A busy April!

What a month! Well, really, several months. Chris, Kyle, Beth, and I have been busy putting together our 2014 Program and Event calendar, and we’re thrilled with the outcome so far. Be sure to swing by Polegreen for a copy of our new programs brochure, and an opportunity to walk around the site! The flowers are blooming, bees are buzzing, and the church structure has never looked more beautiful–spring is here! 

This Sunday, come out to Polegreen at 7:00 AM for an Easter Sunrise Service, hosted by several local churches. 

May 1, join us at 5:30 PM for our annual observance of the National Day of Prayer, led by church and community leaders. 

May 3, throw on your oldest jeans and sneakers, gather your rakes and tools, and come out to Polegreen between 9:00 and 3:00 for our Community Clean-Up Day to prepare the site for our busiest season. We’ll rake leaves, clean gutters, paint, weed, pick up limbs and litter, and more! **Clean-Up Day is a fantastic service opportunity for scouts, 4H groups, and more, and we welcome all ages!

Before May 17, contact Richmond Discoveries (804-222-8595) and reserve your spot on the “Patrick Henry and the Road to Revolution Bus Tour.” Visit Polegreen, along with other area sites important to Patrick Henry’s life.

Sunday, May 18, at 4:00 PM, relax at Polegreen while soloist Celeste Underdown performs a series of hymns written by the Reverend Samuel Davies. 

And you don’t want to miss this one! From Saturday, May 31, to Sunday, June 1, Polegreen is hosting a Civil War sesquicentennial weekend! Varying historic accounts tell us that the Polegreen Church was destroyed on EITHER May 31 or June 1 in 1864–exactly 150 years ago this summer. To commemorate the battle that brought about the church’s destruction, we’ll have special tours, archaeological digs in the earthworks led by archaeologists from the James River Institute, crafts and simulated archaeological digs for kids, and more! Sunday at 10:00, join Gordon Rhea for a real-time battle talk, followed by a presentation about archaeology and relic hunting by Nick Luccketti (of James River Archaeology). Tours and crafts will continue through Sunday afternoon.

 

So there you have it! A busy April leading to an even busier May! …and we haven’t even mentioned the rest of the summer and fall, so be sure to stay tuned. 

 

Mark your calendars, and we’ll see you soon at Polegreen!

 

-Ebie

Announcing our first photo contest!

***Announcing our first photo contest!***

Submit your best photographs of the Historic Polegreen Church site for a chance to win a copy of “Living on the Borders of Eternity” by Dr. Robert Bluford, Jr. 

Entries will be posted on Polegreen’s Facebook page, where users will vote on their favorite photos. 1st and 2nd place winners–those with the most “likes”–will be announced on 05/20/14. One entry per person.

*This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. 

TO REGISTER:
- “Like” our Facebook page (Historic Polegreen Church Foundation) and/or follow us on Instagram (@historic_polegreen).
-Submit your photograph and the information requested in the entry form below via e-mail to education@historicpolegreen.org. (Electronic signatures accepted.)

 

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Did you know?

Did you know that March 4, 1789, was the first day that the U.S. Senate met under the Constitution? One of the primary charges of that first congress was to amend the Constitution with “further declaratory and restrictive clauses.” Congress was forced to do this by the state legislatures, who at the time of ratifying the Constitution had made it clear that they wanted guarantees of their freedoms “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers.” The list of ratified amendments went on to become what we know as “The Bill of Rights.”

Today, you can visit the National Archives and see the original U.S. Constitution sitting right next to the original Bill of Rights and its twelve amendments. That’s no typo; originally, Congress drafted twelve amendments to the Constitution. How did we end up with the ten amendments that we know? The simple answer is that only ten were ratified by the state legislatures. The original first and second amendments to the Constitution were not ratified, and history has adjusted the numbers accordingly. But the original document displayed at the National Archives was never edited, so that list of articles, attested to by the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the Secretary of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, and the President of the Senate (John Adams, our first Vice President), retains all twelve amendments, meaning that it is the only official document where you will see the Bill of Rights in its original form, and where the freedom of religion shows up as the third amendment, not the first.

Interestingly, the original second amendment, which stated, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened,” was eventually ratified as an amendment to the Constitution…in 1992. It was the twenty-seventh amendment to the Constitution, and stands as the most recent amendment.

