Letters from our forefathers

by Christian Bryant

Writing in ink with a quill pen is a lost art, resuscitated at the High Point Museum. (photo by Christian Bryant)

In the park outside of the High Point Museum stands a log home: the Hoggatt House. Tall pine trees closely guard the 19th century log home that displays wide, dark red door frames and matching doors. Crossing the antiquated threshold yields a trip back in time and engages several enthusiastic Revolutionary War reenactors.

It doesn’t look as if they’ve seen frequent visits on this 97-degree summer day, but it only takes Teri Teague and her three junior interpreters a few moments to take their places and get on with the show.

The High Point Museum invites guest to visit on weekends for special activities including living-history demonstrations and guided tours from costumed interpreters. This week’s feature: ink making & quill pen writing.

Teague, along with Hunter Greene and Rebecca Turner, give bits of introductory information before demonstrating a fairly straightforward ink-making process.

The heavily dressed women sport period garb that includes chemise (the undergarment), corset, false hips, petticoat, day dress, cap, fichu and multi-purpose apron. The ladies say the false hips signified good child-bearing abilities and would grab the attention of men looking to mate.

Black walnuts from the historical park, the essential ingredient in the ink mixture, lay across the demonstration table. The shells are crushed using a mortar and pestle, and after a fine dust-like mineral forms, water is added and heat applied. To expedite the process and spare the uncomfortability of a shell-melting flame, the interpreters have already prepared a full inkwell with several quills. Brown feathers from wild turkeys are preferred but white feathers from Canada geese work just as well.

“The quills must be sharpened with a penknife,” Teague explains before unsheathing a shank-like tool. The finished cut on a quill tip resembles that of a fountain pen. Once dipped in the inkwell and then dapped to remove excess ink, the sharp point of the quill lays against parchment as a steady hand guides it through a style of cursive lettering.

Opposite the writing table sits David Sweatt — or John Hancock, in this particular instance.

“Do you approve of King George III?” the Hancock imitator asks. An intense head shake on my part leads him to invite me to become a part of history by signing a replica of the Declaration of Independence.

“I’m not afraid of King George,” Sweatt adds with a smirk. He wears white stockings, red breeches, a beige linen shirt, a navy westkit vest and a haversack thrown over his shoulder.

Sweatt says that he began volunteering at the High Point Museum at his mother’s urging.

“At the time, I was really interested in the Revolutionary War,” Sweatt says.

That was three years ago and, judging by his Hancock imitation, he’s still enjoying the opportunity.

Although nearly every degree of the peak temperature can be felt in the log home, Teague and the junior interpreters remain fully clothed for posterity’s sake. And that’s important.

With school boards across the nation considering the elimination of in-school cursive training, the preservation of handwriting history becomes an even more difficult task.

Greene, an eighth grader at Southwest Middle School, mentions the fact that she never learned cursive in school. Nevertheless, she writes fluid cursive script.

“You got kids writing with the quill pens,” Teague says.

“Hopefully, we’re stirring their interest in history.”

wanna go?

High Point Museum 1859 E. Lexington Ave. High Point 336.855.1859