Re-enactors portray black patriots of the Revolutionary War

Gen. George Washington. The Marquis de Lafayette. Hannah Till.

All three figures contributed to the American colonies' victory over Britain during the Revolutionary War. But the story of Till, a slave who cooked for Washington and his troops during the grueling winter at Valley Forge, has largely gone untold, until now.

Every Saturday through Aug. 19, re-enactors will bring the stories of Till and other black colonials to life with first-person performances at the Valley Forge National Historical Park, as part of the park's African American Freedom and Fun weekends.

The Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau is offering packages at five area hotels that include free admission to Washington's Headquarters museum, an outline for a self-guided tour of abolitionist and underground railroad sites, and a discount card for more than 90 shops and restaurants.

"People get to ask the questions they've always wanted to ask but couldn't because you can't walk up to a slave anymore and say, 'How does it feel?' '' said Ajena Rogers, the park ranger who plays Till.

She said she hears everything from questions as basic as Washington's favorite snack - walnuts - to more in-depth queries about what happened to Till after the war. Till worked with the army for seven years, eventually earned her freedom, and moved to Philadelphia. She died at 102.

Valley Forge was the site of the Colonials' 1777-78 winter encampment. Severe cold and inadequate resources led to the death of nearly one-fifth of the men.

Historians estimate that 5,000 soldiers of African descent served in Washington's army, making it the most integrated American military until President Harry Truman desegregated the services after World War II. Edward "Ned" Hector, a teamster and artilleryman now portrayed at Valley Forge, was one of the 5,000.

Ordered to retreat during the nearby Battle of Brandywine on Sept. 11, 1777. Hector instead turned back into the battle to save arms, his wagon and a team of horses. Educator Noah Lewis said he came upon the story of this free black man with a street in Conshohocken named after him when researching his own genealogy several years ago.

"It is important for people of all races to see that African-American history is American history," Lewis said. "There is so much information we need to get out there, so we can all take pride in this aspect of being an American."

"It's very ironic that someone who was enslaved was so deeply involved in the colonial struggle for freedom," Rogers said.

"But through the American Revolution she found an opportunity to earn her freedom.

"That's what I get from everything that happened at Valley Forge - don't give up."

1775-1783 American Revolutionary War in the News