“Protecting Freedoms” Debate

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Yesterday evening, Polegreen, along with the First Freedom Center and VCU’s Wilder School, sponsored a debate between Delegate Bob Marshall and State Senator John Edwards. Marshall and Edwards debated the merits of House Bill 18 in front of a general audience at VCU’s Academic Learning Center, moderated by University of Richmond School of Law Professor Meredith Harbach. VCU’s Dr. Farrah Graham provided opening remarks, and Polegreen Board member Dr. Robert Strohm closed the program.

VA House Bill 18, proposed by Del. Marshall, seeks to protect citizens’ freedom of conscience by requiring insurance providers that offer coverage for contraception, sterilization procedures, or abortifacients–as mandated by the Affordable Care Act–to also offer plans that do not include these services. Self-insured employers would not be required to offer these services at all. In the bill’s preamble, Del. Marshall argues his case by referencing the religion clauses of the First Amendment, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Virginia Constitution, and similar documents.

Edwards and Marshall hold very strong yet conflicting opinions regarding exactly how “religious freedom” should be interpreted in such situations. How fascinating that, hundreds of years after the Hanover dissenters at Polegreen began their fight for religious freedom, the struggle to define the term continues.

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Delegate Marshall (left) with Senator Edwards

Facilitating Dialogue

Yesterday, Kyle and I had the pleasure of attending a workshop at Maymont led by Sarah Pharaon of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Now I know what you’re thinking: What exactly is a “site of conscience”? The Coalition defines a site of conscience as one that “interprets history through the site; engages in programs that stimulate dialogue on pressing social issues; promotes humanitarian and democratic values as a primary function; and shares opportunities for public involvement in the issues raised at the site.” Sarah’s workshop focused specifically on facilitating dialogue between visitors and figuring out how to use history to get people reengaged with present day issues.

We spent the day working with other Richmond-area museum and historic site professionals to practice facilitating dialogue without allowing that dialogue to turn into debate or conflict. Ultimately, we found each technique fascinating, and are looking forward to finding ways to encourage dialogue amongst visitors in our own programs!

Is there a current issue or event that you think is relevant to Polegreen’s history? Is there anything within Polegreen’s history that you’d like to discuss more? Leave us a comment here, on Facebook, or via e-mail (education@historicpolegreen.org), and we’ll do our best to help facilitate that conversation!

 

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Ebie

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 27 marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and is now observed as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some of you might think that Polegreen, an 18th century Presbyterian church, is far removed from the calculated slaughter that we remember as the Holocaust, but its legacies of dissent, freedom of religion, and the simple freedom of conscience are ideas that we who live in an interfaith community should hold dear.

Faced for centuries with false accusations of blood libel and brutal pogroms, the Jewish communities of Europe were persecuted for simply believing something different than what was mandated by the states they lived in. They were forced into isolation in many cases, ostracized and considered “other” by their neighbors, even though they considered themselves to be proud citizens of their respective nations. It is so easy for us now, in a world where we feel far removed from the horrors that engulfed the world early in the last century, to believe that the atrocities perpetrated against the victims of the Holocaust were committed by forces of pure evil. We should never forget that the deaths of the Holocaust came at the hands of average men and women, nor should we forget the many average men and women who committed extraordinary acts of bravery and sacrifice, risking their own lives to aid in the protection and escape of Europe’s Jews.

A few years ago, I was a graduate student living and studying in Poland. One weekend, a professor of mine (a Pole who, under the Communist regime, spent several years in prison for the horrendous crime of smuggling into the country books from France) took a group of us to Krakow, the city of his youth. We spent a day touring the old city, marveling at the sites and history. But more importantly, we rented a van and drove to nearby Oświęcim, the Polish town better known to the world by its German name, Auschwitz. It was a truly international group, consisting of several English ladies, a German, an Italian, two Estonians of Russian descent (fond of calling themselves “Rustonians”), a young woman from Uzbekistan, and me (an American). All told, there were Protestants, Catholics, Atheists, and one student who was half-Muslim, half-Jewish. We had all grown up with different understandings of the war, and different narratives of the Holocaust. Reflecting on the experience, I can’t imagine a better way to experience that piece of world history, which has an undeniable air of sacredness to it unlike anything I have witnessed before or since.

