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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Charter Day

On March 4, 1681, William Penn received from Great Britain’s King Charles II a charter for land in the new world that would later become the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Penn had a vision for establishing a “land of peace, justice, equality and freedom for all men and women.” Many people throughout Europe who had been persecuted for their faith came to “Penn’s Woods” to find freedom of worship.
To celebrate the granting of that charter to William Penn over 300 years ago, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission annually holds a Charter Day, where the public can have free admission to all 25 of the state historical sites administered by the museum commission.
Charter Day is typically the second Sunday in March each year. That was today and we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to see the Conrad Weiser Homestead. I have been on the grounds many times but the buildings were never open.
This picture was obviously not taken today but on an earlier visit. Conrad Weiser's house is the small one. The larger one behind it was built later by the people who bought the farm from the Weiser family.
Today I finally got to go inside Conrad Weiser's house. He and his wife and 14 children lived in this small house. At the end of the room is a stairway and door to the loft where the children slept.
Conrad Weiser was born in Astaat Germany in 1696. His family migrated to America in 1710, settling in New York State. It was in this vicinity where Conrad initially gained contact with the Iroquois Nations. At the age of fifteen he voluntarily decided to live amidst the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois. Conrad attained significant knowledge of the not only the language but also the customs and traditions of the Mohawk tribe, which proved invaluable later in his career.
Weiser moved to the Tulpehocken area in Pennsylvania in 1729. Weiser’s knowledge of the Iroquois was immediately employed to negotiate a series of land ownership treaties between the Pennsylvania colonists and the Indians. Weiser was able to maintain fairly stable relations between the Pennsylvania government and the Iroquois Nation during the 1730’s and 1740’s.
However, by 1752, Weiser had grown rather exhausted in negotiating with the Indians, and decided to attend to local affairs. Weiser desired to establish a separate county from Lancaster in which the town of Reading would be located. His wish was granted, as the county of Berks was created in 1752. Additionally, Weiser was appointed the county’s first justice of the peace.
The American segment of the Seven Years War, known as the French and Indian War, erupted in 1754. Weiser was placed in charge of a local militia in the Tulpehocken region. Then in 1756, Weiser was appointed Colonial of the First Pennsylvania Regiment. Until 1758, he spent most of his time riding between Forts Northkill, Lebanon, and Henry in Berks County as well as other forts under his charge. 
Weiser conducted his final substantial contribution to Indian/Colonial diplomacy in 1758, negotiating the Treaty of Easton, which concluded the vast majority of Indian insurrection in the eastern third of Pennsylvania. He retired to his house in Reading after completion of this treaty and expired in 1760.
Weiser's regiment wore green coats with red cuffs and vests. Some re-enectors were there today to show us how they dressed, drilled, and fired their muskets.
The musicians also demonstrated how they issued commands with the fife and drum. The fife and drum were used because the commander's voice could not be heard over the noise of the muskets.
Some French soldiers and one Indian were also there and demonstrated their drills. Their commands were issued in French. For safety reasons, neither the French or Americans actually fired their muskets. They went through all the actions but when the commander said "fire" they simulated the shot by saying, "boom." But the French fired in French with "la boom."

The program was curtailed a bit due to the deep snow which still covers the ground. They did a lot of work to clear the paths and this much space for the drilling demonstrations. It was a nice sunny day and the temperature went up to 45 so it actually felt warm in the sunshine and was a nice day to be outdoors. Maybe next year there won't be so much snow and we will venture a little further from home for another free visit to a historic site.


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