Bachmann Players

By rebeccapricejanney, Aug 16 2017 04:14PM

In light of my August vacation days, I’ve asked my good friend Christopher Black to be my guest blogger for the next two weeks. Christopher is the artistic director of the Bachmann Players, who do colonial dinner theater at Easton, Pennsylvania’s 1753 Bachmann Publick House. Scott and I went to see a production in June and were quite impressed with the engaging interactions of the players with their audience, not to mention the delicious meal we enjoyed.

This week, Christopher is going to share the story of how the Bachmann Players came to be. Next week he’ll introduce us to the actors and actresses in his troupe. Take it away—

The Bachmann Players by Christopher Black

I was attracted to the theater in my youth and followed the lights to the big city, etc. I was fortunate enough to have a small degree of success, and lucky enough to be able to be a professional actor in a classical repertory company for about ten years. It is worth noting that I was able to do a fair amount of Shakespeare and plays of the Greeks because these are the texts and types of language that would have been familiar to literate folks of the 1700’s.

Eventually, one aspect of the actor’s life began to wear on me—no money, no relationships—

and as my theater company began to falter artistically under new leadership, I took the opportunity to change my life. I managed to meet a wonderful woman, left the theater, bought a house, and moved to Pennsylvania.

Life slowed down a bit, and I was able to indulge my love of history, do more research, read more classics. Eventually, however, my back ground caught up with me when I was asked to do a presentation of an “Evening with John Adams” at the Bachmann Tavern for The Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society. About the same time, I was invited to read the Declaration of Independence for Easton’s Heritage Day.

I made a startling and delightful discovery -- the letters and documents of the 1700’s seemed to make perfect sense to me. It was probably my exposure to the classics, but I suddenly found an avalanche of original source material I had never paid attention to. I saw an opportunity to indulge and put to work all the creative studies of my entire life into one project.

As someone who enjoys research and pouring over original materials, I would delve into historical topics related to Easton and the beginnings of this country. As a budding playwright, I could mold these original documents and put words in the mouths of people like Benjamin Franklin, William Parsons, and John Adams. By being aware of a larger historical context, it would be possible to honor their beliefs and intents. It would be possible, I determined, to make an audience feel like they had really met these people. In addition, the project would allow me to both act and direct, two things I love.

I would also work with others in the community who I would cast, write for, and teach. This would pay back the world for the opportunities I have had to work with world class teachers and artists during my studies and career. I even built a website using skills from my “Day Job” in a New York Photo Agency.

We do a few productions a year at the Bachmann, and recently have taken some of the presentations to some outside venues as well. My goal to have ten plays “in the can” so to speak. So far I have written and produced three:

Easton: 1752 Founding of a Frontier Village

Easton 1755: The Frontier in Crisis

Easton 1777: An Evening with John Adams

I am currently working on a piece that will involve George Taylor, Robert Levers, and other Easton founding fathers as the Northampton Committee of Safety and Observation struggles to provide leadership when the Revolutionary War unfolded. That will be titled “Easton 1775: The Edge of Revolution.” I hope to have it ready to be performed in the spring of 2018 at the Bachmann Tavern, and perhaps that fall at the George Taylor Mansion in Catasauqua.

Next week: Meet the Bachmann Players

By rebeccapricejanney, Aug 1 2017 12:28PM

The fun continues as I promote my latest novel, EASTON IN THE VALLEY! This Saturday I'll be appearing at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania's Musikfest, along with 20+ other authors at a book signing. This

will take place at the Sands Outlets starting at 10 AM. I've never done a book signing at outlets before, but this sounds like fun, and I hope to see many of you there.

I also want to let you know starting this Friday, August 4th, you can enter a giveaway contest on Goodreads to win a copy of EASTON IN THE VALLEY. The competition will go through Tuesday, August 15th.

Yesterday I taped a radio interview with Cynthia Simmons for her show, "Heart of the Matter." Details will follow about when and where she'll be airing the program.

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