If you have ever been to Auschwitz, or know anything about what happened there, then you will know that the scale of the place is bigger than one could possibly comprehend. You see, there isn’t just one camp that can be referred to as Auschwitz. There were, in fact, three main camps at Auschwitz. Auschwitz I was originally a Polish military barracks, converted by the Germans into a prison camp. This camp predominantly held political prisoners, which largely meant non-Jewish Poles. Auschwitz III, called Monowitz, was a slave-labor camp, where mostly Jews and some political prisoners were forced to work in the factory of the German chemical company I.G. Farben. If you have ever read Elie Wiesel’s famous book Night, this is the camp he was sent to. Auschwitz II was called Birkenau. If it is possible to qualify one machine of death as worse than another, then Birkenau was the ultimate horror faced by an Auschwitz inmate. It was Birkenau that held most of Auschwitz’s notorious crematoria, and from Birkenau there was no hope of escape or rescue. Prisoners were simply sent there to die, packed into boxcars with no room to move or breathe, and oftentimes with floors covered in burning lye. They were told to pack their bags before they went, hoping beyond hope that one day they might retrieve their belongings when it was time to leave. The collections housed in Auschwitz I, as well as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial, present these grotesque mementos in stark fashion, in open, jumbled piles of suitcases, glasses, shoes, and human hair, that convey to the visitor the scope of the crime committed at Auschwitz and other death camps. The prisoners who were fit enough to work were shipped off to the temporary barracks. There were no permanent barracks in Birkenau, which was previously a marshy field; it wasn’t designed to be permanent. Once the grisly task of extermination was complete, it was to be dismantled, and life would resume as normal. The prisoners in the barracks were awaiting their time to die; those deemed unfit for work exited the train and met the gas chambers immediately. To see these sites of unconscionable tragedy in person is a horror impossible to relate, and I can simply say that everyone ought to experience it at least once in their life, and reflect on that experience often.

As I said, the bulk of the collections are housed in Auschwitz I, which is now a combination enclosed museum and open air facility. Every group is given a guide, without exception, and everyone in the group is equipped with a set of headphones, while the guide carries a microphone. You wander each barrack, marveling at each fresh horror, with a gentle voice explaining the tableau into your ear. If you take the headphones off for a moment, you will find yourself surrounded by people, in utter silence. Everyone has their breaking point. For me, it was the mounds of human hair, grayed with age, the last living reminder of the dead millions. For my German friend, a six-and-half-foot tall man with an incessant grin, it was the suitcases, large ones for the parents and grand-parents, smaller ones for the children, monogrammed and marked with tags so the owners could find them when this mess was sorted out. I could not begin to fathom his experience. All I could do was offer a hand on his shoulder.

So, after all this, you might ask, what does this have to do with Historic Polegreen Church? Samuel Davies, and later our founding fathers, could not have predicted that such an event could ever occur in this world, but what they fought and risked their lives for, the freedom to dissent, and the freedom to believe according to the dictates of their conscience, was not a freedom afforded to the millions of Jewish people and the many thousands of Holocaust victims from other ethnic and social backgrounds. As we go about our daily lives, we should remember the people who suffered and died because their voice was not heard, and because no one else would speak for them. We should remember the people in our own country who believed that the legal right to dissent was a natural right, inviolable and guaranteed by the Constitution. And, though it is painful, we should remember those in our country who were not granted that right, such as the slaves who lived in bondage even when our founders, like Patrick Henry, were aware that they engaged in, “a practice so totally repugnant to the first impressions of right and wrong,” and the countless indigenous people of America, who were forced away from their native homes, and made to practice a religion not their own. The right to live freely, to follow one’s conscience, and to live without fear of retribution simply for dissenting, are the greatest legacies of Polegreen Church.

I encourage you, on this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, to remember the millions of Holocaust victims whose natural rights were violated in the cruelest extremes. And today, of all days, reflect upon the efforts of Samuel Davies and our founders, who fought for and created a system of governance that established the right of the individual to live according to his or her own heart.

Kyle


Meet Ebie!

