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First Presbyterian Church kindergartner Davis Riley tries on Colonial attire Friday during Kindergarten Thanksgiving at the Beaufort Historical Association site. (Cheryl Burke photo)

BEAUFORT — From dressing in colonial attire to learning how early residents cooked meals, kindergartners discovered Friday how early residents prepared for Thanksgiving during Beaufort Historical Association’s Kindergarten Thanksgiving.

The program, presented for two weeks at the Beaufort Historic Site, allows children to visit five stations designed to teach them about different aspects of life as a county resident in the early 1700s. An estimated 300 kindergartners from Carteret and surrounding counties are scheduled to attend the unique program.

“We want children to gain an appreciation for what they have now by being able to see how early residents had to cook and prepare for Thanksgiving,” Beaufort Historical Assocation (BHA) educator Denise Finley said.

Dressed in period costume, BHA volunteers led kindergartners from First Presbyterian Church and Smyrna Elementary School through five stations that included: colonial dressup, open hearth cooking, butter churning, colonial gardening and spinning and weaving.

Students learned there was a big difference in the way early residents prepared Thanksgiving dinner compared to today.

“You have to go way back to the colonial times when there were no grocery stores, no refrigerators,” Finley told wide-eyed kindergartners. “Kids had to help their moms and dads prepare Thanksgiving dinner. They had to make butter, garden, milk a cow and cook food over an open hearth.”

BHA volunteers Cindy Rogerson and Anna Willis reiterated the point as they demonstrated how meals would have been prepared in the Leffers Cottage.

Leffers, a real-life colonial Beaufort schoolmaster, planter and merchant, long ago lived in the circa 1778 Leffers Cottage. He came to Beaufort in 1764 from New York to teach.

Not only did early residents prepare food over an open hearth, they had to make many of their kitchen items, such as using gourds for dippers and flax to make whisks. Children also learned that a glass of milk wasn’t as easy as grabbing it from the fridge.

“Children had to help milk the cow every morning and every afternoon after school,” BHA volunteer Sharon Marshall said. “After they got the milk, they had to haul it.”

Youngsters also had to help churn and make butter, she added.

“You didn’t get butter from the store, but from the barn,” she said. “In the old days, it took a long time to make butter.”

She and other volunteers led the children through the butter-making process that took them through milking a “cow,” hauling buckets and churning butter into cream. The cow was actually a wooden replica equipped with makeshift udders that children could squeeze water from to get the sense of actual milking.

As students visited a vegetable and spice garden next to the Leffers Cottage, they further learned that children helped in the garden and fields, where vegetables and spices were grown.

In addition, early residents had to make their clothes and blankets by weaving and spinning, according to BHA volunteer Nancy Vaughan, who demonstrated the process for the kindergartners. They also died fabrics with items such as black walnuts, pecans and onion skins.

Clothing was a bit different in colonial days as well, according to BHA volunteer Shelly Brannon.

“Women wore mop caps during the day and night,” she said. “At night, they slept on pinestraw beds, so the mop caps were worn at night to keep the bugs out of their hair.”

BHA volunteer Eric Bigham added that gentlemen wore tri-corner hats, coats and vests, even if it was summer.

To their delight, students were then allowed to try on various types of clothing children wore in the 1700s.

Smyrna Elementary School kindergarten teacher Nora Lawrence said bringing students to the event was a good way to bring history to life.

“It gives them a history lesson of Thanksgiving in their own area and the resources they had right here,” she said.

First Presbyterian Church kindergarten teacher Libba Shelton agreed.

“This teaches them how children lived long ago and the chores they had to do and the difference in how they live today,” she said.

The majority of students who attended the event said they had fun learning about what colonial children went through, but they prefer living today with modern conveniences.

First Presbyterian kindergartner Lexi Krohn said, “I like now because we have a fridge and kitchen.”

Smyrna Elementary kindergarten Dallas Davis said, “I like now because we have blankets that feel better, and they didn’t have video games.”

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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