The year, 1777. Court days in Loudoun County. And for a brief time you are there, amid women in colorful dust caps and long colonial dresses and men in colonial suits and wigs. The town crier rings a bell, announcing, "Court is now in session," as a crowd undaunted by the occasional drizzle of rain gathers in front of the Leesburg Courthouse.
If history was not repeating itself, it was at least reliving it to the fullest last weekend at the Second Annual Loudoun County August Court Days celebration.
Featured at the celebration was a one-act play, "177 - The Dark Year," written by Alice Baine and produced and directed by her husband, Ray Baine.It depicted an 18th century court session. The play was a blend of 18th century facts with contemporary fiction, jokes and lines alluding to women's rights and the rights of native Americans.
Back in the late 18th century everyone gathered in the county seat on court days to exchange goods and share in the excitement of the court session. This tradition was carried on yearly until about 1930, according to Emmett Jackson, 73, who has lived in Loudoun County all his life. It was Jackson who, motivated last year by the bicentennial, thought of reviving the court days celebration. "I'm the only one around who knew anything about the court," said Jackson.
The idea of the play is to "reenact something factual from 200 years ago," says Baine. Court records were checked and the names of the people mentioned in the play as having died in battle are authentic.
The scene in the courtroom reflects the period, from costumes and diction to the stocks, pillory, whipping post and ducking bucket. The play climaxes as a young woman comes onto the stage, interrupting the court. She is punished abruptly for being a scold - an 18th centur term for a nagging woman - and taken off and forced to the ducking bucket where she is actually ducked into the water in a large barrel, much to the delight and surprise of the audience. She looks equally surprised, climbs out, soaking wet, and storms off.
Later Cindy McGlone, 16, a high school senior, said she agreed to play that part because "it is August and hot." And, "No, we didn't rehearse the ducking. I thought they would duck me once, but they did it three times," she said, "and it was very cold." But she said she really had fun. "People in the audience want to see what they themselves won't do," says McGlone.
Last year the celebration, adopted as an annual occasion, was sponsored by the Bicentennial Commission. This year it was sponsored by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and the Leesburg Town Council, with the Loudon Restoration and Preservation Soociety designated as the official host organization.
The cast in the play were members of the society and their friends. The proceeds from the admission charge of $1.50 will be used to restore the silversmith's log cabin and the Black Horse Ordinary in Leesburg, projects the society is currently working on.
But the play was just the beginning of the celebration. The streets of quaint, historic Leesburg were lined with booths where more than 80 individuals and organizations from local and neighboring communities displayed and sold their arts, crafts, herbs and spices, plants, baked goods, preserves, sewing, antiques, furniture, prints, photographs, dolls and jewelry. A sprinkling of people in colonial dress strolled about, adding to the 18th century atmosphere.
A blue grass band, Scottish, colonial and square dancers, gospel, folk and colonial singers, mimes, and a fife and drum corps were among the street entertainers. There were tours of historic homes. Children holding tightly to huge gas balloons, babies in strollers, elderly comprised the crowd browsing through the streets despite the humidity and occasional rain.
Joy Huston came from Montgomery County with her children and a friend from Montreal, Canada, because, she said, "Leesburg's my favorite town."
For Evelyn Turbeville, a widow and native Virginian who has lived in Loudoun, 32, years, the court days "bring people together. It is proof of partriotism." Her grandfathers were Revolutionary War heroes she said and she feels it is important to "honor our heritage."
The Maryland Militia, an organization of 50 people from Montgomery and Prince George's Counties set up a campsite, a reproduction of the type used during the Revolutionary War. They cooked a Colonial meal - succotash stew, consisting of corn, lima beans, cabbage, apples, onions, potatoes, and ham. During the colonial period, the Maryland Militia helped the Virginia Militia, said William Becker of Montgomery County, who explained that the Virginia Militia was not large then because there were many Quakers settled in the Loudoun area.
Today, the Maryland Militia participates in parades and gives demonstrations. Becker said they "give the local public one of the easiest history lessons they've ever had." CAPTION:
Picture 1, The Guard of the Commander-in-Chief, a U.S. Army group dressed as Revolutionary soldiers, demonstrates a charge at Loudoun Court Days.; Picture 2, "Stompers and Strutters," a square dance group, performs for Court Days. Photos by Michael Ford Parks for The Washington Post; Picture 3, Some found the stock a bit restrictive . . . some confusing . . ., Photos by Michael Ford Parks for The Washington Post; Picture 4, Nancy Aur and demonstrates rug braiding.; Picture 5, Gospel singers from Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, Aldie, Va.