Hello everyone! My name is Elizabeth (Ebie) Baker, and I am the new Director of Education and Outreach for the Historic Polegreen Church Foundation. I grew up at Hampden-Sydney College; earned a BA in archaeology, arts management, and anthropology from Sweet Briar College; studied abroad in England through Longwood University; and earned a Master’s in history and museum studies from UNC Greensboro. Along the way, I had opportunities to work at some incredible sites and museums, including the Newseum, the Tusculum Institute, and the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. While I enjoy every aspect of historic site and museum work, teaching summer school at the Child Rescue Center in Sierra Leone last summer confirmed that my heart is in education. I am thrilled to be working at Polegreen–a site that has witnessed so much history that the programming and interpretive opportunities seem endless!

So far, Kyle and I have been working to make connections with new local and state partners, and we already have some exciting programs in the works. This year, we’ll be partnering with the First Freedom Center, the National Park Service, the James River Institute for Archaeology, and more. As Kyle mentioned, we are looking forward to our sesquicentennial celebration this summer, so please mark your calendars for May 31st-June1st; we would love to see you! As Director of Education and Outreach, I am also especially excited to work with our local school groups, scouts, and more to share the Polegreen story.

For more information about upcoming programs and events, be sure to follow us here, on our website, on Pinterest, on Instagram, and on Twitter!

Feel free to contact me at education@historicpolegreen.org (or stop by!) if you’d like to schedule a tour, suggest a program, or just introduce yourself! I can’t wait to meet each of you, and I know it’s going to be a fantastic year.

All the best,

Ebie

Meet Kyle!

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kyle Meadows, and I am the new Curator of Historic Resources for the Historic Polegreen Church Foundation. As part of my job here at Polegreen, I am constantly searching for new ways to share the history of the church and what it stood for, and I don’t believe that I could have started at a more exciting time.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the destruction of Polegreen Church, and with it comes the chance to cooperate with the National Park Service to remember the cataclysmic events that transpired in Hanover’s tranquil rural plains. Ebie (our new Director of Education and Outreach–be on the lookout for a note from her soon!) and I have met with the National Park Service to create some exciting and, most importantly, educational programs surrounding the events of May 31 and June 1, 1864, and I believe that this will be the highlight of our year. Keep reading this blog, visit our Facebook page, and read your local newspaper to find out more about what we have planned as the auspicious date draws closer.

While our anniversary event is still several months away, in the short term I advise you to read the blog in February as Historic Polegreen celebrates Black History Month. In addition to his role as a popular dissenter minister, Rev. Samuel Davies was one of the first, and probably the most successful, proponents of slave literacy in Virginia, and some of his writings on the subject are not to be missed.

I’d like to thank you all for making me a part of your community, and I hope to see many more faces out and experiencing Historic Polegreen firsthand. If you would like to contact me, you can email me at curator@historicpolegreen.org, or you can always stop by the site! Thanks again, and I look forward to an exciting and successful 2014.

Kyle

Group Tours

Polegreen is always to excited to host community groups at our site!  This fall, a local Girl Scout troop came to the site for a lively visit that focused on Hanover history.  We conducted an interactive tour, explored archeological items, and played Colonial games.  In addition to earning their Discover Hanover patch, the group learned about the history right in their own backyard.  To book a tour for your community group, contact education@historicpolegreen.org or call the office at 804.730.3837.

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Homeschool Day

Once again, Historic Polegreen Church Foundation opens our site to the Homeschool community!  In partnership with Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown, our 2nd annual Homeschool Day will be held on Wednesday, October 2 from 10 am to noon. The event will take place on site at 6411 Heatherwood Drive, Mechanicsville, VA 23116.

This enriching educational event presents an opportunity for students to explore the rich history that defines Polegreen – from its dissenter religious roots and trailblazing historical figures that include Patrick Henry – to its Civil War experience and contemporary preservation initiatives.  The free two-hour program includes a guided tour of the site, sketching with provided sketchbooks, Colonial Games, and hands-on activities including wax candle dipping.  Also, back by popular demand is a lively interpretation by Patrick Henry himself! 

Picnic tables are available for use following the program if participants would like to bring a picnic lunch.  Advance registration is required by Sept. 23 and space is limited.  Please email our Curator of Education Margaret Hancock at education@historicpolegreen.org to register.