News Releases

Foundations of patriotism: students unearth the American Revolution at Ninety Six Historic Site

January 09, 2009
Ninety Six Historic Site
Lander University history major and Greenwood native George Rambo works part time at the Ninety Six National Historic Site.
The day was May 21, 1781, and Gen. Nathanael Greene had arrived in the small town of Ninety Six located in the backcountry of South Carolina. He traveled in the company of more than 1,000 patriot soldiers. The task before these men was difficult but it was clear - to fell the British loyalist forces securing the town.

On the same land 227 years later, George Rambo stands holding a musket similar to those held by soldiers in Greene's army. This weapon is one of many artifacts the Lander University history major and Greenwood native has familiarized himself with while working at the Ninety Six National Historic Site.

As a part-time employee, Rambo's duties include manning the visitor center, scheduling tours and patrolling the more than 1,000 acres that make up the site. "There's a lot of history out here," he said. "I learn something new every day."

In addition to learning, Rambo has not hesitated to teach. He gives presentations to visitors on 18th century weapons, including muskets, rifles and cannons.

Giving a presentation while holding a musket or standing beside a cannon allows Rambo to immerse himself and those around him in a time when American patriotism was being defined for the first time.

"You can open a book and read about a place like historic Ninety Six," said Eric Williams, the site's chief ranger and historian, "but when you actually visit the site, walk the grounds and see things like the old road beds that fed into the town, the earthen, star-shaped fort, and many of the same landscapes 18th century people saw, the depth of what you learn is tremendously increased."

The U.S. Congress designated the Ninety Six site as part of the National Park Service in 1976. Since then the site has served as a field laboratory for students of all ages, and for Lander history majors like Rambo, the site has provided hands-on opportunities for the study and promotion of a specific historical period.

Ninety Six Historic Site
Michael Balsiger, Lander history major from Sumter and Star Fort intern, stands in front of the Black Swan Tavern, an exhibit depicting one aspect of life in the 18th century Carolina backcountry.
Michael Balsiger, a Lander junior history major, recently completed an internship at Star Fort, the name locals use to refer to the Ninety Six site. As a child his mother would take him to an old Revolutionary War battleground in his hometown of Sumter. There the two would search for musket and cannon balls, sparking his interest in history and, particularly, his interest in the history of warfare in the United States. These interests eventually led him to his field of study at Lander and his experience at Ninety Six.

As an intern at Star Fort, Balsiger was charged with bringing some of that site's history into the digital age. Armed with a laptop, he transcribed the handwritten notes of Lander professor emeritus of history Dr. Marvin Cann, who had researched the 18th century South Carolina backcountry and Ninety Six for a book he was writing.

As he typed out Cann's notes, Balsiger said he became "more and more immersed in the history of the park." He was particularly interested in the tactics of warfare used by patriot soldiers who laid siege to Star Fort.

"For instance," said Balsiger, "The patriots dug a series of trenches so they could approach the British stronghold under cover."

Balsiger explained that Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a native of Poland who orchestrated the patriot siege on the fort, instructed his soldiers to dig a tunnel under the Star Fort's wall and pack the end with gunpowder. They would then explode the gunpowder in hopes of breeching the walls.

When Lander students such as Rambo and Balsiger join the staff at the Ninety Six Historic Site, they go through an orientation that lasts about a week. Therein they are asked to familiarize themselves with the park through a brochure and a video and to read the book "Ninety Six: A Historical Narrative" by Jerome Greene. Then Williams gives them a tour of the park. The orientation prepares them for the many visitors who tour the park.

Williams said that the 50,000 visitors the park averages each year come from across the nation and from abroad. Some have researched their genealogy and traced their ancestry back to South Carolina, while others might just see the interstate sign for the Ninety Six Historic Site and decide to check it out. Visitors also come to see or take part in the various re-enactment activities the park hosts annually.

Ultimately the park visitors bring with them their own stories of America's past, allowing Lander's history students and others working at the site to learn more about Ninety Six's place in American history as a whole.

Ninety Six Historic Site
Grey Wood, a 1994 Lander University history graduate, is head of park maintenance at Star Fort
"Working at the park is very beneficial because you get to talk to people from all over the United States," said 1994 Lander history graduate and park employee Grey Wood. "The experience has given me a broad knowledge of what happened around Ninety Six, the state and the country."

Wood's association with the Ninety Six Historic Site began in 1990 when he was a Lander student. He worked at the site as a park ranger for several years and is now responsible for park maintenance. His experience exemplifies the importance of applied learning. According to Dr. William Ramsey, chair of Lander's Department of History and Philosophy, the experience is beneficial in two ways.

"First," said Ramsey, "it helps students see that historical study has applications beyond the classroom and that public or applied history offers a real and vital service to the community and the state. Secondly, it gives them actual work experience that can put them ahead of other candidates for a variety of jobs, including museum curatorship, historic preservation and historical interpretation."

Surrounded by memories of the dawn of U.S. history and American patriotism, students like Rambo and Balsiger walk away with more than just work experience at the Ninety Six site. They leave the park with a distinct impression of just how alive the centuries-old history at Ninety Six still is and how that mark on America's past pulses through the timeline of the entire nation.