Historical Interpretation is a challenging career path. However, it can be rewarding and fun if you don’t mind low pay (or in many cases, no pay) and extreme weather conditions. I often portray Mrs. Bolton during our school programs at the National Colonial Farm. My appearance dressed as a Colonial character will quiet the rowdiest of school groups. I have had many enjoyable years talking to children about the 18th Century farmhouse, farm chores, tobacco fields, cooking, gardening, spinning and the idea of independence from England. The children want to know if I am real and do I really live here. In my mind, at that moment, I really am Mrs. Bolton of 1770. I can easily conjure up stories of what is happening at that particular moment on my family’s small tobacco plantation in southern Prince George’s County in the Colony of Maryland before the Revolutionary War.
One of my biggest mental challenges is word useage. Many colonial words or phrases are lost completely with elementary age children. So, I try to stay understandable and relatable. Once, a very bright child wanted to know why I did not have an English accent. I simply stated that I had never been to England. At a colonial conference several years ago, I learned it is better not to try and have a colonial accent. (Of course, no audio of 18th Century voices are available.) One should articulate each word clearly if you are portraying an educated, gentry character. And, the words of a middlin’ sort farm character should not ring as clear. So, my slight southern drawl works nicely for my Mrs. Bolton.
The biggest physical challenge is the extreme outdoor temperatures. Visitors always want to know how one can stand all the clothing in the heat of summer. I’ve found the right material is the answer. A light linen shift will actually help you stay cool. Once wet with sweat, a breeze will instantly cool you. As for the cold, anything wool will keep you warm and dry.
What is most rewarding, is to see the bright eyes of a child light up when Mrs. Bolton steps out from behind the door and the child experiences history come alive when I say,”Good day.”
–Tricia Hardin, National Colonial Farm Interpreter
You can visit Mrs. Bolton and the National Colonial Farm, and learn about Summer Days on the Farm June 25 – 27; July 16 – 18; July 30 and 31; Aug 1.