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"To Leave or Not to Leave?" That was the question posed Saturday by a historical drama about 10,000 slaves crossing the Rappahannock River to freedom in 1862
Jasmine Banks played the role of a slave working in the kitchen at the Historic Kenmore Plantation
ROBERT A. MARTIN/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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By MICHAEL ZITZ
Saturday's environmental theater event "River Jordan: Crossing to Freedom" at Kenmore and Ferry Farm was also experimental theater.
Kenmore has often been the site of plays, including those based on the works of William Shakespeare.
This sesquicentennial drama, which could have been titled "To Leave or Not to Leave," was very different. It was more like living history, carefully scripted based on scholarly research and using professional actors.
Its two acts on the grounds of Kenmore and Ferry Farm earned raves from an audience of history buffs and from local historians and a sigh of relief from officials at The George Washington Foundation. The foundation had hoped it would engage its discriminating audience while ringing true. It did, and now is likely to become a regular part of offerings at the two local historical sites.
Fully costumed actors, many from Riverside Center, simultaneously performed five scenes at Kenmore inside the house and kitchen, on the steps and on the grounds.
Meghan C. Budinger, curator of The George Washington Foundation, explained that the setting of Saturday's theatrical presentation was Kenmore in the spring and summer of 1862, "when the Union army was encamped at Ferry Farm, and as many as 10,000 slaves from the Fredericksburg area ran away from their masters and crossed the Rappahannock, seeking safety with the army.
"Only 300 of those slaves have been identified by name, and very few of their personal stories are known."
Fredericksburg researcher Travis Walker recently determined the names of those who were at Kenmore at the time.
According to Budinger, the dramatization, with dialogue based on letters and local newspaper stories from the time, was "intended to put a human face on the events of that summer, by dealing with the decision that faced the slaves on the Kenmore property--Do I stay, or do I go?"
Each scene presented a different perspective.
Slaves who were willing to take the risk to cross over to freedom.
Enslaved people who feared the unknown.
Owners of Kenmore convinced the slaves wouldn't be able to make it on their own.
Union soldiers who considered abolition a glorious cause.
"River Jordan: Crossing to Freedom" repeats today from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Ferry Farm and Kenmore. $15 per person. Age 12 and over. Call 540/370-0732, email firstname.lastname@example.org or simply come to Ferry Farm at