Strange How These Things Happen

Spring has always been a trigger for me to try and clean out the piles of stuff I accumulate year after year. I am not a pack rat but I do try and save things, more for sentimental reasons than anything else.

As I was going through some old boxes the other day I came across an item I haven’t seen in decades – an advertisement for a Revolutionary War Documentary I was part of for the Bicentennial in 1976.

Many of you may know that since 1969 at the age of 11, I have been part of an organization called The Brigade of the American Revolution (BAR), the only authentic and best known living history group established depicting the 18th century and the Revolutionary War period. It was what started my interest in studying and understanding history – not just military history or the dates things happened but the general day-to-day “life and times” of an era, which is why living history is such an important aspect of teaching history.

I started out as a drummer as I was too young to use a musket but by the time the American Revolution Bicentennial came around I was well into becoming a “regular” soldier in the 1st New York Regiment. Our base of operations centered around the New Windsor Cantonment near Newburgh, where the famous address Washington gave to his fellow officers took place toward the true ending of the war in 1783. Other units were located around most of the northeastern states and grew to large numbers during this time.

For those who remember 1976 the focus on the Bicentennial was inescapable. As “The” group authentically depicting the Revolutionary War period we were in particularly high demand to participate in various events. Every weekend there were re-enactments of battles or encampments at every conceivable historic site in the northeast and as far west as Ohio.

Among the requests we received was to participate in numerous documentaries and, later on, even feature films. Among them was a documentary by the NY State Bicentennial Commission entitled “Don’t Tread on Me! Voices from the American Revolution” by the well-known producer Jack Ofield. When the movie came out during the Bicentennial I was shocked to see that whoever designed the poster advertising the film used my photo as the feature image! Needless to say, as a teenager, it was very cool to see. My family, of course, thought it was cool too.

Don't Tread on Me_CDWhen I found the poster it brought back many memories. I thought, hey this deserves a Google search. Could the film still be available? I never saw it by the way, so I thought it would be fun to look. My search led me to Jack Ofield’s website which advertises his numerous films and artwork. As I scrolled down through his films and descriptions, lo and behold, there was “Don’t Tread on Me!” …and… wait, the cover of the DVD once again had a photo of me from the film! This time it was a different photo from the original poster and one of me pointing my musket toward the camera.  The site describes the film as 28 minutes long and indicates it is “excerpted from the PBS one-hour special.”  So it is not the full original version but at least it is still available in some form.

Yes, I ordered it and am looking forward to watching it when it arrives to see how much of the footage from the BAR is included.

Of all the films I participated in over the last 43 years this will be the first documentary I will actually get to watch. In 1985 I was involved in a feature produced by Alan Alda called “Sweet Liberty.” Our parts were filmed on Long Island and became a central part of the film since the movie is about the Battle of Cowpens, a lesser-known battle that took place in South Carolina in January of 1781. Another film the BAR contributed to was Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” in 2000. Unfortunately I was unable to dedicate the time to participate in the film due to my schedule but many of my friends were part of the movie.

As many of you know, I have been very involved with the restoration of Peekskill’s original railroad depot and establishment of the Lincoln Depot Museum and the Civil War connections to Peekskill and the region. Another project I have been supporting is the creation of the Battle of Pines Bridge Memorial in Yorktown that will commemorate and honor those involved in the Revolutionary War event from 1781. In fact just this past week I attended a wonderful fundraising event for the monument. It is great to be able to once again be involved in a Revolutionary War related project.

The very next day is when I came across the poster for the documentary that inspired this post. It is strange how these things happen!

About Legislator John G. Testa

John G. Testa, a life-long resident of Peekskill, began his first term on the Westchester County Legislature in January 2010. Prior to his successful run for the District 1 Legislative seat, he served 3 terms as Mayor of Peekskill from January 2002 until December 2007. Before becoming mayor he also served a four-year term as a Councilman. From his first days in office Testa worked tirelessly to set the City on the path of economic stability. Peekskill flourished under this plan, increasing the city fund balance to its highest in history. During John’s tenure in office, the NY State Comptroller’s Office named Peekskill one of the most fiscally sound municipalities in the State; independent auditors proclaimed Peekskill as being in its best fiscal condition in over 30 years; and Moody’s Investor Service agreed to upgrade its bond rating, resulting in further savings. The plan he put in place was so successful that it enabled the City of Peekskill to pass three budgets in a row with a 0% tax increase. These fiscal skills will prove valuable to Testa as he works to put the brakes on what has been wildly escalating county spending and unchecked government growth. He has pledged his efforts to work to consolidate services, eliminate wasteful spending and improve efficiency. In addition to the fiscal conservatism that served Peekskill so well, Testa worked to promote the city, attracting investment, jobs and an increased tax base. Over $100 million of private investment came to Peekskill in the forms of new residential construction, retail space, and the redevelopment of historic structures. As Mayor, Testa led a successful battle to stop the unfair and unsafe plan to send sewage to the Peekskill plant from outside the sewage/water district. John’s roots are deep within the soil of Northern Westchester. His father’s family has lived here for more than a century and his mother’s family is nearing that mark. He is proud that he was born in Peekskill and has lived and worked here all his life and, with his wife Nancy raised their two children here.
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5 Responses to Strange How These Things Happen

  1. Marianne Violante says:

    John, What a great post. I didn’t know I was friends with a star! Isn’t traveling through the time warps great? Thanks for sharing.
    Marianne Violante

  2. linda mitten says:

    Hi John…It’s your old Foods and Nutrition teacher. we should have cooked authentic Revolutionary War food in class rather than what you and your friends decided to cook. All kidding aside, this was a great story! Lots of good memories I am sure.

  3. I enjoyed this post…glad you are still part of remembering and honoring the Revolutionary War.

  4. Jini George Cummins says:

    Found it so interesting – wonderful personal history. Just think, your grandchildren will be thrilled to see that someday. It was especially interesting to me since I recently applied for membership in the DAR.

  5. Naomi watts says:

    Great post!

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