MONTVILLE, NJ – Decked out in the full regalia of a British grenadier, Alex Pena introduced himself to the fourth grade students of Cedar Hill Elementary School.
With a wool coat of blazing red, trimmed in orange – for the Prince of Orange -- and lined with polished brass buttons, Pena, an alumnus of Cedar Hill, explained that he is a Private in the 35th Regiment of His Majesty’s Royal Army.
His foot-tall bear skin hat added height to his lank frame.
“The hat is for intimidation,” he explained as the students touched its soft fur. “It makes me appear taller.”
From his black neck stock, to his canvas gators, Pena carefully described the purpose and care of all the elements of a British foot soldier’s uniform.
“This is what I go to battle in, this is what I go into camp with, this is what I live in,” Pena explained.
During Pena’s presentation, students learned that British Revolutionary War soldiers carried all their survival needs with them wherever they went. A canteen, a sword, a musket, hand-made grenades for the grenadier, a piece of burning rope stored in a brass match case, extra stockings, utensils and a tin cup allowed for mobility in and out of battle.
Pena also explained that from the British point of view, America’s War of Independence was actually an insurrection. Additionally, it was not an instant victory. From the fighting at Lexington and Concord to the signing of the Paris Treaty, eight long years of battle ensued.
A History and Political Science major at Moravian College, Pena discussed iconic American moments during that time, including the signing of The Declaration of Independence, which the British barely noted and did not officially recognize for another seven years.
After a brief intermission, Pena returned to the classroom dressed in the simpler uniform of a New Jersey civilian militiaman.
While there were similarities in terms of survival needs, the militiaman wore cotton, not wool, and tri corner caps, not foot-tall bearskin hats. American militiamen looked less formal and intimidating, and were not professional soldiers. Instead, they were fourteen to sixty-five year-old male property owners who served six months or a weekend at a time.
Pena’s interest in Revolutionary War reenacting began while he was still a seventh grader at Lazar Middle School.
“I researched reenacting Revolutionary War militia history in New Jersey,” he recently recalled. “I went to my mom and said, ‘I need $20.’ She said, ‘What for?’ and I said, ‘So I can join the militia.’”
Pena’s mom, Dr. Karen Cortellino, is President of the Montville Township Board of Education.
Both his mom, and his fourth grade teacher, Frances Work, have been enthusiastic supporters of his hobby. It was that enthusiasm that inspired Work to invite Pena to Cedar Hill’s fourth grade on June 9.
“We study New Jersey and the Revolution,” Work explained. “This is a wonderful opportunity for students to understand history.”
Finally Pena, dressed as a proper Colonial gentleman, joined the students in the lunch room for traditional 18th century dancing.
Pena’s next Revolutionary reenactment will be at the Battle of Monmouth on June 21 and 22. He will attend as a New Jersey militiaman.