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HISTORY RENDERED IN SONG

South Boston News
Roland Terry, on mandolin, and guitarist-vocalist David Russell perform a 12-song set to convey the history of the Revoluntionary War era for an appreciative crowd at The Prizery. (Liza Fulton photo)
SoVaNow.com / February 17, 2020


The oft-told history of The Crossing of The Dan was presented to an audience of more than 100 people at The Prizery on Saturday in an especially vivid way — through song and verse.

David Russell and Roland Terry, master musicians on guitar and mandolin, entertained the crowd on hand for the annual celebration of the Crossing of the Dan with a rollicking, 12-song set that captured the sweep of the Revolutionary War era and honored the role that Halifax County played in the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Gen. Nathanael Greene, commander of the Southern Army under General George Washington, led his troops across the Dan River in Halifax County to cap a strategic retreat across North Carolina and Virginia in late 1790 and early 1791. The passage of Greene’s forces across the Dan in mid-February 1791 brought an end to a cat-and-mouse pursuit and allowed the American army to rest and regroup in Halifax County, while the exhausted and diminished Brits girded for battle in the months ahead.

In recent years, thanks to local championing of the wartime episode, the Crossing of the Dan has come to be recognized as a key stratagem leading up to the British surrender in Yorktown on Oct. 19, 1781.

For Saturday’s program at The Prizery, music was the medium for expressing the struggles and triumphs of Revolutionary War America and Halifax’s place in that history. Russell, vocalist and acoustic guitarist, and Terry, playing the mandolin and fiddle, recreated the songs of the period in a lead-up to their own composition, “Nathanael Greene,” which celebrated how Greene’s forces “outdanced” the Redcoat army.

Russell and Terry began with a song about taxes, “Fish and Tea,” setting the stage for war. Then the familiar tune, “Yankee Doodle,” got everyone’s hands clapping and toes tapping along with the rhythm. Originally used as an insult against colonists, “Yankee Doodle” was turned around to taunt the British for their wigs resembling macaroni.

After several songs about hardships and the rough life of a soldier, Russell and Terry kicked it up a notch — in tribute to General Greene’s army — with “Soldier’s Joy,” an instrumental number about corn whiskey, a beverage that kept the soldiers going.

Finally, at the end of their entertaining set list, the duo played the self-titled song, “Nathanael Greene,” which fit neatly into the Revolutionary-era musical style. The performance drew a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd.

Saturday’s ceremony began with the presentation of colors in The Prizery banquet hall by the Halifax County High School JROTC and Revolutionary War re-enactors dressed in period uniform. There were a variety of colorful flags presented by the color guard, including the state flag of Texas carried by Douglass Schwetke from Fort Worth, Texas.

Anne Raab, a member of the Berryman Green Chapter, Virginia Daughters of American Revolution (DAR), introduced Russell and Terry, the musical headliners, and she also spoke on behalf of the Berryman Green Chapter of Virginia, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). There were over a dozen women in the audience representing DAR chapters in the region, including Danville, Floyd and Charlottesville. Two women, Lisa Lambert and Annette Smith from the Seventh Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line, came dressed in the clothing fashions of the late 1700s. They showcased a living history display of games and flatware typically found during the Revolutionary Era.

“It’s certainly great to be back in South Boston,” said Peter Davenport, chancellor general on behalf of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. Davenport shared greetings from President General John T. Jack Manning and the 30,000 members of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). Davenport said this event in South Boston in one of four national events held in Virginia.

“Today, we are honored to stand together to recognize what our ancestors have done and given us,” said Bill Schwetke, new president of the Virginia State Society SAR.

Other remarks were offered by South Boston Town Manager Tom Raab, representing the town, Jeff Francisco on behalf of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors, and Mayor Dexter Gilliam on behalf of the Town of Halifax. Each expressed their gratitude for everyone participating in Saturday’s event. Also, members from a variety of Revolutionary War groups from all across Virginia shared their appreciation for being asked to participate in the 239th anniversary commemoration of The Crossing of the Dan.

Anne Raab recognized JadeLynn Hediger, first place winner in the Crossing of the Dan essay contest held at Halifax County Middle School. Two other HCMS students were recognized for honorable mention entries in the essay contest, K’dyn Maree Lucas and Abigail Conner, along with Tracy Elliot, sixth grade U.S. history teacher, who facilitates the essay contest. It is sponsored by Berryman Green Virginia DAR, Dan River Chapter, Virginia Society SAR, and the Halifax County Historical Society.

Due to recent flooding on the Dan River, the outdoors portion of the program was moved from the Crossing of the Dan memorial site to Constitution Square, where the re-enactor color guard group fired celebratory muskets and cannons.

The stage at Constitution Square was wrapped in a row of wreaths donated by many Revolutionary War groups. The regiment firing the muskets and cannon were from five different companies, offering an array of uniforms and firearms for the crowd to enjoy.

“This is our third year, and it keeps getting better every year,” said one couple as they witnessed the musket blasts in the square.

The celebration ended back at The Prizery with Brunswick stew for lunch, fellowship, and more photo opportunities with the re-enactors in front of the first American flag, known as the Stars and Stripes.

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