Local group learns about history the old-fashioned way

By Lauri Voter - Staff Writer
Stafford - posted Fri., Jul. 22, 2011
Stafford-based reenactor group 'Peters' Corps' will participate in Redcoats & Rebels at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Mass., on Aug. 6 and 7. Reenactors stage a mock battle during the 2010 event. File photo by Lauri Voter.
Stafford-based reenactor group 'Peters' Corps' will participate in Redcoats & Rebels at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Mass., on Aug. 6 and 7. Reenactors stage a mock battle during the 2010 event. File photo by Lauri Voter.

During the day, Stafford resident Brian Zawodniak is a history and geography teacher at JFK Middle School in Enfield.

On his own time, he is a redcoat. He is a loyalist, he is a Tory. Whatever word you choose, he is loyal to the crown - at least on certain occasions.

Truth-be-told, Zawodniak is a member of and “sergeant” for the Peters' Corps reenactment group, which depicts an American Revolutionary War-era corps of American Colonists who chose to remain loyal to the crown. They fought on the side of the British. Zawodniak coordinates the functions of the reenactment group, and, as such, is deemed its sergeant.

Zawodniak first started reenacting in 1997. “I was teaching an adult education class at Manchester Community College, and one of my students came up and gave me the name of his friend, who was a reenactor. I wasn't looking to reenact, but it was intriguing,” said Zawodniak.

The group's name, Peters' Corps, is based on the historical figure John Peters. “He was an American who was at the first Continental Congress meeting, and when the talk of independence arose, he got uncomfortable and left,” said Zawodniak. “He was a loyalist, originally. He was from Connecticut, but went to Canada.” Loyalists wore red coats so that they could be easily identified in their alliance with the British.

Zawodniak explained that loyalists were law-abiding citizens “who didn't want to get in trouble,” and were concerned about their families, their farms or their businesses. “They didn't want to break the law and overthrow the government,” said Zawodniak, who said that history books do not always tell the whole truth. “The winners write history,” said Zawodniak.

According to Zawodniak, there is some training involved with being a reenactor, mainly so that group members can handle and march with their muskets.

“We call it drilling,” said Zawodniak.

Most reenactors do not assume the persona of a real person. “We don't portray anyone in particular. I've never met a 'George Washington' or a '[Gen.] Burgoyne' during any event. I'm just Brian,” said Zawodniak.

Possessing an understanding of history is helpful to anyone who wants to become a reenactor, but according to Zawodniak, he has learned more about the American Revolution from reenacting than from school. “You're self-educating with specialty books. You learn the truth about the Revolutionary War - other than what you learned in school,” he said.

Dressing appropriately can separate the inexperienced from experienced reenactors. According to Zawodniak, a tell-tale sign of serious reenactors is whether or not their clothing fits properly. Reenactors do not refer to their historical attire as costumes, instead calling them “small clothes.” They either buy their clothes from specialized vendors online or at events, or they make their own attire.

“Peters' Corps tries to go for a very authentic, period-type look,” said Zawodniak.

History enthusiasts, or those who are only curious about reenactors and their activities, can attend one of the following local events that will include Peters' Corps: Old Sturbridge Village's annual Redcoats & Rebels event on Aug. 6 and 7 in Sturbridge, Mass. (osv.org); The Daniel Benton Homestead on Metcalf Road in Tolland on Sept. 10 (tollandhistorical.org); Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry on Oct. 8 and 9 (ctlandmarks.org); and the Enfield Veteran's Day Parade on Nov. 13.

Zawodniak feels that the best way to find out more about becoming a reenactor is by word-of-mouth – talking to people who participate by attending events, and then start asking questions.

Speculating on what the real John Peters would say to the make-believe corps members if he were here today to participate, Zawodniak guesses that “maybe he would give us a motivational speech, saying the British are here to help you get your farms back - so fight!”

For more information about Peters' Corps, visit www.peterscorps.org and follow them on Facebook.


Contact Lauri Voter with comments and story ideas at lvoter@remindernet.com.

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