ELIZABETHTON — Most people display their patriotism on Independence Day, but Chad Bogart shows his patriotism every day and has devoted his life to portraying the lives of Tennessee’s founding fathers.
Bogart has spent years as a historical re-enactor at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area and as an actor in Tennessee’s official outdoor drama “Liberty!” He is so frequently dressed in 18th-century costume for one occasion or another that he appears quite natural wearing his knee breeches and waistcoat.
Bogart attributes an uncle with giving him an early interest in historical re-enactments. Bill Hughes had spent much of his working life in California and became interested in portraying the 49’ers of the California Gold Rush and re-enacting the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill.
“He also did Wild West and Civil War stuff. You still see him in some old scenes on the History Channel.”
Bogart’s earliest success as a re-enactor came in the grade school, when he had been assigned to give an oral presentation. He decided to do Thomas Jefferson and to do him in costume.
“My mother helped me with my outfit. I got an A in Mrs. Collins’ fifth grade class at Happy Valley Elementary School.”
After that, Bogart started showing up at historical re-enactments at Sycamore Shoals and was soon under the spell of the region’s premiere re-enactor, Grant Hardin.
“Grant Hardin is just such a neat person,” Bogart said. “He welcomes everyone with open arms and he saw that I had an interest. He told me I ought to come down and be a part of things.”
After that, Bogart was hooked. He said his family and friends knew what to get him for Christmas.
“I wanted flintlock rifles and period clothing,” Bogart said.
Although he was still a boy, he had found his life’s calling. As he improved and became well known, he found a job at Sycamore Shoals as a seasonal interpretive ranger.
It is a job he held through his years in school and continues to hold. It is currently a part-time position, but Bogart makes do with the support of his parents.
“I work here full time, if it weren’t for the help of my parents and the good Lord, I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Bogart said. He hopes one day his job can be made into a full-time position, but he knows that won’t happen until the economy improves.
He frequently portrays some of the most prominent men of the Watauga Settlements, such as John Carter, the Rev. Samuel Doak and medical doctor Alexander Skirving, complete with his well stocked little black bag.
He played Doak during one season of the annual outdoor drama and can still recite the famous prayer by the Presbyterian clergyman for the Overmountain Men when they began their march against Maj. Patrick Ferguson on Sept. 26, 1780.
The prayer concludes by asking “Oh, God of Battle, arise in thy might. Avenge the slaughter of thy people. Confound those who plot our destruction. Crown this mighty effort with victory, and smite those who exalt themselves against liberty and injustice and truth. Help us as good soldiers to wield the sword of the Lord and Gideon. Amen.”
“What is so wonderful about that prayer is that it is still being prayed in Iraq and Afghanistan today,” Bogart said. Troops of the Tennessee National Guard continue to take comfort and inspiration from Doak’s words in the 21st century, Bogart said.
While he enjoys portraying such socially prominent men as Carter and Doak, Bogart said his favorite founding father to portray is James Robertson, a more common man of uncommon character. He played a key role in founding not only the settlements along the Watauga, but also the founding of Nashville.
“He was a natural born leader of men from what I have read about him. He was a devout man,” Bogart said. “They were a rough bunch of men in those days, but they respected those who had strong religious faith.”
Although most of his experience is in portraying men at the time of the American Revolution, he is preparing to get more involved in the history of later wars, particularly the War of 1812, which will be marking its bicentennial next year, and the Civil War, which is marking its sesquicentennial.
There are plans to form a company of Carter County volunteers under the command of Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Taylor, who was one of Andrew Jackson’s key commanders and defended Mobile Bay from a possible British invasion.
The Civil War re-enactments have been going on for three years now and have become very popular and attract a different group of people.
“It has been a challenge for those of us who are used to the 18th century, but it keeps it fresh and new,” Bogart said.
It also gives him even more chances to display his patriotism and teach others about this country’s great leaders.