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Living history comes to The Bahamas

Military reenactment at Fort Charlotte to engage both the tourist and local markets
Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: Oct 11, 2013

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Living history reenactment is about several things — recreating history, teaching the general public about history and the events they portray, and remembering — and they can be found the world over, from Gettysburg in Philadelphia to the Compagnies Franches de la Marine in Quebec, Canada, and now living history is coming to The Bahamas with a historic military reenactment at Fort Charlotte.

An initiative by the Antiquities, Monuments & Museums Corporation (AMMC), the keepers of Bahamian heritage and tradition will introduce aspects of living history at most of their sites to engage both the tourist and local markets in the coming months. First up will be a military reenactment at Fort Charlotte.

The staging, scheduled for Friday, October 11, will be of a reenactment of military drills, change of the guard, beat retreat and sunset colors, culminating with a cannon firing demonstration. Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) officers, under the command of Lieutenant Bertram Bowleg, will be clad in authentic period uniforms like those worn by soldiers of the British army, including the West India Regiment which was stationed at Fort Charlotte during the 18th century.

“This event is unique, historically accurate, educational [and] entertaining,” said Courtney Strachan, chairman of the AMMC.

Guests will be seated in the amphitheater above Fort Stanley for the duration of the hour-long performance. They will also have an opportunity to take photos with the historic regiment.

There are two target markets for the show – the tourist market and Bahamians.

“An overall objective is to inform our visitors about this aspect of our history, and the very important role Fort Charlotte played,” he said.

“We know that guests to our country are complaining through feedback to the Ministry of Tourism that there’s nothing really to do, so we hope when this initiative is fine-tuned and marketed properly we can present this as a part of their program.”

For today’s performance, the fort will open to the public at 5:30 p.m. with tours conducted on-site, including of the underground souterrains (caves). The RBDF band kicks off the event at 6 p.m. with a parade and the change of the guard on the ravelin (triangular fortification) overlooking the harbor.

Kim Outten-Stubbs, chief curator at the National Museum, AMMC, says through the reenactment they will showcase Fort Charlotte and the country’s military history.

She also said there are new exhibits at the fort, that people can read at their leisure as they stroll the grounds.

A second reenactment, a Thanksgiving special, will be done on Wednesday, November 27 at 6 p.m., with a third reenactment, a Christmas special, on Sunday, December 29 at 6 p.m.

Admission for today’s reenactment is offered at a National Heroes Special of $5. For the remainder of the performances, admission for non-residents will be at $20 adult and $10 children (ages 2 to 12). Residents will be charged $5.

Beginning in January 2014, the event is expected to become a permanent fixture at the fort with a regular schedule, which members of the AMMC hope schools will take advantage of.

“We hope that this initiative once we have fine-tuned it over the next couple of months that we can present this as a regular event to our markets,” said Strachan.

The Fort Charlotte Complex was built between 1787 and 1819. There are three forts on the site – Charlotte, Darcy and Stanley.

Fort Charlotte was named in honor of Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III. It was constructed during the governorship of Lord Dunmore. Although Fort Charlotte never saw any action, it was a formidable defensive structure for the islands.

Fort Charlotte is a site that was constructed by both enslaved and freed Africans in The Bahamas. It was also manned for most of its occupied years by the Zouave Troopers of the West Indian Regiment, of freed Africans in the British Army that served in the Caribbean and Africa.

The new initiative will seek to solve the problems for both the tourist and local market as the AMMC, the keepers of Bahamian heritage and tradition introduce aspects of living history at most of their sites to engage both markets in the coming months.

As the premier heritage and cultural preservation agency in The Bahamas, with responsibility for historic sites including Fort Charlotte, Fort Fincastle and museums, Outten-Stubbs said they are

looking to reopen Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation early next year as they near restoration completion.

The museum will open with a temporary exhibition on the Peter Mowell, a slave ship that wrecked off Lynyard Cay in the Abacos in 1860s. It’s an exhibit Outten-Stubbs said they want to have travel throughout The Bahamas to the Family Islands.

Pompey Museum is housed in the historic Vendue House, an original single-story arcaded building. It is still distinguishable by the pair of Corinthian columns in front, along with its traditional colonial pink color.

Vendue House is thought to date back to the 1760s and was used as a market from which commodities of all kinds, including human beings, were sold. In the early 20th century, it housed the telegraph and telephone department, and later the electricity department. In 1992, it was given over for use as a public museum, named for Pompey, a slave who raised a revolt against unfair conditions on the Rolle Plantation on the island of Exuma. The museum opened with a classic exhibition on slavery in The Bahamas.

Balcony House Museum, which is operated in conjunction with The Central Bank of The Bahamas is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and offers guided tours. Outten-Stubbs said they are looking to have aspects of a reenactment at Balcony House as well.

“We’re looking to introduce aspects of living history at most of our sites in the coming months,” she said. The AMMC is also responsible for the Long Island Museum in Long Island that currently has exhibits about the Long Island experience called “Dis We T’ings”, which represents a cross section of the traditions of the people of Long Island. It gives a glimpse at life on Long Island, beginning with pre-Columbian times to the present day. And attempts to look at the diversity of the communities from Seymour’s and Newton’s Cay in the north to Gordon’s in the south.

The San Salvador museum in San Salvador that was originally opened in 1992 as one of the projects to mark the quincentennial anniversary of the landfall of Christopher Columbus on the island of San Salvador in The Bahamas, is currently undergoing restoration works that Outten-Stubbs hopes will be completed by the end of the year. She said there are plans to mount an exhibit there on the Lucayan experience and the Columbus encounter.

At the time of opening, the museum was located in the old courthouse and jail in Cockburn Town. Due to structural instability, the museum was relocated to the old primary school in Cockburn Town. Several devastating hurricanes caused damage to the buildings that are now being restored.

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