WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Revolutionary war re-enactors, historians, local council people, and others in the White Plains community came out to the Jacob Purdy House to celebrate George Washington’s 281st birthday Monday afternoon. The celebration included a flag raising, the national anthem, cake and mulled cider.
“It’s so important to remember the past, and George Washington's birthday in particular," said Renee Gonzales. "He started everything - without him, I don’t know where we would be. We might not have this country.”
Gonzales and her husband Joel are both living historians who are also Civil War and World War II re-enactors, so they came out to support commemoration of another period of American history.
“Normally they would do a volley or firing as a salute after the national anthem, but because of the wind, it was all a little abbreviated," Joel Gonzales said. "We all rushed inside as soon as possible. Usually there’s a benediction and a kind of speech to recognize why we’re all here and recognize the local governing body.”
Approximately 50 people were present, including the Revolutionary War re-enactors, who brought the true spirit of history to the afternoon with their authentic clothing and accessories from the 18th century.
Denis Jones, a trustee of the White Plains Historical Society who was also dressed as a member of the levy troops from the Revolutionary War, said, "History’s a tough nut to crack in terms of getting people interested, but we are very passionate and get into this."
He explained the various pieces of his outfit: he made his vest, had the pants made, bought the shirt from a vendor of historical period clothing, made his leather bag and cartridge box, and put together his moccasins from a kit.
Joel Gonzales said that some of the re-enactors' costumes can cost into the thousands of dollars. He pointed a soldier's musket that he estimated was about $700.
Though the people who came to enjoy the event might not all put in as much time and effort into their understanding of the war and Washington's time, coming to the Jacob Purdy House provided a glimpse into history. The house itself is the oldest existing house in White Plains, and things like a hand-drawn map of the city from 1887, a model of the Second Court House in Westchester County, and part of the flag with 13 stars representing the colonies make the site a museum of sorts.
Jones said that many are unaware of the significance of White Plains to the Revolutionary War. About 500 American and British casualties were a part of the Battle of White Plains, which took place on Chatterton Hill in October 1776, not far from the White Plains train station.
"It was small compared to others, but it was important in that Washington had lost the Battle of Long Island, was forced out of Manhattan, won the Battle of Harlem Heights, but kept retreating and getting pushed into Westchester," Jones said. "Here in White plains he made a stand finally. That ended his retreat."