Coexisting With…

Coexisting With Our Forefathers

On the Fourth of July a friend and I visited Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, a reconstruction of the old fort as it looked about 1820.
An interpreter, greeting us in uniform and shako, asked us if we’d ever been there before. I said I had, but it had been a while.
“Well, we’ve made a few changes,” he told me. “For one thing, we used to do First Person reenacting. We talked to visitors as if we were actual people from 1820. Now we do Third Person reenacting. We talk to you like modern people. The old way got too difficult. When it came to subjects like slavery and Native Americans, it was kind of uncomfortable.”
Understandable. Anyone who’s already walking around in a wool uniform on a 100° day doesn’t need any more discomfort.
Still, the change bothered me. Or rather, not the change itself, but the cultural forces that (I assumed) had made the change inevitable.
Not that there’s anything contemptible in the fact that today’s young people have a hard time defending slavery or 19th century Indian policy. And I fully sympathize with any black reenactor who’s reluctant to play a contented slave (a surly slave might be personally satisfying, but would probably make a poor tourist guide). That issue is especially relevant at Fort Snelling, because it was one of the places in free territory where an army doctor named John Emerson brought a slave named Dred Scott, in the 1830s. Scott would later sue for his freedom, leading to the explosive Dred Scott Supreme Court decision of 1857.

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