History Lover Schooled in Revolutionary War as Reenactor

Frank Simon Joins the West Jersey Artillery Co., Founded 1776
Jul 04, 2018
Courtesy of: The West Jersey Artillery

Frank Simon loves history. Until five years ago, his interest lay in ancient history, but a Wells Fargo Bank teller spurred an interest in the Revolutionary War, and he joined the West Jersey Artillery Co., which re-enacts battles of the war for independence.

“I've learned more about what was involved,” Simon, of Little Egg Harbor, said of his time as an active member of the group, “of what they went through. It’s living history in my mindset. They knew a lot about science and mathematics.”

The West Jersey Artillery Co. was formed in 1776 after a letter from the Committee Safety of Pennsylvania to the New Jersey Legislature advising it would be in the state’s best interest to create an artillery unit for its own defense, according to the group’s history. The company was active in the 1776 New Jersey campaign, engaging in the battles of Trenton and Princeton, with First Lt. John Westcott crossing the Delaware on Christmas night in the same boat as Gen. George Washington.

For most of 1777 into the spring of 1778, the original West Jersey Artillery stayed in South Jersey, assigned to Forts Mercer and Billings in defense of Delaware River approaches to Philadelphia. They were called back to duty in 1791 in a war against Native Americans and in the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion. Their last service was during the War of 1812.

“Experiencing that time,” Simon said, “makes you appreciate what they went through. They went up against the greatest army in the world and won.”

More than two centuries later, the West Jersey Artillery reenacts some of the most famous battles with a group of men and women who helped re-form the company in 2011.

“It’s just very interesting,” he said. “After wearing the shoes, I wonder how they could run around like they did.”

Still, one of Simon’s favorite aspects of being a Revolutionary War reenactor is the camaraderie the members share and firing off the company’s cannon, Thundering Barbara. It was common in the 18th century for all military and naval cannons to be named. West Jersey Artillery named its for the patron saint of artillerymen, Saint Barbara. Construction of the butterfly cannon began in 2012 after intensive research to ensure complete authenticity. A butterfly cannon is marked by ammunition boxes mounted on platforms above the axle on both sides of the cannon barrel.

“I just love doing it,” Simon said.

The West Jersey Artillery is spending this Fourth of July at Independence Hall, where a cannon can’t be fired, but where the history Simon learned to love began. —G.G.S.

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