FLORENCE, S.C. – Historical woodworker Robert Watson Jr. said it is important to show people the depth of the talent that African-Americans had when they came to the United States. That is why he and several other historical interpreters, artists and crafters participated on July 27 in the Come Celebrate Jamestown Reunion in the Mars Bluff community of Florence County.
The annual event is held on the original Jamestown settlement that was founded in 1870 by former slave Ervin James. It became a self-sufficient haven for the people who lived there.
People of all backgrounds visit the historic settlement during the reunion each year for history lessons and demonstrations.
Watson, who is from Williamsburg, Virginia, taught woodworking lessons on July 27 and told visitors how important it was for African Americans decades ago.
“My greatest expression is, people will tell you all we came here naked, we came here empty-handed. We didn’t come here empty-headed,” Watson said. “And if I lived this rural just like the James ancestors did way out in the woods, if I needed a handle, if I needed a rake, if I needed a tool, your hardware store is right there.”
During the time Watson spent at the Come Celebrate Jamestown Reunion, he worked to create a dough trough from a slab of wood. He split the wood on the morning of July 27 on the Jamestown settlement so that everyone could see and then constantly chipped pieces away until it started to form a bowl shape.
Watson said people can read about historic activities and talk about them, “but there’s nothing better than somebody saying, 'I’m going to make, right in front of you, a huge wooden bowl to make bread in,' and make it happen.”
Come Celebrate Jamestown is important, because it lets people know the strength and endurance people had to not give up and accept the way life once was, Watson said.
“They found a way to love, to laugh, to hope, to dream, to survive,” Watson said. “Giving up is easy.”
Artist Arianne King Comer taught people how to dye fabric using indigo dye and wax. She said she first got involved with the reunion approximately five years ago and hasn’t missed many of them. The reunion is organized by the Jamestown Foundation. Terry James, a descendent of Ervin James, is the director.
“I love what he (Terry James) and his family are doing,” Comer said. “And the fact that they went the extra mile of inviting traditional crafters to come to the reunion is pretty awesome.”
Terry James said attendance at this year's Jamestown reunion was fair and included a mixture of people representing different age groups and races.
“This event is very important, because we need to always remember the history, especially for African Americans, and how important it is for this historic district called Jamestown to exist and continue to educate people on blacksmithing, on indigo dye, on woodworking, on storytelling, just all the stuff that we have going on,” James said.