Noah Lewis does not have a score to settle. But his desire to learn about his own ancestors led him to a greater understanding and appreciation of all races and both genders, and he wants to share his discovery with as many people as possible.
Lewis, from Upper Darby, Pa., calls himself "a visitor from the past." In fact, he is a historical actor who portrays Edward "Ned" Hector, of the Third Pennsylvania Artillery Company. Though he was "a man of color," Hector was not a slave but a freeman - a black teamster who fought at the Battle of Brandywine during the Revolutionary War.
Hector was part of a regiment that tried to keep the British from crossing the Brandywine River as they advanced north in 1777, attempting to capture Philadelphia. He and his fellow patriots found themselves surrounded, and many of them ran away. Hector, however, refused to surrender. "They shall not have my horses," he said. "I will save them, or I shall die myself." He was later commended for his bravery, and today a street in his hometown of Conshohocken, Pa., bears his name in honor of his heroism.
Lewis "discovered" Hector in a rather roundabout way. About 10 years ago he began tracing his genealogy and hit a wall - he couldn't find the parents of his ancestor, Noah Lewis, of 1800. He knew his ancestors were instrumental in the Civil War, so based on the time period, Lewis began thinking perhaps this ancestor fought in the Revolutionary War. "I came across a lot of black names and I was absolutely shocked and angry at myself for being so ignorant of my own history," he says.
But the more he researched, the more disturbed he became. "One of the things that bothered me was the tremendous backlash against blacks after the Revolutionary War," he says. "After the War they tried to eradicate references to blacks, afraid it would inspire blacks to fight for their own freedom. These people were robbed of a lot of honor and credit for their part in our country's independence."
Lewis had somewhat of a captive audience through which to share his findings in his four children: Ashley-Faith, 16; Matthew John, 13; Emily-Hope, 11; and Mary-Joy, 8. But when an opportunity arose to broaden this scope, he could not pass it up.
Since 1984 he has run an electronic repair business out of his home, and would often go to his children's classrooms to talk about biology or electricity. In 1996 he made a presentation in daughter Ashley-Faith's fifth-grade class on electricity, after which the teacher asked, "Would you happen to have anything on Colonial America?" He replied, "Would you mind if I come in period dress?"
Hector's debut went over very well, and he was called back for repeat performances in the years that followed. Last year Lewis began going to other schools within Delaware County, and he was booked every workday except one during Black History Month. He now travels to schools in New Jersey and other parts of Pennsylvania. He has appeared at unexpected places, such as a professional women's organization (emphasizing women's participation in the revolution) and a science-fiction convention (his presentation involves time travel). He was also hired for Political Fest 2000, part of the August 2000 Republican Convention in Philadelphia.
The flexibility of the job is beneficial to Lewis, who has been a single parent since his wife died in 1993, shortly after the birth of their fourth child. Though Lewis never planned on being a teacher, he finds that this method offers him the best of both worlds. "I can go do this presentation, then give the students back to their teachers," he says. And while the presentation is historical in nature, Lewis is not that concerned about students remembering specific dates and names. He wants them to see the bigger picture. "If a kindergartener walks away saying, 'The patriots were angry. They weren't being treated with respect,' then I've done my job." Because, as "Hector" points out during his "visits," "I'd heard the words of Mr. Jefferson. About how 'all men were created equal and endowed with inalienable rights by God.' Like 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'"
- April Mouser
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