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Bolstered by national status, attendance skyrockets

Onlookers waited down by the riverside toughing out the muddy conditions Saturday as a group of American soldiers made their way to the bank of the Dan River, escaping the threats of the British army. 

Outnumbered, desperate soldiers made their way to a ferryboat giving them the extra push they needed to deter the British army. 

 The record setting crowd at the 223rd Anniversary Commemoration of the Crossing of the Dan cheered and snapped photographs as the soldiers fought the current to make it across the Dan River. 

Being that this was the first time the event was recognized for being the third national sanctioned event in Virginia, the other two recognizing the events at Yorktown and the Battle of Great Bridge, supporters from Kentucky to Florida joined Halifax County residents for this historic event. 

Everyone was eager to see the reenactment of the day that portrayed the events of Feb. 14, 1781, the actions of the brave army that was led by Nathanael Greene.   

Representing the Florida Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Sons of Revolutions in the state of Florida and the Order of the Founders and Patriots in Florida and the Society of the War of 1812 in Florida was Halifax resident Saul Montez-Bradley, who moved here about five years ago. 

 Montez-Bradley was all smiles as he enjoyed the beaming rays of sunshine compared to freezing temperatures and snowy conditions of previous years. 

“If you have been here in the past years you would know what I mean,” said Montez-Bradley. “Usually for a lot of people its kind of a conflict (to attend the event), but I’m glad I picked this one. The weather here has been gorgeous this year.” 

He said he enjoys coming to this event because “obviously we are interested in the history of the Revolutionary War history, obviously we are interested in honoring those who participated.” 

Also attending and dressed in full historical attire were Dwight Whitney and his wife, Anne, who traveled from Warrenton. 

He is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, and she is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Both have been attending the event since the first year. 

The couple agreed the event is a “very patriotic thing and patriotism needs to be on the upswing rather than the downswing in our nation.” 

“This is one way to do that and hopefully the young people who are here will see that and be compelled to follow their ancestors and become more patriotic as well,” his wife added. “If you know what your history is you are more inclined to love your nation and support different functions that embrace that history.”  

Even though the day offered sunny skies for event goers to enjoy, some soldiers, like Donald William Baugh of Virginia Beach, missed the authentic feel of the snowy conditions that last year offered. 

“It was very cool last year. We were walking through ice water. It was snowy and cloudy, but it was just kind of mystic and realistic,” said Baugh as he described conditions the real soldiers endured. 

Baugh’s enjoyment of the revolutionary period landed him a spot in 2000 when he decided to join in on the Battle of Great Bridge, and he’s been enjoying the camaraderie that similar events offer ever since. 

Being his third time at the Crossing of the Dan, he thanked the “City of South Boston for always being a gracious host.” 

Prior to witnessing the Crossing of the Dan, the crowd filled The Chastain Theatre leaving standing room only. 

 “On behalf of the Crossing of the Dan Committee, I am thrilled with the record-breaking attendance at this year’s celebration,” said Berryman Green Chapter Regent Anne Raab.  

“It has been our dream to fill the Chastain Theater with a standing-room only crowd, and this year, the dream was realized. We believe that this accomplishment can be attributed in part due to the outstanding press coverage we received both locally and throughout the state. We appreciate The Gazette-Virginian for the role it played in promoting the 233rd Anniversary Commemoration of the Crossing of the Dan.” 

In attendance was 5th District U.S. Congressman Robert Hurt who offered greetings as he spoke on the “tremendous” amount of history that the 5th District has to offer. 

Hurt spoke about the Capital Rotunda and the many paintings that show the challenges our country has faced and how we rose to those challenges. 

“We acknowledge the fact that we know that we might not be here as we are today without the Crossing of the Dan. I hope this generation does not forget the sacrifices of those gone before us,” said Hurt. 

South Boston Mayor Ed Owens told guests the Town of South Boston is extremely proud of their heritage and “our divine creation of our country” as he drew attention to the national recognition of the event and thanked the historical society for the new ferryboat used this year. 

 Members of the Virginia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, President Bill Broadus and Secretary Wayne Rouse, took the time to recognize those who made the event possible. 

“I believe we’re missing something, seeing this group is unbelievable,” said Broadus before he recognized several in attendance.

President of the Dan River Chapter of VASSAR Bernard Baker, State Historian of the VASSAR Dr. Larry Aaron and NSSAR Trustee for VASSAR Dr. Henry “Phil” Williams III were recognized for their efforts in guaranteeing the national status recognition of the Crossing of the Dan. 

Halifax County Historical Society President Barbara Bass and Raab were recognized for their efforts in making this event a success each year. 

South Boston Town Manager Ted Daniel and David Hutchinson were given silver good citizenship metals for their support and recourses for making this event possible. 

Baker introduced the keynote speaker, Patrick Henry Jolly, the fifth great grandson of Patrick Henry to present “The Race to Victory.” 

Jolly gave a fun portrayal of Patrick Henry’s life as he asked those in attendance to look at their life as well as the events of the Revolutionary War using the question, “What if?” 

He spoke about the decisions and circumstances that we face in our lives and how with just one omission of a decision we could have changed the outcome. 

Attendees were asked to think about what if Greene’s army had not headed to Halifax County to cross the Dan River. 

“What if he had decided to cross somewhere else along the river,” questioned Jolly. “The British army could have very well likely been able to cross as well if he had decided to cross where it was easier.” 

Once again recognizing the event as a pivotal mark in the war, that without it, he said it may not have ended as it did, with victory for the American soldiers. 

Following the words of Jolly, the large crowd followed the music and marching of those portraying those patriotic men and women of the war down to the Crossing of the Dan. 

The crowd gathered for a wreath-laying ceremony led by Williams followed by the tradition of the throwing of the wreath. 

This year Rosa Cabellero and Gracie Berneche tossed the wreath into the river with Patrick Henry Jolly and Peter Francisco, also known as Hercules, by their side. 

Cabellero’s winning essay on the resourcefulness and “good” leadership of Patrick Henry gained her the opportunity. 

The Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored the essay contest for the sixth graders. 

Cabellero was grateful she was able to participate in the “awesome” event with her guest, Berneche. 

Both were narrators in the sixth grade Crossing of the Dan play as well as actors portraying soldiers, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. 

As everyone waited for the soldiers to make their way to the river, guests covered their ears as soldiers shot off a cannon showing the intensity of the attacks.  

Those watching were given the chance to get their questions answered about the war.  

After the ferryboat successfully crossed the river, attendees returned to The Prizery banquet hall for a lunch of Brunswick stew provided by the Virgilina Fire Department.   

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