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Center stage for Halifax at Crossing celebration

South Boston News / February 24, 2014

The 233rd anniversary commemoration of The Crossing of the Dan was a rousing success, drawing attention far and wide to Halifax County’s role in the Revolutionary War — culminating with a packed house for Saturday’s program at The Prizery, attended not only by Halifax County residents but also by visitors from as far away as Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

On Saturday, The Chastain Theatre was filled to capacity — plus some — as visitors sat close together on the aisle steps to hear about the military action that was to prove crucial to George Washington’s army’s subsequent victory at Yorktown.

The weekend festivities began on Thursday evening as sixth-grade students at Halifax County Middle School staged a play focusing on the lead-up to the crossing, which caused British General Cornwallis to waste critical time in pursuit of Colonial forces. The students performed the play under the direction of Sarah Graves, accompanied by Crossing of the Dan singers directed by Ben Woosley and HCMS band members directed by Michelle Heath.

On Friday morning, the students performed their play twice in order for all middle school students to have the opportunity to see it. After the play, the students heard from Travis Bowman, who narrated the exploits of his ancestor, Peter Francisco, the legendary “Hercules of the Revolution” — a man of immense strength and size, nearly unheard of at the time. Bowman, who stands 6-6” and weighs around 260 pounds, cut an imposing figure on the Prizery stage as he appeared in character as Peter Francisco.

On Saturday during the official commemoration ceremony, guest speaker Patrick Henry Jolly, a fifth generation grandson of Patrick Henry, entertained the crowd with his version of his ancestor’s life, entitling his speech, “What If” certain things had not happened.

Jolly recounted the early life of Patrick Henry, reflecting on several unsuccessful ventures in farming and certain businesses which led him to the study of law and his political achievement in being elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. There he introduced strong resolutions opposing the British imposition of the Stamp Act, which led to preparations for war with Britain.

Jolly also addressed the what if’s of Gen. Nathanael Greene’s decision to divide his army — confusing the forces of British general Cornwallis — and march to the Dan River win Virginia. There, his starving army crossed the river and received the hearty support of local residents, while leaving the British on the other side of the bank, frustrated and unable to reach them.

Various chapters of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the American Revolution presented wreaths to remember the occasion and leaders of the commemoration were honored for their roles in making The Crossing a nationally sanctioned event. Recognized for their efforts were Bernard Baker, president of the Dan River Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, Larry Aaron, author of ‘The Crossing of the Dan, The Retreat That Rescued the American Revolution,’ Dr. Henry “Phil” Williams III, past Virginia president of the Sons of the Revolution, Anne Raab, Regent of the Berryman Green Chapter of the DAR, Barbara Bass, president of the Halifax County Historical Society, David Hutcherson, who did the documentary film and Ted Daniel, Town Manager of South Boston.

The presentation ended with a reenactment of the batteau crossing of the Dan River with Patrick Henry and Peter Francisco, Gracie Berneche and Rosa Caballero, two of the narrators in the sixth grade Crossing of the Dan play (Caballero was the winner of the DAR sponsored essay contest), casting memorial wreaths into the river.

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