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Calling all volunteers with love for history

Historic Jefferson College is looking for skilled volunteers to do pioneer life skills demonstrations for the school groups that attend HJC’s Pioneer Days, scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 23 and Friday, Sept. 24 from 9 a.m. to noon.

Since 1987, Historic Jefferson College has invited schools groups to see what life was like for the pioneers of 1840 Mississippi, at no charge. With the help of volunteers, the children have an opportunity to experience life as it was lived by ordinary people, instead of just reading about it in textbooks.

The students will be exposed to Mississippi history, including some aspects that are rarely mentioned in textbooks. Two re-enactors— Clark Burkett, our site historian, and volunteer Alton Bonds — will set up a display of tools, travel gear and camping equipment and discuss early frontier life.

They also provide a demonstration of how to start a fire without matches. Children and adults often enjoyed the art of storytelling at the end of the day, along with musical entertainment provided by a fiddler. Gifted storytellers Marianne Raley from the George Armstrong Library, and Joan McLemore use their talents to weave stories of all kinds for the school groups. Jim Barnett, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s Historic Properties Division, will share his musical skills by playing hand-clapping music on his fiddle.

The pioneers made quilts from clothing to stay warm, but also recycled outgrown clothes to keep memories close as they left their families to set out on trips to the unknown wilderness, trying to better their lives.

Quilters Candace Bundgard and her daughter Valan will demonstrate the fine art of quilting. Volunteers Pat Martin and Jean Simonton will also show students the talent of bread-making or broom-making. The steps in making lye soap, used for washing and bathing will be shown by volunteer Joyce Borum.

The services of an undertaker were needed when a death occurred on the frontier. This ritual changed some during the Civil War because so many men died at one time on each battlefield. The undertaker, portrayed by Sam Jones, will explain to the groups what happened at the time of death and burial.

Toys and games were a way for children to play and learn at the same time, as Rebecca Anderson, The Grand Village’s historian, will demonstrate.

The students will also learn about some of the animals seen by the pioneers from Robin Person, HJC’s branch director. She will share her collection of animal skins and allow students to touch the fur of animals they might never otherwise see today. The pioneers also learned skills they needed to survive from the Native Americans, and students will gather with Sammy Corley as he explains and demonstrates Indian skills and tools.

It takes many volunteers to make this educational experience a success.

What better place to learn about our history than on the grounds of Historic Jefferson College?

Located just a few miles from Natchez on 80 acres of beautiful grounds and woods, Jefferson College was prominent in the early history of the territory and state of Mississippi.

More volunteers are needed to make this program work.

If you have a talent and would like to volunteer, we still need people to demonstrate weaving, tatting, knitting, crocheting, candle making, chair caning, furniture making, butter churning and other early skills.

Contact me by calling 601-442-2901 or e-mail kmcneil@mdah.state.ms.us.

Kay McNeil is a historian at Historic Jefferson College.

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