ELIZABETHTOWN — The muskets and canons have been silenced … for now.
For the last three years, residents of Bladen County and surrounding areas have been drawn to Tory Hole Park in Elizabethtown during the summer to witness the vision of the late Bobby Lewis turned into reality. That vision, though, is now in jeopardy of vanishing.
Four years ago, Lewis, who was the field marshal at Harmony Hall Plantation Village and leaders of the Backwoods Militia, began putting together a re-enactment of the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Elizabethtown. Three years ago that idea took shape as hundreds of people turned out to see his beloved project that centered around the Cape Fear Farmer’s Market in downtown Elizabethtown.
In 2015, the third year of its existence and second year being held in Tory Hole Park, the event was drawing an even bigger crowd. But with Lewis’ sudden passing earlier this year, its future went blurry.
“I don’t know what will happen,” East Bladen High School history teacher Sunday Allen lamented after Lewis’ passing. “He pretty much handled that event single-handedly. It’s an enormous undertaking.”
The Elizabethtown-White Lake Chamber of Commerce had, for the last two years, assisted with the planning of the event, but Executive Director Dawn Maynard joined in Allen’s uncertainty.
“That project belonged to Harmony Hall,” Maynard said. “It was something we supported and sponsored, but I don’t see it as something the Chamber can afford to fund on its own. If it gets picked up by someone, we’ll continue to help with it.”
The event actually fell under the umbrella of the Bladen County Historical Society, and Lewis made sure his Backwoods Militia and the Harmony Hall Plantation Village Committee members helped to support.
Tony Parnell, who is the Historical Society’s president, said recently that the event just couldn’t be done this year.
“A lot of people helped to put the Battle of Elizabethtown together, but Bobby was the one behind it all,” Parnell said. “Without him, we’re at a loss at how to keep it going. I hope we can get it back on track for next year, but Bobby is sorely missed — for this and a whole lot of reasons.”
On Tuesday, June 21, Lewis was honored posthumously by the Elizabethtown-White lake Area Chamber of Commerce with its Caring Person Award and the annual banquet. That award was announced by Lewis’ nephew, Scott, and accepted by his brother Seth. During the banquet, Maynard again talked about the Battle of Elizabethtown.
“I don’t know what will happen now, but I know we had hoped to make it bigger and better because it was moving in the right direction,” She said. “Bobby’s vision was always interesting to me.”
Though the reenactment was a project close to Lewis’ heart, it earned its place there rightly.
In 1781, as the Revolutionary War raged up and down the East Coast, the Tories had control of Elizabethtown. The Whigs, reportedly using a female spy’s information, planned an surprise attack on their enemy and took control of the area.
“This battle took place on Aug. 27 or 28 in 1781, and it was later in 1781 when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown,” Allen previously reported. “So, in fact, this is one of those end runs that helped Cornwallis’ coffin being nailed shut in Yorktown.”
Seth Lewis, who was active for many years in the Historical Society and Harmony Hall, understands both the importance of the battle’s re-enactment and the value of preserving it for the future.
“The history of every community needs to be touted and relived for the youth,” he said. “I’ve been told that the best way to judge the future is by the past, so if we want to improve the future, we need to get a hold of the past. This battle is a jump start for a lot of people.”
He added, “I think the Battle of Elizabethtown is poised and ready to go forward, but it has to have a strong leader. I don’t know who that will be — whether it’s a (Backwoods) Militia person or a leader out of Elizabethtown’s political community. It’s going to take somebody with a love for it and a strong commitment. Bobby lived it every day.”
W. Curt Vincent and Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.